Soft power to gain influence
A great episode from StartUp podcast about "Making China cool again" and a longread from The Guardian about branding countries
A few weeks ago, I was reading “The Industries of the future” by Alec Ross, a book about all the changes we are going through and all the changes we can expect to have in the next decade or two. The book is an eye opener if you have not read anything like it before; it could actually be scary but after following something like the Future Agenda I felt quite prepared for the changes. Anyhow, the book is ruthless, we need to adapt or we will stagnate.
Nevertheless, one of the things that attracted my attention the most was the idea of soft power. This is not the first time I read about soft power; I have seen it in other books before (books about influence and human relationships) and when it comes to show what soft power is, the authors always come down to the same examples: MTV, McDonalds, Beyonce, Halloween and every single thing the US has been feeding us for the last 30 years.
Soft power is infecting and powerful because it will stay in our subconscious minds for good. It´ll be part of our culture and therefore, it´ll affect our decision and behaviors. Unlike an imposed order, soft power is a suggestion, is aspirational and its up to you to adopt it. The trick is that in reality, you don´t have a choice; when you are exposed to the media, you will be affected by the soft power of nations, governments, societies and individuals.
Just think about it. During January, China is pushing harder than ever its Chinese new year. After subsidizing all its emigrants to open Chinese restaurants in the countries they were immigrating to, the Chinese government knows exactly what to do next.
Low wages, copying and building the products of the west is not enough. Now is time to bring Huawei, Xiaomi and Tencent to the table. Is time to build the next iPhone, the next Nintendo and certainly the next Real Madrid (that´s why “el mapache” Tevez is -as I write this- swimming in a pool of yuan).
China wants to influence us. When communism falls short, soft power is the endless new frontier to dominate markets worldwide.
Now is time to have a product that´s desirable, aspirational, attractive and timeless. Like Japan did with electronics and cars, like Italians do with food, luxury and (also) cars or like India is doing it with Bollywood, each emerging economy, each developed behemont needs to articulate new ways to attract talent, influx of money and positions its ideals.
The Chinese new year, just like halloween, Saint Patrick, the super bowl or christmas is slowly being celebrated across nations. Chinese were hidden in the restaurant trojan horse in which they penetrated each country . Now that they are inside, they can start deploying the 2nd step on this soft power invasion: imposing their culture. And we are eager to embrace it.
The new year festival is centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions, the festival ones destinies as well as ancestors. The Chinese new year is celebrated in countries with a large Chinese population, such as Cambodia, Hong Kong or Australia and among the things people do are gift exchange, fireworks, traditional music, special clothing (mostly red), family portraits and a lot of symbolism.
China is ahead in this race.
I´m now waiting for India to expand diwali and holi to other countries. Bollywood, biryani - chai and cricket still fall short when it comes to non traditional exports. Since I live in India, I have absorbed a lot culture-wise, and I have learned how the country has leaped frog evolutionary states in great fashion: from having no phones, India leapfrogged to mobile, skipping landlines altogether, the same happened from being and agricultural society to a service one, leapfrogging manufacturing completely, and more recently, India is aiming to be a cashless society, when still, so many people don´t even have traditional bank account.
I think India is being built now. Its growing each day. And because of that is also wakening to be a worldwide powerhouse. Bollywood, indian cuisine, yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, cricket and faith are the first elements I can think of when filling the Indian trojan horse. India is the next one to start influencing us. And then again, we are ready to shake our head side to side.