Matthew Miller
Sep 21, 2020

New Zealand's top 100 brands: The pandemic hierarchy of needs

ASIA's TOP 1000 BRANDS: Grocers, technology brands and providers of comforts like tea make gains as Covid makes its mark on the New Zealand brand landscape.

New Zealand's top 100 brands: The pandemic hierarchy of needs


Unlike many of the markets we're examining as part of our Asia's Top 1000 Brands research this year, New Zealand's top 100 brands ranking clearly shows the imprint of the pandemic. For many APAC markets, our research took place in the 'before times'. New Zealand, by contrast, was already on high alert in February and March when the research took place, with strict border-control measures in place and people limiting their activity. The country's first mandatory lockdown coincides with the tail end of the research period.

It's no surprise then that companies providing essentials and comforts are among some of the biggest gainers in the top 100. For example, groceries: PaknSave moved up one spot to join an otherwise stable top 10, and New World made the largest gain in the top 20, rising eight spots to 18. 

"New World has fostered a sense of community through their communications," says Claire Beatson, general manager of group strategy for Dentsu Aegis Network New Zealand. This includes a calm, reassuring voice; comms reflective of government sentiment; expressing support for the most vulnerable in the community; supporting local growers; and even empowering New Zealanders to grow their own produce through its 'Little garden' initiative, she adds.

Top gains (20 positions or more)
Brand 2020 rank 2019 rank Change
Dyson 43 80 37
Virgin 48 79 31
Emirates 72 103 31
Harley Davidson 66 93 27
Microsoft 21 46 25
2Degrees 50 74 24
Toshiba 100 124 24
Singapore Airlines 97 120 23
Coffee Club 88 109 21
Arnotts 57 77 20
Dilmah 85 105 20
NOTE: This list omits new top 100 members Facebook Messenger (37) and WhatsApp (83), which appeared for the first time because we added a category for messaging services.

"Our frontline supermarket workers and supply-chain managers became our heroes—ensuring that our shelves were fully stocked—even if we did experience the inevitable rush on toilet paper, rice and canned goods in the initial lockdown," says Isobel Kerr-Newell, MD of MSL in New Zealand. "Despite the odd occasion of poor customer behaviour, there appeared to be a genuine sense of gratitude towards these workers and by extension the brands they were employed by for putting their own health at risk to ensure we all kept eating. I know it changed my view of the critical role these essential businesses play in our life, and I had a newfound thankfulness every time I had an order delivered or was able to get what I needed safely in store." 

These retailers also did a great job in reassuring the public, she adds, pointing for example to this New World video posted quickly on Facebook. 

Given that connectivity with loved ones, colleagues and sources of entertainment quickly became paramount, technology brands also did well. Microsoft and Hewlett Packard are among the biggest gainers in the upper portion of the ranking, with the former rising an impressive 25 positions (reaching 21st) and the latter gaining 18 spots to hit 23rd. Toshiba just made it in at 100 thanks to a gain of 24 spots. Mobile carriers Spark (+10 to 52) and 2Degrees (+24 to 50) also gained ground. There was one glaring exception among mobile carriers: Vodafone, which finished 59th last year, not only crashed out of the top 100 but experienced one of the most profound drops we've seen, losing 247 spots (see "NZ mobile carriers head in dramatically different directions").

"It is telling that brands like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Toshiba rose by significant amounts in the last 12 months," says Tracey Lee, executive strategy director at Colenso BBDO Auckland. "Technology brands, banks, telcos… these are the brands that we’re literally relying on to get through this year. When telcos like Spark stepped in, removing data caps during lockdown, and New World kept food supply stocked and stepped up deliveries, the appreciation was real."

Biggest drops (20 positions or more)
Brand 2020 rank 2019 rank Change
Vodafone 306 59 -247
Budget 176 89 -87
Hallenstein Brothers 128 78 -50
Whiskas 132 96 -36
Pascoes 102 68 -34
Mitsubishi 69 37 -32
Persil 109 84 -25
Palmolive 94 70 -24
Farmers 104 81 -23
FIFA World Cup 123 100 -23
Fitbit 73 53 -20
Meadow Fresh 89 69 -20
NZ Couriers 93 73 -20

Kerr-Newell agrees that with increased reliance on technology, driven by the "seismic shift so many of us made as we moved to work from home", it's not surprising that these technology brands gained. Notably, the gainers are brands most closely associated with productivity, while entertainment-centred tech brands—like returning top brand Samsung, returning second-place brand Apple, Sony (-2 to 5), Playstation (+3 to 24) and Netflix (+3 to 36)—either stood still or moved only slightly.   

