Shoring Up Made-in-Taiwan Image

Made in Taiwan.

When you see that label on a product, what comes to mind? If you’re like most Americans, you figure you’re lucky if the product is still in one piece when you take it out of the box.

The China External Trade Development Council (CETRA) is painfully aware of that, and it has turned to a tiny Venice design firm to help it reverse that nagging impression.

Over the next four years, Bright & Associates will advise Taiwan as to how to spend $110 million to improve the quality--and image--of its products. Bright, itself hardly a household word, recently helped little-known National Car Rental establish a new corporate identity.


“Most consumers laugh at products made in Taiwan,” said Keith Bright, founder of Bright & Associates. “We’re going to make an effort to overcome that.”

It won’t be easy. The big question is: Can Taiwan pull off a feat similar to Japan’s? Initially, Japanese products were regarded as tacky, at best. The Japanese used low prices to break into the American market after World War II. By the 1980s, however, Japan had carefully bolstered that image with very successful brand names such as Toyota cars and Sony electronics.

But what lurks behind Taiwan’s plans for a new image is more than just better products. Taiwan--which ranks as the world’s 12th-largest exporter and 13th-largest trading nation--is turning to advertising and PR experts in the hope that American word and picture wizards can make hamburger look like steak.

“The object is to have ‘Made in Taiwan’ conjure up quality the same way ‘Made in Japan’ conjures up quality,” said Bob Wolf, North American chairman of the agency Chiat/Day/Mojo. The Venice ad firm, which formerly owned Bright’s design firm, is one of five agencies vying for a portion of the $35 million that Taiwan proposes to pump into its advertising and public relations campaign.

One expert in corporate identity suggested that Taiwan is going about it backward. “The last thing you want to do is heighten the expectations of what you will deliver, then not deliver it,” said Alan Siegel, chairman of the New York corporate identity and design firm Siegel & Gale.

Another corporate image expert, Peter J. Harleman, executive vice president at the San Francisco-based Landor Associates, warned: “No matter how good your image is, if your product is horrible your image will be horrible.”

CETRA says it hopes to accomplish both--improve its product quality and its image--at the same time. It soon plans to select and teach a number of small Taiwan businesses how to improve the products they export. Most of the money will be loaned to the small businesses, but one-third of it, about $35 million, will be used to hire an ad agency, retain a public relations firm and even redesign the familiar black and gold “Made in Taiwan” logo.

“It’s a mistake,” Siegel warned, “to put a handsome, elegant new label on a product that doesn’t have compatibility with the elegance of that label.”


But that’s not going to happen immediately. And don’t expect to suddenly see flashy new ads saying Taiwan’s products are “new and improved.” The process will be slow.

First and foremost, the program will offer guaranteed loans and tax credits to companies from Taiwan trying to establish their own brand identities. Most businesses in Taiwan are very small mom and pop shops. Such firms often make product components for the larger companies that eventually place their own brand names on the finished products.

Among other things, Taiwan will try to improve its image here by reminding Americans that it does make some brands we buy. Taiwan produces and exports more bicycles than any other country, and its Giant Worldwide brand bicycle is a big seller here. Also, Taiwan ranks first in the export of tennis rackets; the Pro Kennex line is a big seller in the United States.

Although many American business executives are familiar with Taiwan firms, a recent survey of American consumers found few who could name a single brand-name product made in Taiwan.


“Taiwan built its reputation on making things for other countries,” said Patrick Smith, managing director of Bright’s branch office in Taiwan. Manufacturers in Taiwan make equipment for IBM, tennis shoes for Nike and even Liz Claiborne designer goods.

It may take many years for all of this to change, said Smith, “but you have to start somewhere.” As for the coming image campaign, Smith insists that there will be some real product improvements behind it. “We’re not just going out there and trying to fool the world.”


The City of West Hollywood is looking for an agency to help develop a marketing program for its new shuttle service. . . . The Laguna Hills agency Townsend & O’Leary has won the $5-million, nationwide advertising account of Vancouver-based Century 21 Real Estate Canada Ltd. . . . Phillips-Ramsey Advertising of San Diego has been handed the advertising and PR business of San Diego-based National University. . . . Thanks to the 1992 Olympics and presidential elections, ad spending will grow $1.4 billion next year, according to a study by Cahners Publishing Co. . . . Galusha & Associates, a Newport Beach ad agency, has formed a strategic alliance with the London-based agency Streets International. . . . Following a reshuffling of management, the struggling Los Angeles office of J. Walter Thompson will be overseen by the firm’s San Francisco office. . . . Hockey star Wayne Gretzky has filmed a TV spot for Easton Sports hockey equipment.


Taiwan’s Top Exporters

Company Brand Products Acer Inc. Acer PCs, monitors, keyboards Kunnan Enterprise Ltd Pro Kennex sports rackets, sportswear Giant Manf. Co. Giant bicycle, exercisers Mitac International Mitac PCs, monitors, peripherals Tera Electronic Co. Tera TVs, monitors International Hongson Travel Fox, Leisure apparel, Cable & Co. footwear Hocheng Corp. HCG ceramic tiles Daystone International San Sun hats, bags UB Office Furniture UB office furniture Copam Electronics Copam PCs, computer peripherals Leadwell CNC Machines Leadwell machinery Vidar-SMS Co. Sun Moon Stars PCs, telecommunications Proton Electronic Ind. Proton home electronics

Source: Brand International Promotion Assn. of Taiwan