For much of the past decade, talk about global expansion has begun and sometimes ended with the BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India and China.
But some now see the BRIC paradigm as played out and oversimplified amid growing questions about the stability and growth potential for some of those four countries, and growing appeal among others not on the list. Meanwhile, some big marketers that were relatively early movers into the biggest of the BRICs -- China -- are redoubling their efforts there to address new competitive threats or shore up shaky business models.
Either way, it seems the BRICs aren't quite the sure things they've seemed to be since Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman Jim O'Neill coined the term a decade ago.
Speaking at the Association of National Advertisers Finance Conference last month, Eurasia Group consultant Larry Cristini and PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant John Swadener outlined some major shortcomings and worries for the "RIC" part of BRIC.
China and Russia both face questions about how exactly they'll deal with their rapidly aging populations. China's aging population has little pension safety net, Mr. Cristini said in an interview. Its younger workers, even as they rise into the middle class, face the growing burden of supporting their elders even as lower-wage countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia threaten to siphon some of the export-driven job growth.
Declining demand because of the financial crisis in the eurozone further threatens China's exports. And while all that may hasten the diversion of cash from China's well-capitalized state-run enterprises into the country's consumer economy to fuel internal growth, exactly how that will occur isn't yet clear, he said.
Russia faces a different dilemma, Mr. Cristini said, as Vladimir Putin, having lost support from much of the country's emerging middle class, relies on oil revenue to provide social programs for an aging working class. The recent decline of oil prices amid a global economic slowdown, however, makes that strategy harder to fund.
India still has a rapidly growing population and middle class, Mr. Cristini said, but has issues of its own: political gridlock combined with a regulatory system that 's widely unfriendly to outside global companies.
Of the four BRIC countries, Brazil has the best prospects, he said, thanks to a balanced economy with a well-established manufacturing base and oil wealth and a government inclined toward tax and regulatory reform. But even Brazil faces slowing growth because of a slowing Europe, U.S. and China.
Mr. Cristini counts Vietnam and Indonesia as top prospects -- the latter particularly, given its population of 240 million, relatively stable political system and strong consumer base in which two-thirds of gross domestic product goes to consumer spending.
PwC expects compound annual growth rate for entertainment and media spending in Indonesia of 11.9% through 2015, just ahead of the 11.7% for the BRICs. In all, the "Golden Eight ," also including Mexico, Colombia, South Africa, Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey, should see growth in entertainment and media spending of 12.7% annually over the period, a full percentage point ahead of the BRICs, according to PwC.
But downplaying the BRICs remains a decidedly minority view. "I have to disagree with PwC," said WPP CEO Martin Sorrell in an address to the ANA conference. "It's not about the absolute size of the markets. It's about the delta that 's critical. If you're trying to run a multinational company, you look for growth. And China and the internet, or BRICs and clicks, give you virtually 100% of the delta, as long as Western Europe and the U.S. are such slow-growth markets."