The biggest gainer on the entire list, Dyson (+37 to 43), is also, arguably, a technology brand. Apart from the brand's solid marketing approach, including its highly experiential stores, Kerr-Newell suggests the company's improvement in New Zealand may also have a pandemic element. "Spending way too much time at home over the past six months has led many of us to cleaning to stave off the boredom of lockdown," she says. "Maybe the extra time spent with our vacuum cleaners has accelerated a love—or hatred—of our particular model and desire to upgrade, with Dyson commonly regarded as the best of the best."

Aside from the spiritual balm of housecleaning, more traditional creature comforts, especially local favorites, also gained. 

"I smiled to see Dilmah [+20 to 85], Coffee Club [+21 to 88] and Starbucks [+19 to 29] having made gains," Lee says. "There was a great quote in the NME about the rise of nostalgia music searches in Spotify, suggesting ‘an increasing percentage of the population seem to be living their quarantine lives as if they’re on summer holidays with their nan, baking and doing crafts.’ And drinking tea."

As Kerr-Newell puts it, people survived the first lockdown on a combination of caffeine and alcohol. "And there’s nothing better than a cup of tea to calm the nerves in a crisis," she adds. "When we can, Kiwis have enjoyed popping out for our Barista-made brew of choice, so Coffee Club and Starbucks’ positions make sense, given they are the most well-known national coffee chains. We Kiwis continue to love our independent cafes and roasters though, and after being cut off from cafes through the first lockdown, I’d suggest that there’s a general newfound appreciation for our local baristas and the coffee category in general."  

The island nation may also be showing a newfound dedication to local brands in general. "New Zealand has always had a soft spot for the challenger brand," Lee says. "We want to see the little guy win, because as a small nation of small businesses we are the little guy. So it’s no surprise to see local challenger brands like Kiwibank [+19 to 39] and 2degrees improving. "New Zealand’s relative isolation from the rest of the world, exacerbated by an effective border closure, has definitely spurned a revival in shopping local. We’ve historically supported the idea of Made In NZ, but that has extended to ‘made in my ‘hood’, with locals stepping up to support their local businesses."

Tony Bradbourne, CEO and CCO at independent Special Group, agrees there's has been a large push towards backing local companies. "This means local brands, services, shops, cafes and so on," he says. "And there is lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest this has been strongly translating into sales. We’ve also seen it in the advertising industry, where many brands are looking to work with the leading New Zealand-owned agencies and consciously moving away from multinational agencies that are foreign-owned. Brands are understanding that they have a broader responsibility to support the country that supports them."

Top 10
Brand 2020 rank 2019 rank Change
Samsung 1 1 None
Apple 2 2 None
Panasonic 3 4 1
Watties 4 5 1
Sony 5 3 -2
Google 6 6 None
VISA 7 7 None
LG 8 8 None
PaknSave 9 10 1
Colgate 10 12 2

Another notable trend visible in the data is a decline among traditional high-street vendors, with Hallenstein Brothers (-50 to 128), Pascoes (-34 to 102) and Farmers (-23 to 104) all making our list of the year's most painful tumbles. The enduring impacts of the pandemic will be many, Lee said. "It means less face time with real people. Less office chat. Less time hanging out in malls—which is why we’re seeing the high street evolving. While some stores close, others that prioritise customer experience are seeing a lift."

The evolution of retail is the key, agress Beatson. "Physical stores will remain absolutely critical in the future," she said. "We are not ready to replace them with ecommerce for quite some time, if ever. But a meaningful number of people have experienced shopping online for the first time and enjoyed the experience."

Finally, the airline sector provides some surprises. Three foreign airlines—Virgin, Emirates and Singapore Airlines—all made significant gains compared with last year. 

"Repatriation of New Zealanders from around the world may well account for their rise in the ranks," says Kerr-Newell. "They were able to provide a lifeline during an incredibly challenging time." 

However, it's puzzling that Air New Zealand is absent from the top 100, as it was last year. Please see "New Zealand expects a lot from its strongest local brands" for discussion of how locals see Air New Zealand and other homegrown brands.

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