The last year or so has proved interesting for Australian consumers, with a number of specific issues and stories making what insiders say is a significant dent in the general trust landscape.
The ongoing Banking Royal Commission has had a major impact on large, market-leading financial service firms such as AMP and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, both of which have been exposed for dishonest behaviour, exploiting customers and internal incompetence. Commonwealth dropped six places in Australia’s Top 100 list this year to 80th position. In government, meanwhile, a total of 15 MPs have been forced to resign in recent months after contravening a section of the Australian constitution relating to dual citizenship. And in April, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce announced his resignation following coverage of an extramarital affair.
|Australia's top 10 brands|
Such events all amount to a significant loss of trust in public institutions, says Tim Riches, group strategy director at Principals. “There’s a high level of scepticism, cynicism and even hostility towards large brands like banks, utilities and telcos who are seen as self serving, greedy and power-abusing. The Australian psyche is very sensitive to issues of equity,” says Riches. “One of the founding psychological principles of Australia is “fair go, everyone is more or less equal”, so when institutions and institutional brands abuse their position of power at the expense of individuals, that resonates particularly strongly with the Australian psyche.”
This isn’t to say that the past 12 months have seen all brands fare poorly. Nestlé, Sony and Panasonic did fall down the charts, but other brands like Google, Coles and Woolworths all jumped a few rungs in Australia’s Top 10 brands this year. Google’s rise in Australia reflects the wider APAC trend: The tech giant joined the top 10 for the first time since 2011 this year, while the supermarket behemoths have proved themselves champions of local values. McDonald's, too, had a good year, rising 19 places to 21st position—possibly a sign of the biting impact of the cost of living for Australians, says Riches.
And while news stories of incompetence and abuse of power might boost cynicism towards some sectors, it has also opened opportunities for brands that can prove they are anti-corruption and—in particular—pro-equality.
The timing of global uprisings around #MeToo and alleged sex abuses by Harvey Weinstein happening in the same year that Australia passed its historic marriage equality vote, says Dan Monheit, director of strategy at Hardhat Digital, has in fact generated an opportunity for brands to show consumers their good sides. Coca Cola, for instance, was one of several brands that came out in support of marriage equality with its ‘Yes’ campaign and the brand rose two places in this year’s Top 1000 list.
“We've had the marriage equality vote go through and also the success of AFL women’s league caught the whole country off guard, people got really behind that. We’re already starting to see brands become more confident in showing non-traditional families, and showing they’re aligned with equality of marriage, equality of rights and strong powerful women,” says Monheit.
Brand Amazon lands
The other major brand news story in Australia has of course been the arrival of Amazon in December, which prompted dozens of headlines second guessing its impact on the retail sector. Forty-two days after its launch, Amazon’s Australian Marketplace had collected over 5,000 retailers, and the country had become Amazon’s fastest growing market in the world. Amazon jumped an impressive 67 places in Australia’s Top 100 list this year, from 98th place to 31st place.
But the dreaded ‘Amazon effect’, predicted to negatively impact many struggling local retailers, is yet to appear, says Monheit. “If we look at other overseas markets where Amazon has launched, they’ve lifted the economy for everybody. It’s not like they come in and destroy everything, they come in with this incredible platform that brands either decide to get on board with or not.” Monheit cites Kogan, the leading ecommerce vendor in Australia, as an example: Kogan has made their entire product range available to Amazon and is thus benefiting from its superior listings.
Amazon has also opened up a “whole blue ocean” for advertising, continues Monheit, since it offers the opportunity for consumers not only to search for products but to search in an environment where they are ready to transact. “It’s still very early on but the ability for advertisers to start potentially shifting online funds away from paid Google Adwords into Amazon sponsored results is going to be really interesting,” says Monheit. “We’ll see if that opens up new budgets or if that ends up shifting budgets away from things like search and display into Amazon.”