THE PHILIPPINES' STRONGEST LOCAL BRANDS
While the top three strongest brands in the Philippines remain the same from a year ago—Jollibee, San Miguel and apparal and accessories label Bench—plenty of brands moved up and down in consumers' estimation. (We ask respondents to name the 'Strongest local brands' in an open-ended question which is completely separate from the questions that produce the overall Top 1000 Brands ranking for APAC and the top 100 list for each market.)
One sector that was particularly affected in 2020 was mobile, which saw several local brands gaining ground. Cherry Mobile, Globe Telecommunications and My Phone all moved up on the list of strongest local brands. My Phone in particular made a strong surge, going from 20th last year to eighth this year. Smart Communications was the only mobile provider to lose ground, falling just outside the top 10.
The nationalism debate
While some markets have seen a strong dose of nationalism and patriotism injected into consumer sentiment, this matter is up for debate in The Philippines. “We see some of this on social media, whether this translates into actually buying brands for that reason remains to be seen,” says Juan Manuel De Borja, strategic planning director, Grey Philippines. “I suspect that it is the same as it has always been for the Filipino consumer, and maybe even more so now: they open their wallets for a product and proposition that fits their lifestyle.
Rather than this nationalism debate, some other observers contend that consumer preferences may be accentuated in a value-conscious Filipino market, during a downturn. “We see a trend in supporting local products, particularly those produced by local farmers and crafters affected by the pandemic,’ says Tricia Camarillo-Quiambao, managing director of Initiative Philippines. “There is a lot of opportunity for local brands to capitalise on inherent values and meanings … However, the basic requirements of essentiality and relevance to people’s needs these days remain.”
One brand that has ridden this wave over the past year is Nissin's instant noodle brand Lucky Me, which was launched 31 years ago. The brand has vaulted from the low 20s to sixth in the local listing, as the brand has launched new varieties such as the Pancit Canton Go Cup noodles, made its products more widely available online during the pandemic and launched an eight-digit customer service line to help consumers interact more easily.
Another local brand that has seen growing consumer affinity is My Phone, the locally owned consumer-electronics brand. In a tough environment, the company seems to have benefitted from offering budget-conscious consumers a wide range of cheap products and a healthy dose of purposeful marketing, offering free phones to school children and accomodation to medical frontliners.
Some observers question whether the mobile brands in The Philippines can maintain the gains they have made this year. They have spent the last couple of years building up their offerings and cutting rates to reel in consumers. However, as the pandemic has worn on, their quality of service has struggled to keep pace (our research took place just as the pandemic was starting, in March and April). “People are demanding more from telecoms providers—especially in terms of data," says Francine Kahn-Gonzalez, CEO, BBDO Guerrero. "The issue may be that of reliability and maintaining a consistent connection."
Others such as Jos Ortega, chairman and CEO of Havas Ortega argue that with a spike in in data usage during the lockdown, the quality of customer service of these providers lagged the expectations of their consumers. “Prior to the lockdown, these telcos have already been under scrutiny with its perceived poor delivery of basic services. The lockdown magnified the situation.”
On the contrary, some experts feel that multinational brands may have done a better job this year offering value-conscious Filipinos products they require, stretching across their lives. “(A global brand like Nestle has) products that cater for every stage of your life,” says De Borja of Grey Philippines. “Their baby food, milk, health management and other products are waiting for you at each life stage, and one can almost seamlessly pass from one category to the next without ever leaving the brand’s consumption ecosystem.”