Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when his presidency was still in its infancy. Some would even say he got it for delivering his “Yes, We Can” speech. In that respect, awarding a Nobel Prize in economics to one of today’s great global brands wouldn’t seem so far-fetched.
Or, for that matter, a Nobel Peace Prize. When it comes to bringing people together in worldwide communities of consumers, fans, friends and followers, nothing and no one is more powerful than a global brand.
Global brands are an enormous force. One of the core characteristics of global brands is that they bring prosperity not just to themselves and their shareholders, but to all parts of the world in which they are present and active.
To qualify as a global brand, they need to be produced in more places than one around the world: and by “produced” I mean their very existence relies on international production and distribution chains. For example: researched and designed in the UK, manufactured in Portugal with components from India, China or Vietnam, with a distribution hub in central Germany and customer service centers in Lagos or Cape Town. They need to be sold in shops and offered through websites all over the globe. They create jobs to do that. They need people to do that. Hundreds of millions, if not billions of them, the world over.
They provide billions of jobs around the planet, directly and indirectly. They innovate on a constant basis and in many cases, they do so in ways that move the world forward by leaps and bounds.
And global brands are mostly in for the long haul: a host country’s GDP is positively impacted because global brands invest over the long term in multiple areas, such as advertising, R&D, manufacturing and logistics. These investments take time to grow and yield, but this is exactly why they’re so precious: they represent future, sustainability.
Wherever global brands have cropped up in the world since the second world war, they have had an undeniably positive effect on the GDP of their host countries. In the post-war prosperity of the west, but also in more recently developing countries, they have contributed enormously to growing prosperity for local inhabitants, a rising standard of living and a better outlook on life in the future.
Global brands make a better world
Whatever the shortcomings of global brands, in general they move society forward. While it is true that some global brands in the past have been inattentive to issues like pollution, exploitation and colonialism, in today’s networked world, where people are more than ever concerned about ethical brand values – and digital transparency allows them ever greater insight into these issues – global brands have shifted towards moving society forward. Just look at your smartphone: with WhatsApp you can reach anyone in the world – free. If you live in an informal settlement in, say, Nigeria or Rio de Janeiro or Shenzhen, and can’t afford a traditional bank account, you can use it to get paid, pay bills or make purchases. Even the US Business Roundtable has proposed dropping shareholder primacy in favour of stakeholders that also include employees, trading partners, community and the environment.
It wasn’t a president, prime minister or any other politician, that’s for sure.
One of these brilliant ideas came from someone called Steve Jobs. Maybe you’ve heard of him. By creating the iPhone, he created a device that has made it easier to bring people together than anything else in the history of mankind. He has made our world smaller and opened up new opportunities for billions of people.
This innovation made knowledge more readily available for anyone, anywhere in the world. Maybe not with the – admittedly pricey – iPhone as such, but with one of its many less-costly descendants, because this invention spearheaded and inspired a technological revolution.
It pushed other companies to develop their own smartphones at competitive prices. Now anyone on earth can own a smartphone to laugh a Trump’s tweets, check Grindr for a hot guy around the corner or perform any other similarly important stuff.
“Oh, one more thing...” Even in terms of inspiration, Jobs’ presentation speeches were definitely up there in the same league with “Yes, we can,” and unlike Obama, Jobs followed up on his version of “Yes, We Can,” leaving behind a legacy that continues to this very day.
But Jobs died without a Nobel Peace Prize on his mantelpiece.
Economics in motion
Global brands do not exactly fit the concept of economics as it is generally used. To quote Wikipedia: “Economics deals with maintaining an efficient balance between unlimited wants and limited resources in everyone's life. Economics also deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.”
In formal terms, economics is an area of study more than a day-to-day practicality. In this respect, the Nobel committee is right to award the Nobel Prize in economics to brilliant scholars in the field of economics. Hats off to those winners.
But are these thinkers doing the world as great a service as most global brands do every day, year in, year out?
Let’s have a look at the last line of that Wikipedia definition: “Economics also deals with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.”
Doesn’t that apply to exactly what global brands do so well?
At the beginning of 2019, the miraculous Chinese web retailer Alibaba had more employees than Yahoo and Facebook combined. The majority of them work in the company’s operations, customer service and research and development departments, which offer a broad array of career opportunities and good future prospects for a new, young, educated generation. As of 2018, over one-third of Alibaba’s senior management were female, and around 45% of all staff were under 30 years old.
So when young people in China get hired by Alibaba and start earning money to provide for their family back home while building a future for themselves, if that’s not the successful application of economics in practice, what is?
