Dec 31, 2009 - Brand power comes to world's poorest

From the Globe and Mail.
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By some measures, the artisans of the Haitian village of Croix-des-Bouquets are hugely successful: Their works are in galleries around the world, and the United Nations' cultural agency has recognized them with a UNESCO Award of Excellence. But by the only measure that seems to matter in a capitalist system, they are abject failures, for they can barely scrape out a living.

Tony Pigott believes he knows the solution: branding.

To those who know Mr. Pigott, this will not come as a surprise. As the president of the ad agency J. Walter Thompson Canada, he spends his life mulling the magic that a little branding can bring. So a few years ago, when he strolled through the metalwork shops of Croix-des-Bouquets, just outside Port-au-Prince, taking in the spectacle of hundreds of artisans transforming discarded oil barrels into extraordinary masks and wall hangings and mirror frames adorned with intricate native designs, he saw an opportunity.

According to Mr. Pigott, the artists depended in large part on distributors who would buy up the work "by the pound," paying only a small fraction of the ultimate retail price.

"In our view, this is a classic role for branding," Mr. Pigott explained recently in his midtown Toronto office. "The history of branding has been to validate the value of something, to create a trust, an authenticity about something."

"This was beautiful stuff, UNESCO had recognized them - and they didn't even have a name," added Mr. Pigott, who, as an ad man, seemed faintly stunned at this. "The work traces back to West Africa, it has a beautiful lineage, the story is extremely compelling, but it was never captured."

So he and two other Canadians, the development expert Cameron Brohman and the Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis, created BrandAID Project, a for-profit venture to develop and launch brands from some of the world's poorest countries. First up were two from Haiti: Croix des Bouquets, elaborate metalworks that sell for between $100 and about $1,000; and Carnival Jakmèl (based in Jacmel, the hometown of Governor-General Michaëlle Jean), vibrant papier-mâché masks and other pieces that retail for an average price of about $500.

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