Although the fingerprints of the pandemic are visible all over the New Zealand top 100 brands ranking for 2021 (derived from our Asia's Top 1000 brands research), it's not a simple matter of some brands benefiting from the situation and other suffering, according to in-market experts.
"2020 was a tale of two narratives in New Zealand, Rory Gallery, head of strategy at Special Group New Zealand, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. "One where we stayed at home due to the pandemic and fostered a greater appreciation for brands like UberEats, NZ Couriers and Tegel. The other defined by the desperation to get out and enjoy ourselves, which is why a utility like Booking.com is now a brand we recall with fondness."
While it must be noted that UberEats is a Special Group client, the four brands Gallery mentioned are among the highest climbers in the top 100 for 2021. Our addition of a delivery services category for the first time clearly benefitted both NZ Couriers and UberEats, but the debut of the latter brand at a lofty 13th position clearly speaks to more than just pandemic-era convenience.
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“The brands that are finding deeper resonance with Kiwi audiences are the ones positioning themselves around how people live now," says Ogilvy NZ’s head of strategy, Tom Sykes."Take food as a broad example. The winning brands understand that it’s not our tastes that have changed, it’s our entire lives that have changed around eating occasions. They’re operating at the intersection of aspiration and usefulness. Emotional connection and functional satisfaction. These are the brands using their product to prove their positioning. Not the other way around.”
Other food brands making big moves up this year include frozen foods brand McCain, Kellogg's and snack-maker Eta. Supermarket Countdown and Australia-based, online-focused pharmacy retailer Chemist Warehouse also enjoyed healthy bumps.
“People are looking for brands that have the products that exist at the intersection of aspiration (does this brand reflect what I value) and utility (does it neatly complement the ecosystem of my life)," Sykes continues. "Or put another way, people are after better brand experiences. In 2021, when brands do one without the other, they’re leaving money on the table.”
Another element that can't be discounted when assessing the brands that recorded strong advances: creative advertising.
"I think there’s two key things driving success for brands today, and that’s utility and storytelling," says Stevie Weber, GM of strategy at FCB Aotearoa. "When you deliver on both, it’s a relatively unsurpassable combination. Utility is about purposefulness—not to be confused with purpose—and creating experiences that solve a need or pain point in customers' everyday lives. Lives today are full of complexities and everything can feel like such a demand on people’s time, so anything focused on ease and hyper-convenience delivers quick, meaningful wins.
She points to UberEats and home-improvement retailer Mitre 10 as examples of brands that are high on the utility scale and also use storytelling—with the right tone—to cement themselves in the minds of consumers.
"Storytelling boils down to the ability we have to entertain people, which may sound superficial, but it’s what captures and holds attention," she says. "People today are inundated with so many messages, causes, world problems, personal issues—it’s sucking up all their compassion and empathy and energy—that another overly worthy and emotional story can feel exhausting. The brands that are performing well right now manage to balance 'feel good' with an entertaining, humorous story.
Mitre 10's recent 'With you all the way' platform is a service proposition which ultimately humanizes utility, she says.
Another brand hitting the right notes is a Japanese giant that made a very impressive gain.
“Toyota, through their Hilux campaign, reassured the nation of its unwavering bond with New Zealanders through thick and thin, and made us laugh along the way,” says Gallery.
Chemist Warehouse didn't do anything too spectacular with its advertising, but stressed its proposition—value for money and friendliness—by featuring well-known figures, says Melissa Woods, director at Woods Agency, a brand consultancy.
You can't really go wrong with a member of the national rugby team as an ambassador, and in 2020-2021, the brand ran a series of ads featuring retired All Blacks player Dan Carter. His wife Honor Carter—herself a well-known sports figure from her time with the Black Sticks field-hockey team, as well as a former marketing manager at DB Breweries—has also done work with the brand. It doesn't hurt that throughout its campaigns, the brand makes use of the 1982 Madness earworm 'Our House'.
The list of brands that dropped by the most in the 2021 New Zealand top 100 is quite a mixed bag, including global brands like Dove, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo-owned snack brand Bluebird, Louis Vuitton, Palmolive and Coca-Cola, but also local brands such as chocolatier Whittakers, Fonterra-owned Anchor, Healtheries, Sanitarium and Kiwibank.
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Most of our sources declined to comment on how these brands have let consumers down. However, citizens of Aotearoa place a high value on brands that are making their nation a better place (see "Close-knit New Zealand favours brands that are part of the social fabric").
Woods says awareness of health and sustainability plays a role in many of the biggest declines. For example, she says the following about Coca-Cola: "Too much plastic packaging, horrific impact on environment that everyone knows about. Also not a health drink, there is a plethora of new drinks in this category that are tasty and have added health benefits."
The top 10
While the top three brands remain unchanged, two MNC electronics brands gained ground, with LG's three-spot ascent especially impressive. Nike also ingratiated itself with Kiwis.
Crashing out of the top 10, Kraft Heinz-owned frozen and packaged food brand Watties dropped six slots—an apparent reflection of the rise of some of the food brands mentioned above, particularly McCain, which is more or less a direct competitor.