And this isn’t just about lifting the masses out of poverty in China (or other rapidly advancing countries), this is about bettering whatever world we live in, developed or developing. Maybe you bought a Tesla, supporting Elon Musk in his ambition for a fossil-fuel-free society one day. Maybe you Ubered yourself to work today, with a guy behind the wheel who didn’t have a solid job before, but who is at least making some money now as an Uber driver.
Maybe your kids were having this great, long and totally free chat with grandma and grandpa in Australia yesterday, and the day before that, but also tomorrow and forever more, thanks to global tech brands like Apple, Samsung, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook or Telegram.
Global brands, as much as they are about selling stuff and making a profit, contribute to the greater good we call the economy. Sure, they are the product of capitalist logic and ideology, always ready to absorb the criticism of those who favor supposedly better systems, but the fact is that they are one of the biggest drivers of prosperity on earth.
Prosperity brings peace
Even with all our shortcomings intact, humanity has become more prosperous. All thanks to global brands? No, that would be an exaggeration. Governments have had a hand in it as well, maintaining stability and promoting policies that foster enterprise and equality, creating jobs and protecting the public good. But that pales in comparison to the job creation unleashed by global brands in countless countries around the globe – which arguably counts as a public good in its own right.
In terms of economic progress, the great leaps forward for the average global citizen have been set in motion by businesses that invested where they saw new opportunities. The value they have added to the world’s economy is counted in zillions. All because of their non-stop innovation, relentless investment in new factories and local organisations. All because they employ people and provide futures to entire populations who – in many cases – wouldn’t have had many other options.
Overall, this process has made our world a lot more peaceful.
No doubt about it: there will always be forces in conflict. Dramatic as some events have been and still are, we can’t say we have seen devastation on the scale of the two world wars. We won’t self-destruct that easily anymore. Too many countries and too many people have too much to lose now; no one can afford not to try and work out any differences at the conference table instead of the battlefield. In general, we have become sophisticated enough and wise enough to suppress our instincts to lash out at other states in ways that could spark a global conflagration (though some politicians out there are trying their best to make me a liar on that score).
Much of the growth of prosperity has been accelerated thanks to innovative technology developed by global brands and businesses. One of the best aspects of this is that it has helped us connect, and on a vast scale. Wherever you live, you’ll always be one click away from someone 10, 100, 1000 or 10,000 miles away. The global community has indeed come to resemble a global village. We can now get things done, debate issues and hash out solutions together faster and easier than ever. Which not only helps us to be more productive wherever we are, but also – and even more importantly – helps us to understand each other better. We can now, quite literally, see eye-to-eye and talk things through on a personal basis.
Though never with 100% certainty, the sooner and the easier people can talk to each other, the sooner they can resolve any potential conflicts before they turn into a conflagration. Remember the world’s collective sigh of relief when it was announced that a hotline had been installed on presidential desks in Washington and Moscow? Whether it actually helped prevent the launch of nuclear warheads is anyone’s guess, but it was the thought that counted. That one little piece of communications technology helped people back then to sleep just that little bit easier throughout the Cold War.
Economics or Peace?
The Nobel Prize committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 for its commitment to peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. At the time, the decision raised a lot of eyebrows.
But fine: if they can award the Nobel Peace Prize to the most undemocratic institution on the planet, they can surely make room in their deliberations to argue the case for awarding a Nobel Prize in economics or even a Peace Prize to a global brand. Why not to Nike (inspiring people all around the world to move more) or to Tesla (for accelerating the global push for a more sustainable world) or to Procter & Gamble (saving millions of people’s lives by introducing and facilitating more hygienic ways of living)?
For more inspiration, they could always have a look at the top 500 global brands and determine their influence on the GDP of developing countries alone. Surely that would bring a well-justified tear to the eye of a committee member or two. Without global brands, it would have been a lot harder for millions of people in developing countries to have reached their current, rising standard of living.
Either because of what global brands can offer them or by employing them or educating them or inspiring them to change their lifestyle, progress comes in many forms and global brands have a knack for bringing progress and prosperity somewhat faster than governments can, even in western countries with highly developed economies.
Prosperity brings peace and peace brings prosperity. Bring in the one and the other will follow. People who live in peace with each other can go about their lives and their business in safer, healthier, more productive and more cooperative ways. Not having to worry about where to find the nearest bomb shelter really helps when you’re working on a solution for new e-car technology or trying to get a world-changing startup off the ground.
Prosperity brings peace brings prosperity brings peace. It is a spiral that goes up instead of down, and it is a spiral fueled in no small way by the biggest and most innovative brands on earth.
So, dear Nobel Prize committee, how about it?
Erik Saelens is founder & executive strategic director of Belgium's Brandhome group