Jessica Goodfellow
Sep 20, 2021

Australians swap travel for a trip to the supermarket

Campaign's exclusive ranking of Australia's top local brands shows consumer support has shifted to businesses which delivered on essential needs—from groceries to banking, internet connectivity to search. Google becomes only international brand in the top 10.

Australians swap travel for a trip to the supermarket

Qantas has been dethroned from its ranking as Australia's 'strongest local brand' for the first time in several years by Coles, as Australians have swapped international travel for a stroll along supermarket aisles.

The pandemic has brought about rare shifts in Australian loyalty in Campaign Asia-Pacific and NielsenIQ's Asia's Top 1000 Brands consumer survey. Australians have been steadfast in their ranking of the top 10 local brands over the past few years—the only change has been pushing out any international brands and replacing them with heritage ones.

Challenging events, from the pandemic to the bushfires, have deepened the appreciation for homegrown brands—but the focus has shifted to those that have delivered on essential needs over the past 18 months. Supermarkets occupy the two top spots in the ranking (Coles rose from fourth place in 2020), while telco Telstra and hardware store Bunnings both gained three slots to fifth and sixth, respectively. Meanwhile, Australia's flag carrier Qantas slipped to third place.

Matt Robinson (pictured, left), partner and MD at AnalogFolk Sydney, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific: "It shouldn’t surprise anyone in Australia that a supermarket has taken over an airline for top place, with locked-down meals dominating all of our lives, at the expense of our ability to leave the country (or at various points, travel within our country) on a plane. What I wouldn’t give to swap a trip to the supermarket for a trip to Europe!"

Brand Council managing partner and owner Trudi Cassin, echoes: "As a large portion of the nation are in yet another lockdown and borders remain closed, the top 10 Australian brands of 2021 mirror the times we are living in. For those in lockdown, a trip to the supermarket may be the only exciting escape or respite from the confines of their home."
















Commonwealth Bank




Cotton On




Rose Herceg (pictured, right), chief strategy officer of WPP AUNZ, is "surprised" that Qantas stayed at third place given "the only people who’ve seen the inside of a plane are Australia’s Olympians these past 19 months".

Simon Hakim, CEO of Melbourne-based creative branding agency Hunter, suggests the airline's high ranking could be explained by "latent, nostalgic loyalty to an old, iconic Aussie brand". 

UM Australia's group director Angela Swayn adds: "It is pleasing to see the consistency of Australia’s loyalty to the Qantas brand despite the limitations on travel both internally and domestically. It demonstrates the strength and resilience of this brand in our hearts despite a global pandemic."

Part of the social fabric

Essence's MD of Australia, James Graver (pictured, left) identifies three trends among the top 10 local brands:

  • Strong brands, mostly born in Australia.
  • Ties to sport sponsorships tapping into the cultural and community fabric of many Aussies.
  • They are all needed in many different human or meaningful ways—and they deliver.

"The majority of the brands within the top 10 have shown excellence through their response to Covid-19. Between the likes of Coles and Woolworths showing great empathy and resilience and hustling hard on their customer experience. Or Commonwealth Bank and Telstra giving customers confidence on what is important to them, like their financial literacy or connection. Or brands like Bunnings or Qantas rallying around the Aussie spirit and ubiquitous nature of them in culture," explains Graver.

Coles' elevation can be explained simply by its ability to provide food and toilet paper to the nation, but it has also established itself as a brand with purpose. In March this year it launched a 'Together to Zero' business initiative aiming for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The initiative has been "communicated strongly through advertising and other initiatives in-store, and is clearly a difference maker", says AnalogFolk's Robinson. "Great to see a brand move beyond ‘fluffy’ purpose and create meaningful change," he adds.

Telstra's lift to fifth place comes in tandem with more households moving online. "Telstra’s role in keeping Australia connected for Zoom and Team calls has clearly elevated them," says Robinson. "Not to mention a very consistent approach to brand and advertising over the last few years, with strong brand codes and a visual language—it’s hard to mistake a piece of Telstra work for any other brand."

Brand Council's Cassin (pictured, right) goes on: "Bunnings and Telstra have both played vital roles for Aussies spending more time in the home—one helping with home and garden DIY and renovations, the other keeping people connected through their phones and WiFi."

Vegemite and BHP both slipped one place to fourth and eighth, respectively. While Vegemite still remains high, it could have slipped due to the uptake in more cooking and baking at home, suggests Cassin.

Hunter's Hakim is "surprised" that BHP continues to rank highly given the "negativity associated with mining, poor international trade relations, and the environmental impact—to name but a few challenges they face". He suggests three possible reasons for its rank: BHP’s divestment strategy from oil and gas, the brand's constant presence on TV with its 'Think Big' campaign, and a recent proposed merger between BHP and Woodside to create a global top 10 LNG company by production.

Necessity drives up new top 10 entrants

For the brands that have risen into the top 10, Essence's Graver explains it is because "their usefulness, helpfulness, and necessity have become even more prominent and therefore more memorable to consumers".

