Thoughts

Are brands in a Red Queen’s race?

Today’s information abundance is changing the way we relate to brands. Is the multiplication of collaborations between brands a way of staying ahead of change?

The influence of our ever increasing connectivity and resulting information abundance seem to be in a never-ending spiral upwards, and we are still finding and exploring the ways in which it affects business and society. Cyril Maury at Claro Partners has an interesting theory; he believes it’s causing the end of brands.

Fresh out of a global research project on “digital natives,” Maury noticed that the young people they interviewed seemed to be very uninterested in brands, simply buying what they like and not limiting themselves to one company. In the past, brands were useful for two reasons: to prove quality and as expressions of identity. The brand was used to symbolize a set of characteristics, a certain quality that consumers could hold on to in an information poor environment. Later on, they wanted to reflect these qualities on themselves, then use them to represent their personality. Maury believes that in our information rich times, finding quality can be done quickly and efficiently; no need to “believe” a brand—the information is out there. By the same token, people can create their own content, images, and remix meaning. They don’t need to attach themselves to a brand. They can be their own brand.

Now let's put this line of thinking alongside the recent announcement by IKEA of multiple collaborations with other brands. They will be releasing products developed with Adidas, LEGO, and Sonos, but also with Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, fashion designer Virgil Abloh, and glass and ceramics artist Per B. Sundberg, among others. In recent years IKEA also launched an Alternate Reality (AR) application, invested in a 3D printing company, and bought “gig economy” startup Task Rabbit, in part to offer on-demand assembly of their furniture through outsourced gig contractors. Quite the broad spectrum of initiatives, which involves stepping out of their comfort zone.

How do these two things fit together? If information richness means consumers step away from brands as proof of quality and as an identity signal, does that explain why IKEA, and others—think of Monocle magazine’s many “X” collaborations—launches so many projects? That definitely remains to be seen but let’s throw a third idea into this reflexion: the Red Queen hypothesis, or Red Queen Race. Based on a scene in Alice in Wonderland, where Alice runs and runs only to stay in the same place. It beckons to think: are brands running as fast as they can, coming up with collaborations left and right, just so they don’t lose ground?

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