For the first time since the Asia's Top 1000 Brands research started in 2004, Japanese giant Sony finds itself outside the top five. In contrast, Korean electronics brand LG has vaulted to fourth place, a mark it last achieved in 2001 and just one notch shy of its all-time high placement of third in 2010.
Sony’s slow decline typifies the Japanese innovator’s struggle to stay relevant, faced with changing consumer preferences and new and nimble competition from the likes of chart topper Samsung and the rising LG in Asia. If Sony was a leader until 2011, it has slowly but surely been slipping away from the peak. The trendsetter famous for products such as the Walkman, the DVD player and Aibo the robotic dog has found itself struggling to generate breakout ideas to sustain momentum.
Sony’s struggles have also been amplified by missed opportunities in markets such as smartphones, where its Xperia brand has made little impact, first in the battle with the likes of Nokia, then against Apple and eventually Asian rival Samsung. Sony has also struggled to deal with legacy consumer businesses such as digital cameras, a segment that finds itself fossilized by the rapid growth of phone cameras. While Sony did turn a profit with the business, it was only by recasting its technology into the marauding smartphone market, rather than growing the number of digital cameras it sold.
Even as Sony has struggled to sustain its brand momentum over the past decade, Korean brands have upended their place in the market. If Sony and its ilk exported their Japanese-ness (innovation, cutting-edge tech) to western markets, Korean labels led by Samsung and LG added lower cost and rapid scale and distribution, disrupting the pecking order.
A little over a year ago, LG fortified its position with the launch of the world’s first 8K OLED TV, as it sought to assert its position in a competitive market. In January this year, meanwhile, the firm’s mobile unit chief told attendees at CES in Las Vegas that the business would turn a profit next year, even as a 65-inch OLED TV was also touted for sale by the third quarter of the year.
The firm is also finalising drop-down and rollup displays it plans to launch soon, even as its rollable phones are expected to launch next year. LG is also sharpening its artificial intelligence chops with its LGThinQ suite of products in an attempt to boost its profile as a maker of cutting-edge devices. While Samsung may be the more visible brand, LG is actually a larger player in some categories, such as white goods.
While Samsung may have stolen its thunder for some years, LG is now playing catch up on the marketing front. The company signed up with PHD for its global media business, worth around $800 million. LG Electronics had already showed its intent to look ahead, such as with the ThinkQ campaign it launched in 2018 for its AI-enabled product range.
Despite Sony’s stumble in 2020, the brand is far from sunk. Sixty-two years after Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyujo was renamed to Sony Corporation, the company was recently renamed Sony Group, to reflect its broader conglomerate nature, placing its once revered electronics unit on par with growth drivers of games, movies and music.
Battling the headwinds created by COVID-19, Sony’s stock is trading at a 19-year high, and after a decade spent debating its place, the company is now focusing on a new media future in movies and music; it wants to be less reliant on its fading legacy in the electronics business. Right on cue, it has also launched a new brand campaign named Boundless by Sony, to drive home this new identity.
By all accounts only the first shots have been fired in what promises to be a new and prolonged Asian brand battle.