The BRICS Brand – from economic concept to institution of global governance


Dr Petrus de Kock 

Brand South Africa, General Manager, Research 

In a research report published during 2015 Brand South Africa began exploring the development of the BRICS and its institutionalisation. It asked rather speculatively whether the BRICS can be approached or analysed as emerging institution of global governance, and hence, a brand in and of itself.  

With South Africa hosting the tenth BRICS Summit in 2018, Brand South Africa set out to update the 2015 research with relevant new information that appeared subsequently. The 2018 report is thus entitled, The BRICS Brand – from economic concept to institution of global governance. 

It is found that BRICS nations have, in a proverbial counter-cyclical fashion, been increasing interaction, seeking more opportunities for trade, and deepened interactions beyond state-to-state engagements, covering several domains of economic, and socio-cultural action.  

This is what leads some analysts to argue that, in an ironic twist of geopolitical fate in the 21st century, five developing nations are becoming the protectors of free global trade, advocates of globalisation, activists for protection of the global climate, and a force that advances the cause of a just, equitable, and an integrated multipolar international order. 

This report captures findings related to three aspects interrogated through the research, being:  

  • Firstly, the emergence of the BRICS as an institution in the global governance arena;  
  • Secondly, how the institutionalisation of the BRICS contributes to the development of the BRICS brand; and  
  • Thirdly, how this BRICS brand presents a unique case of compound soft power, or, as alternatively referred to – the multilateralization of soft power. 

Essentially this research explores how the increased formalisation of intra- and inter-BRICS interactions, the establishment of institutions such as the BRICS New Development Bank, increased interaction on platforms such as the Business Council, and Think Tank structures, also lead to the development of the BRICS brand, or collective image, of the five member states.  

BRICSceptics tend to argue that due to the diverse nature of member states’ internal composition, and geopolitical and economic policy objectives, the organisation may find it hard to cohere and develop. But, contrary to such analyses, an important strand of research on the BRICS is finding that the geographic and internal diversity of the member states are assets that in fact strengthens cooperation, while congruently increasing the soft power impact of the BRICS and individual member states.  

The BRICS brand is therefore an outcome, or result of several levels of concerted effort by member states to institutionalise interactions. For example, since inception, the BRICS Research Group finds that there have been more than 160 formal meetings between members, it adopted 60 documents, subsequently implemented through various working groups and coordination mechanisms. 

Furthermore, between the 2009 and 2017 the BRICS nations have made a total of 406 commitments. The BRICS Research Group furthermore finds a staggering high level of compliance by BRICS members when it comes to the implementation of summit decisions. It is found that BRICS members implement 70% of summit decisions. This indicates high levels of commitment to making the BRICS a reality through deepened interaction.  

Scholars are increasingly acknowledging the BRICS as multilateral brand. The research finds that this acknowledgement is a direct result of increased institutionalisation. Important in this regard is the analysis of the soft power of the BRICS collective, and how the institutionalisation of the organisation is contributing positively to entrenching it as a unique manifestation of global governance in a volatile geopolitical and international economic arena. Based on assessments of the BRICS, Chatin & Gallarotti (2016), for example, argue:  

“The bloc has also transformed into a diplomatic forum representing increasing power, value and capacity of action for the member states, this attributing to them a distinctive standing and an image associated with a ‘special mark’. Along the same lines, Montbrial stresses that the BRICS have become a ‘real brand,’ to which the states composing the group dedicate great attention.”   

In conclusion it is found that this research report links the following concepts: institutionalisation of the BRICS, its emergence as institution of global governance, soft power, and the development of the BRICS as brand.  

This means that as the BRICS is institutionalised, as it implements Summit decisions, as it establishes shared institutions (e.g. the BRICS New Development Bank), as it furthers the cause of a multilateral, fair, just, and inclusive global governance system, as it seeks peaceful resolution of international conflicts – it builds the (BRICS) brand, and enhances the soft power of both the BRICS as institution, and the individual member states. 

But, developments in the global economy, and geopolitical environments, play a major role in driving the search for strengthened, deepened, and institutionalised BRICS interactions. The development of the BRICS brand (based on the institutionalisation of the organisation) takes place in a post- Global Financial Crisis world characterised by turbulent change: increasing trade protectionism (witness US imposition of import tariffs and overtures of trade wars), isolationism and economic nationalism (BREXIT and increasing popularity of anti-EU political parties in Europe), anti-globalisation, and epically destructive proxy conflicts in crisis-prone regions (witness developments in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and to a lesser degree Libya). The aforementioned conflicts unfold in regional environments already destabilised by decades of ongoing external (often unilateral) interventions, and internal civil and political conflicts in countries such as Iraq, and Afghanistan.    

However, through BRICS interactions, the member states have been putting their proverbial money where their mouths are. Consequently, BRICS nations have been bucking trends of anti-globalisation, and counter-integrationist discourses that have emerged in the northern hemisphere, and in so-called ‘advanced nations,’ in the past decade.  

Furthermore, the anchoring principle and shared vision of a multilateral, and fair global governance system, sits at the heart of the evolution of the BRICS as global governance institution and evolving brand.  

Cedric de Coning argues that,  

“No analyst foresaw, nor did the BRICS themselves, that in less than a decade, these actions would bring them to a point where the BRICS has become an important force in defence of global governance, economic globalisation, free trade, and collective climate action.”   

This is due to the fact that nations who, in the 20th century, were advocates of globalisation, free (unrestricted) global trade, regional integration, and rule-based systems of global governance, have made stunning about turns on such issues.  

This article concludes with a brief overview of the sections of the report, and the issues covered therein.  

  • Converging diversities – a short history of the BRICS 
  • Wherein three phases of the development of BRICS is explored for context on the evolution of the BRICS as a multilateral developmental brand; 
  • From Economic Concept to Global Governance Institution  
  • Based on research conducted by the BRICS Research Group, this section explores how the group has achieved a 70% implementation/compliance rate in terms of implementing Summit decisions. It furthermore interrogates research that indicates how the BRICS is surprising commentators with the speed of its institutionalisation; 
  • BRICS Agreements, Commitments, & Compliance  
  • Provides concrete evidence on how the BRICS is deepening interactions and platforms of political, economic, policy, academic exchange; 


  • Themes emerging from the Summit Declarations  
  • Explores key Summit decisions and commentary on the global governance role of the BRICS in contemporary geopolitics;  
  • The BRICS brand & compound soft power – will the sum be more than its constituent parts?  
  • Referred to as ‘compound soft power’ in academic literature, this section explores the collective impact of the BRICS. This analysis views the collective soft power resources of the BRICS as a form of power augmentation that is also referred to as a ‘multilateralisation effect.’   Increased institutionalisation, deepening interactions among members outside of summits, and the impact coordinated actions have for the collective brand of the BRICS is explored in this section of the report.  

In a rapidly changing world the BRICS is evolving as organisation, and is creating solid platforms for ongoing exchange, mutual learning, and interaction. Each member state represents more than just a country. It connects 42% of the world population, is establishing new institutions and conversations to create a world where bricks are there to build bridges of mutual understanding, and not to create walls of division, conflict, exploitation, unilateralism, and exclusion.