HONG KONG'S TOP 100 BRANDS
Panasonic, Philips, Watsons, Dettol, Meiji, and Maxims are among the biggest gainers in the 2019 Top 100 brands ranking for Hong Kong, while the list of brands falling or crashing out holds some surprises.
With three home-appliance brands, a personal-care retailer, and a food company known mostly for tasty treats on the rise in the top 10, we might discern a trend toward the comforts of home and self-care. But in addition, branding experts contacted by Campaign, who were told the directions some brands were moving in but not the specific rankings, see other themes emerging.
"First, we noticed that innovation, going beyond products and services to experiences, is almost always present in the big upward movers," says Blums Pineda, partner with global brand consultancy Prophet, "This is not at all surprising, especially as the experience becomes more and more the brand. Second, we also saw many of those moving up are great at explicitly connecting more deeply with consumers, whether via inspired messaging or amplifying purpose and then pairing that with celebrity endorsers or celebrity-centered campaigns. But of course the product/service has to be great to begin with."
Let's start with the Hong Kong top 10 (see the full top 100 ranking here).
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The headline from this upper echelon belongs to Panasonic, which displaced Apple to take the second spot, behind Samsung. This is certainly an achievement in mobile-obsessed Hong Kong, especially in a period when Apple released fresh new flagship models. Panasonic, which captured third place in the pan-regional ranking for the second straight year this year, derives its strength from its broad range of home appliances (see "For keeping Asia cool, clean, fed and well-groomed, Panasonic stands out").
While Sony, Chanel and Nestle shuffled places, none moved more than one spot. The real action took place at eighth through 10th, where Philips (up from 12th last year), Watsons (up from 13th) and Meiji (up from 11) displaced Johnson & Johnson (from seventh last year to 11th), Google (from ninth to 14th) and HSBC (from 10th to 15th).
Prophet's Pineda lauded Philips for an early 2019 Smart Health community event, which got NGOs and other organizations involved to introduce and educate the public about smart approaches to a healthy and wellness-oriented lifestyle. "They focused on healthy recipes and invited nutritionists and other experts to help deliver on this, which was a fresh approach in the market," he says.
As for Watsons, Eunice Wong, chief growth officer for Greater China at Ketchum, says the retailer has been making noticeable improvements including renovated stores, increased product choice and better communications. "When comparing to its closest competitor, Mannings [up three slots to 53rd], Watsons is paying more effort and planning on its CSR and corporate level of communication, other than just marcomm to consumers, which is a big plus to the brand," she added.
Movin' on up
The year's top riser by far is Dettol, up an impressive 91 places to 99th. The venerable Reckitt Benkiser brand, present in Hong Kong for 80 years, has greatly diversified its offerings in recent times, including with an array of body washes in locally palatable fragrances. The brand also makes great use of discounting through online retailers such as HKTV Mall, and its disposable wipes are a mainstay on every convenience-store checkout counter in the city.
A 2018 campaign for Dettol's Proskin line, with singer/actress Priscilla Wong, made an impression on the market, according to Prophet's Pineda. "The market loves celebrity endorsers, and when you have a new product line matched with a strong message and great creative, then great things happen. Plus there was a strong push on multiple channels to get it out there."
Maxim's, purveyor of affordable comfort food, is another strong gainer in the upper half of the top 100, rising 20 spots to 35th. "We think that its uber-popular custard mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival last year had a lot to do with it," Pineda says. "We’ve heard that customers see it as great alternative to the Peninsula Hotel’s version, but easier on the wallet. Evidently Hong Kong agrees."
Creature comfort for those who don't need to think so much about their budget might mean an expensive handbag or a new piece of bling. And indeed, luxury goods makers, many of whom took a beating last year, clawed their way back this time around. Louis Vuitton rose 35 spots to rejoin the top 100 at 71st and Gucci improved by 21 spots to land at 66th.
"Gucci did a great job of connecting with local emotion leading up to Lunar New Year 2019, but in a young and relevant way," says Pineda. A Year of the Pig capsule collection featuring Disney’s three little pigs, available only in Hong Kong and China, emerged as a 'must have', he added.
Jeweler Chow Sang Sang also did well, gaining 31 spots to join the top 100 at 83rd.
"Chow Sang Sang did a lot of things very well last year to connect more deeply with the HK market," Pineda says. "We know Hong Kong noticed their ‘認真 讓愛每日如初’ TVC campaign. It’s inspiring, connects emotionally, and was memorable. They also had local singer Jason Chan do a song for them on commitment, love, and relationships, tying to their engagement rings and wedding-related jewelry. And they maximized the mileage, virality and buzz factor for this on social and by word-of-mouth, with Jason even showing up at people’s weddings and singing."