Australia’s biggest bank, Commonwealth Bank, rose eight places to come in at seventh place. Both WPP AUNZ's Herceg and Brand Council's Cassin point to Commonwealth as a brand that has given Aussies "a great deal of comfort" during the tribulations of the past 18 months.

"Many families were faced with financial strains during lockdown and Commonwealth Bank was there to help them, so it is no surprise to see them climb into the top 10," says Cassin. Commonwealth Bank unveiled a new brand identity in October 2020 that sought to celebrate Australian optimism. The brand refresh was coupled with the launch of a 'Can Lives Here' campaign strapline.

Cotton On lifted a significant 28 places from 37th in 2020. The fashion brand positioned itself as "one of the leading purveyors of work-from-home attire", says AnalogFolk's Robinson, with business trackies and sweats replacing a suit and tie.

Cassin adds: "Coupled with its affordable prices and improving sustainability credentials, Cotton On is a go-to brand for many Aussies."

Google becomes primary shopfront

Google ranked highly on the list of "strongest local brands", which is possible because the question is an unaided one. It's also surprising since the company has been sparring with the government since early 2020 over a regulatory crackdown related to the value it provides the country’s news industry, as well as its adtech power.

Such regulations seek to tackle Google's dominance across internet services that brand experts attribute towards its swift rise in consumer ranking.

Herceg explains: "Despite its very public stoush with Aussie regulators, we’ve Googled our way to bread-baking, cocktail-making, small business supporting, news-reading, and anti-vax observing."

Swayn says Google has become Australia’s primary ‘shopfront’ in the past year due to the continuous closing of bricks and mortar within the retail space, while Cassin suggests Google has become "a window to the outside world, which in turn has provided us an escape and freedom from being trapped at home". 

Simon Hakim, CEO of Melbourne-based creative branding agency Hunter (pictured, left) surmises: "With most of us on this side of the world working from home, it goes without saying that sitting in front of our computers means far more interaction with brands on the screen rather than brands on the streets or in the malls. The pandemic has presented Google with an opportunity to reframe how we see them and the collaborative products they offer, helping them sidestep the negativity generated from the content stoush."

Google's rise is also significant because it has become the only international brand in the top 10 ranking. The past few top local brands lists have painted a picture of parochial public that prefer national brands over international ones. Robinson suggests Google has prospered by "creating a localised flavour".

"In our house, and for my kids in particular, Google’s Aussie voice is dominant throughout the day. 'Hey Google, what’s the weather today', 'Hey Google, what noise does a kangaroo make', 'Hey Google, set an alarm for my 10:30 Zoom class'...Google has worked hard at developing its version of Aussie charm, and it flows through from its product experience all the way to its brand. I’d go so far as to say that we’ve adopted the brand as our own," says Robinson.

Rise of in-home consumption

Beyond the top 10, brands that notched significant gains in the local brands ranking point to a rise in home-based activities. 

Adidas (21st) and JB Hi-Fi (22nd) notched up a significant 74 and 61 places respectively because "activewear is now a way of life" and "headphones and earbuds make working from home a touch more liveable (and professional)", explains Herceg.

Other big gains came from Milo (20th) Optus (34th), Toyota (39th), Harvey Norman (16th), Aldi (11th) up 32, 31, 30, 22 and 20 places respectively.

Swayn (pictured, right) says: "The rise of brands such as Milo, JB Hi-Fi and even Aldi are a demonstration of how the growth of ‘in-home consumption’ of FMCG products but also entertainment goods has accelerated in consumer demand compared to other categories due to Covid."

Hakim notes Aldi as a "stand out" brand that he is "surprised not to see in the top ten".

"Aldi offers a low no-frills option that isn’t trying to be something it’s not. I’ve also noticed their advertising more than Coles or Woolies. It stands out, and the agency has done a great job to differentiate them from the competition," says Hakim.

Elsewhere, Hills (29th), HP (33rd), Vinamilk (35th), Amazon (36th), Johnson & Johnson (40th), Magnolia San Miguel (41st), Lenovo (42nd), Panasonic (43rd), Michelin (44th), Philips (45th), LG (46th) and Dell (47th) all joined the list in 2021.

Kraft (49th) and Cadbury (48th) recorded the biggest tumbles, down 36 and 30 places respectively. They were followed by fellow FMCG Nestle (38th) and fast food chain McDonald’s, which both fell 16 places in the ranking.

Essence's Graver suggests marketing spend and customer experience become more important differentiators in determining who is up and who is down further down the list.

"Some brands would have maintained or even increased spend, whereas others would have decreased spending which would have an impact. Others innovated early and continued to invest in improving the customer experience and accelerated the digitisation of their services. For brands that did both of these things and still dropped, this could just be down to the reduced relevance of their products at this time due to a change in consumer behaviour that means people are not using them in the same way right now," Graver surmises.

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