Asia’s top brands

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on October 18, 2006

Two surveys address brand awareness in Asia

The results of two surveys ranking top brands in Asia were announced recently. On September 22, Media magazine in association with Asian Integrated Media revealed “Asia’s Top 1,000 Brands (Asia’s Top Brands).” On Monday this week, The Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) unveiled “Asia’s 200 Most Admired Corporations” (Asia’s Most Admired), a survey previously conducted by Far Eastern Economic Review before it morphed into a journal of political and social commentary.

Asia’s Top Brands is not-so-subtly concerned with the impact of adspend on brand recall, and is conducted in nine Asian markets. It covers 15 major product and service categories, from alcohol to household products. Between 500 and 750 respondents are interviewed in each country, depending on population, and they are asked two questions: 1) “When you think of (product/service category), which is the best brand that comes to your mind? By best, we mean the one that you trust the most or the one that has the best reputation”; and, 2) “Apart from the brand that you have just mentioned, which brand do you consider to be the second-best brand in the (product/service category)?”

The survey ranks “international giants” (Nokia) and lesser multinationals (Coca-Cola), along with “home-grown” Asian multinationals (Sony). This year’s top-ten includes all three categories. They are: 1) Nokia; 2) Sony; 3) Nestle; 4) Colgate-Palmolive; 5) Panasonic; 6) Honda; 7) Coca-Cola; 8) Samsung; 9) Canon; and, 10) 7-Eleven. It is interesting to note that although Media refers to Nokia as an international giant, according to the Interbrand-BusinessWeek annual survey of top brands, the value of Nokia’s brand ($30 billion) is less than half that of Coca-Cola ($67 billion).

We think we see the logic of Media’s informal classification, however, when we take in the adspend of these two firms. Adspend for Nokia is reported to be $204 million, while that of Coca-Cola is just $130 million. And then we notice that Colgate-Palmolive spent a cool half a billion dollars in the latest 12-month period, which helped it move up Media’s ranking three spots. Nokia is a FORTUNE Global 500 corporation (131), but so is Nestle (53). The mystery of Media’s qualitative admiration remains unsolved, therefore.

Asia’s Most Admired has a more strategic view of brand perception. It asks WSJA readers to evaluate brands on the basis of five criteria: 1) long-term vision; 2) innovation; 3) quality; 4) reputation; and, 5) financial soundness. It ranks 170 multinationals across 12 Asian markets, along with 40 local companies in each of those markets. The major difference between the Asia’s Top Brands and Asia’s Most Admired surveys is that Asia’s Top Brands categorizes brands, and therefore excludes some major brands from its survey. One of the most obvious examples is Microsoft. Because Asia’s Top Brands doesn’t evaluate brands in the software industry, Microsoft doesn’t show up despite an obvious affinity for technology-related brands in Asia.

The top-ten companies in Asia’s Most Admired survey are: 1) Microsoft; 2) Toyota Motor; 3) Sony; 4) Nokia; 5) Intel; 6) Honda Motor; 7) Google; 8) Apple Computer; 9) Nike; and, 10) BMW. Note that there are three automotive companies in the Asia’s Most Admired top-ten, and only one, Honda, in Asia’s Top Brands. Another interesting result is that six of the Asia’s Most Admired top-ten companies are technology-related, while four technology-related companies make it to Asia’s Top Brands top ten (five if we count Canon).

Both surveys suggest therefore that technology-related brands are among the most highly recalled and appreciated brands in Asian markets. Other lifestyle brands (automobiles) stand out in the Asia’s Most Admired survey, probably reflecting the relatively well-off financial status of WSJA readers compared to the broader base of the Asia’s Top Brands survey.

Another interesting quality of the Asia’s Most Admired survey is its relevance to specific local markets (although Asia’s Top Brands also provides results for major markets). Take the Philippines, for example. Journalist James Hookway notes that number one Philippine brand “Jollibee takes top spot yet again by outsmarting big foreign competitors.” Everyone loves a David and Goliath story, and this one still has legs. Other companies on the top-ten Philippines list include: 2) San Miguel; 3) Globe Telecom; 4) Ayala Land; 5) Ayala Corp; 6) Bank of the Philippine Islands; 7) Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company; 8) SM Prime Holdings; 9) Metropolitan Bank & Trust; and, 10) Banco de Oro Universal Bank.

Two things stand out on this list. First, Ayala-related companies dominate, with three slots (3, 4, 5). Second, there are three banks on the list. There are also two telecommunications firms (Globe, PLDT), and two real estate developers (an Ayala domain, and SM Holdings). It is noteworthy that the impressive performance of real estate and banks is unique to the Philippines, perhaps reflecting the contribution of services to gross domestic product compared to other countries.

Or it may reflect the relative immaturity of branding initiatives in the Philippines. Where there is little communication, financial results do all the talking.

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