Matthew Miller
Aug 30, 2021

Close-knit New Zealand favours brands that are part of the social fabric

Asked to name the strongest local brands, Kiwis name companies that represent the country on a global stage, those that do their part for the community and the world and those that communicate forthrightly.

Close-knit New Zealand favours brands that are part of the social fabric

Air New Zealand, despite just last week adding a $289 million loss for the first six months of 2021 to a $454 million loss for 2020, remains New Zealand's 'strongest local brand', according to New Zealand respondents to our Asia's Top 1000 Brands survey. 

Although it has suffered, like most airlines, the flag carrier is not in true jeopardy; the government, which owns 52% of it, has extended a $1.5 billion loan, and the airline has actually seen domestic travel return nearly to pre-pandemic levels. Still, it's not currently a 'strong' brand if judged by financial metrics. But it's designation as 'strongest' in our research of course has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with national pride.

"We are still willing them on," says Rory Gallery, head of strategy at Special Group New Zealand. 

"There are a few key common ingredients to some of New Zealands’ most reputable local brands," adds Stevie Weber, GM of strategy at FCB Aotearoa. "One point that jumps out is we love brands that have had success on the global stage. There is an inherent belief that because of that, we somehow own a share of that success. We feel it’s our right to claim it as our own, and therefore there’s a huge desire to continue to support it. Air New Zealand is a perfect example of that. Despite the past year, and all the trials and tribulations the airline has faced, it’s universally famous appeal makes us want to own and support it even more." 

New Zealand's strongest local brands

  • Air New Zealand
  • Fonterra
  • Whittaker's
  • Fisher & Paykel
  • The Warehouse
  • Kiwibank
  • Watties
  • Anchor
  • All Blacks
  • Pak N Save

We asked: "What do you think is the strongest local brand in New Zealand? By ‘strongest local brand’ we mean a brand that originates from New Zealand, has the best reputation and resonates most strongly with those living in this market."

Years of brand-building also helps account for Air New Zealand's perch atop this list, as well as the presence of others such as The Warehouse, Gallery says. “Many of these brands are part of the nation’s social fabric and hold incredible cachet with middle New Zealand. For example, brands like Air New Zealand and [discount retailer] The Warehouse spent parts of last year completely unavailable to Kiwis due to stringent lockdowns. But the nation yearned for their return and their standing in society ensured that absence only made the heart grow fonder. As we know, strong brands are more likely to thrive in a time of crisis.”

Over the last year, there have been a number of defining drivers of choice, Gallery says. "Firstly, familiarity and trust. In a time of crisis, we know from years gone by that people will choose brands that deliver on these aspects. Secondly, brands that are actively contributing to making New Zealand a better place. For example, we’ve seen The Warehouse focus their efforts on goods that are sustainable and affordable, which is undoubtedly striking a chord with Kiwis.”

Melissa Woods, director at brand consultancy Woods Agency, agrees, and points to chocolate maker Whittaker's collaborations that lift up other New Zealand food producers, and Fonterra's new comms strategy around care for the environment, as factors citizens have responded to favourably.

Weber also cited Whittaker's for mirroring Kiwis' innovation and resourcefulness. "Whitakers is constantly experimenting and taking risks, are really reinventing chocolate," she says. "They do this particularly well by entering into various partnerships with other local brands, which only reinforces the love for such brands." 

Sound communication, even in times of crisis, plays an important part in brand favourability too. 

Air New Zealand, for example, has remained straightforward and forthright throughout the crisis, earning it points, Gallery says.

In its 'Good together' series, Dairy giant Fonterra has adopted a folksy approach of replying directly to customer concerns about environmental issues.

Good corporate citizenship also works like a bank deposit that pays off in forgiveness from consumers when things do go wrong, according to Tom Sykes, Ogilvy New Zealand's head of strategy. “New Zealanders will always love brands that behave well but more importantly they will respect brands that catch themselves and self-correct along the way." 

Consumers do not expect perfection, he adds, noting that even some of the brands in the strongest brands list have occasionally gotten things wrong. "For example, content that misses the mark and needs to be pulled, or managing a sensitive issue poorly," he says. "But it’s how they’ve dealt with those missteps that have won them more love. Importantly, these are brands that have been behaving well for a long time. They are the brands that Kiwis like to think represent the best of us. The brands that are winning are the ones tapping into the moral code of New Zealand today, not just talking a big game, but playing it out too in real time and moving with the times.”

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