Ketchum's Wong agreed that Chow Sang Sang has done a great job evolving the brand toward the needs and sensibilities of the young, through its product design, the look of its stores and its communications.
However, we can't declare a sector-wide victory for luxury brands. Both Dior and Burberry continued slides that began last year, and the other jeweler whose name starts with "Chow", Chow Tai Fook, lost a lot of its momentum. Last year it gained 50 spots, but lost 19 of those this year, falling to 90th.
"Chow Tai Fook’s merchandise, locations, store displays and so on focus more on attracting the mainland Chinese customers," Wong says. "Yes, this may be a core source of income, but at the same time the brand remotes itself from the local customers who are more western and international."
No matter what you're buying, nothing beats a convenient payment method. Which made Alipay the second-biggest gainer in the top 100; it improved 47 spots to land at 96th, while erstwhile competitor Paypal departed the top 100 by losing 35 positions to land at 132nd.
Speaking of convenience, 7 Eleven made a healthy 14-spot move upward to 43rd. Ketchum's Wong says that while the brand has spent on store renovations, service quality and product variety, it needs to do more. "When these efforts are bringing in sales but not translating into brand-building, it is time to jump out of the box with marketing, other than just repeating the same old tricks for the third decade. 7 Eleven Taiwan is doing a far better job in energizing the brand, as well as building relevance with young working adults."
Kam Fatt Chen, managing partner of strategy and transformation at Publicis Groupe Hong Kong, agreed that 7 Eleven should be higher on the list given its ubiquity and the frequency with which the average Hong Konger connects with brand, which is often daily. "Moving beyond convenience and utility, there is definitely opportunity for 7-Eleven to reshape and to reinforce the role that the brand plays in the lives of shoppers," he says.
Looking to the fast-fashion sector, Uniqlo stands out as one of the top 100's more surprising losers. It dropped 22 slots to 50th after rocketing up by 109 positions last year. The fall has to feel that much worse because of competitor H&M's 27-slot rise to 72nd.
Wong expressed surprise, as she believes Uniqlo does a great job with product novelty and crossover partnerships, such as a recent collaboration with the artist Kaws.
Pineda credits a series of H&M moves that inspired purpose and innovation: a sustainable fashion line made from fruit and algae, a push for supply-chain transparency and a garment recycling program. "We could see all of these resonating with a very environmentally conscious HK audience," he says.
In another rivalry, Pacific Coffee, which narrowed the gap on Starbucks a year ago, lost 18 spots this year. It ended up in 56th, looking wistfully up at the powerhouse coffeehouse from Seattle, which gained four spots and now sits at 18th.
"What we notice about Starbucks is their relentless innovation in both products and also the store experience," says Pineda. "In terms of products, the company has been experimenting with new product lines such as alcoholic beverages in its IFC store. They are also relentless in product development with new variants like their Cherry Blossom Series, which was a big hit in Hong Kong. For the latter, they launched a beautiful Reserve flagship store in Causeway Bay—just a block from our office, actually. It is beautifully designed and emphasizes the in-store experience, and consumers love it."
Pacific Coffee, by contrast, is lacking in product novelty, says Ketchum's Wong. "We have to admit that the mooncake, limited-edition coffee cups, all the way to the new flavours that are being introduced every month, keeps the excitement for Starbucks, and makes Pacific Coffee look pale," she says.
Other disturbing declines include Dove (down 23 to 67th) plus a series of brands that departed the top 100: SK-II (down 97 spots to 172nd) Tropicana (down 49 to 135th), Playstation (down 43 to 107th), Honda (down 42 to 122nd), Avis (down 37 to 111th), Virgin (down 22 to 104th) and Manulife (down 16 to 110th).
However, the uber-loser of the year, as you might guess based on that oh-so-clever wordplay, was Uber, which dropped a dizzying 148 spots, from 18th last year to 166th. Based on that result, you might think Uber had abandoned Hong Kong, but it hasn't. Rather Hong Kong has abandoned it. The platform's downfall—which can probably be laid at the feet of comparatively high prices—is particularly breathtaking when you consider the public's widespread dissatisfaction with the indignities of the city's taxis, which by and large can't be booked via an app, only accept cash, and frequently provide not only surly service but also a stinky, unkempt ambiance and a herky-jerky ride that tends to induce motion sickness.
The above perhaps also explains 44-position rise of EasyTaxi, which as far as we can tell has ceased operations in Hong Kong.