Highlights from the Superbrands League of Excellent Brands

Companies would probably be happy to be acknowledged and receive credit for exceptional achievements of the brands they own and manage. Firstly, it can be a source of pride and joy for managers and other employees involved in managing the brand for their inspiration, creativity and successful strategies and tactics they plan and execute — it is a show of appreciation that touches people better than financial values that matter mainly to business organisations and investors. Secondly, an award for excellence gives an opportunity for positive publicity that can help to promote the brand and further enhance a favourable image. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it should be an encouragement for those who have already won the credit to keep their course and for those who still look forward to win that acknowledgement to aspire for excellence.

The Superbrands organisation manages a programme to that purpose: its key objective is to promote and reward the excellence of brands. It was established in 1994 in the UK by Marcel Knobil, an advertising executive, and is now operating (by licensing) in over 80 countries. The organisation outlines a three-stage selection process of consumer brands: (1) Building an initial shortlist of candidate brands by a team of the organisation’s chapter in each country; (2) A council of experts in marketing, advertising and communication evaluates and further screens the candidate brands to produce a semi-final list of eligible brands that will climb to the next stage; (3) The final winning brands are selected by a random sample of consumers taking part in a survey — the chosen brands are deemed Consumer Superbrands.

  • Note: Additional specialised leagues were created over the years (e.g., Business Superbrands, CoolBrands, Kid Superbrands) but in this post I will focus on the main league of Consumer Supserbrands.

According to the UK’s chapter, operated by the The Centre for Brand Analysis (TCBA), the key requirement that defines a Superbrand states:

“A Superbrand has established the finest reputation in its field. It offers customers significant emotional and/or tangible advantages over its competitors, which consumers want and recognise.”

This overarching requirement is supplemented by three additional criteria for brand appraisal: Quality, Reliability, and Distinction. These criteria should guideline the appraisal of brands in each country participating in the programme. Beyond the choice of Superbrands, the organisation takes pride in the publication of its books that entail case studies on brands awarded the accreditation of Superbrands.

In reality, it should be said, all countries apparently do not perform the process to the same extent and follow the same criteria (given the information issued on their Internet websites). They also do not publish their results (online) to the same level of scope and detail. The implementation of the programme in the UK — as the country of origin — seems to remain the most comprehensive:  TCBA selects the 1,700 initial entries, submits them to the judgement of the expert council, leading to elimination of about 40% of brands that received the lowest scores, and eventually the nomination of 500 Superbrands by a consumer sample (i.e., the brands more frequently selected). TCBA publishes online the top 20 brands for 2013 in ranking order as well as the brand winning in each product or service category (naturally there is some overlap between the lists); all brands are reported in alphabetic order. Case studies on selected brands can be downloaded from the website.

Interestingly, Superbrands Israel appears to get the closest to the UK in its implementation of the methodology: A team of the local licensee (“Forum Shivuk” marketing news publisher) selected the initial 2,300 candidates; an expert council of executives, academics and professionals (over 100, mostly CEOs and CMOs) led by Marketing Professor Jacob Hornik (Tel-Aviv University) evaluated and chose about 700 eligible brands; and finally around 300 brands were awarded as Superbrands in a consumer  survey (brands scoring above a threshold on “strength of attachment”). The selection process was based on a definition similar to the British one and three criteria as indicated above. The Israeli league of Superbrands for 2013 is sorted by product/service category (reported without a rank order). The survey was conducted by Market Watch-Ipsos Israel. Case studies from the 2012 edition can be accessed on the website.

In other countries the differences may extend beyond minor adjustments. For example:

  • Countries which highlight their council of experts but provide little or no detail of their selection process, particularly omitting information on the conduct of a consumer survey (e.g., USA, Australia, Italy);
  • Countries which use a rather different set of criteria (e.g., Australia names as criteria: market dominance, longevity, goodwill, customer loyalty, overall market acceptance);
  • Countries which publish (online) just a few dozens of Superbrands, not clarifying whether these are only the top winning brands or all the brands awarded in the country (e.g., Spain 26, USA 43, Italy 16).

That is the place to turn to actual Superbrands leagues. The following are selected highlights of the latest results I found interesting or noteworthy from the UK and five additional countries (UK and Israel for 2013, USA and Australia for 2012, and Spain and Italy for 2011). Every country can nominate as Superbrands their own national-home brands as well as global brands.

  • Rolex, the Swiss brand of luxury watches, is the strongest, most highly appreciated, top-ranking Superbrand overall in the UK. It is also recognised as a Superbrand in Israel. On a more popular trendy end, however, Swatch is also named a Superbrand in these two country.
  • The second and third place in the UK are won by brand names of two major corporations of computer technology, Apple and Microsoft, respectively. Microsoft is also a Superbrand in Israel together with the name of its Windows operating system. Apple, however, is “replaced” in Israel by two brands of its mobile device products, iPhone and iPad, likely reflecting the shift of attention from PC and laptop computers to smartphones and tablets. We may also note that Samsung is a Superbrand in the UK, Israel, and Australia.
  • The brand of Google, the dominant provider of search and other information services on the Internet, is placed sixth in Britain. It also appears in the league of Superbrands in Israel and in Spain. But we also need to acknowledge other online Superbrands such as YouTube (in UK, Israel, Spain — actually also owned by Google!) and Facebook (UK-14th, Israel). Somewhat surprisingly, none of these are mentioned as Superbrands in the US. In Israel, a native navigation applet, Waze, highly publicised in the past year, is also a Superbrand.
  • Airlines are still prominent brands: British Airways in the UK (a lucrative fourth place), Alitalia in Italy, El-Al in Israel, and Qantas in Australia. Nevertheless, the airlines are going through rough times where Alitalia and El-Al are particularly in jeopardy.
  • In the media: The BBC, despite all its recent troubles, is awarded a Superbrand accreditation in the UK, and even in the 13th place, while The Times of London is the leading Superbrand in the press media; The New-York Times, frequently cited worldwide, is a Superbrand in the US; The commercial TV broadcast Channels 2 and 10 are Superbrands in Israel but not the public Channel 1, while in the press the veteran Yediot Aharonot and the challenger free newspaper Israel HaYom that fight neck-and-neck both gained a Superbrand award.
  • Two automotive brands reached the top list in Britain, Mercedes-Benz (10) and BMW (11). Mercedes is named a Superbrand also in Israel and in Italy. Other vehicle Superbrands in Israel include BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Volkswagen. Italy has awarded its sportive Lancia.
  • Notably, two famous children brands are among the top 20 in the UK, Lego (15th) and Disney (16th).  Both are Superbrands also in Israel. These are brands that follow one for a lifetime.
  • Spain has awarded the Football Club of Barcelona a Superbrand title, but not Real Madrid. In the UK, Manchester United is acknowledged this year as a Superbrand, first in the sports & fitness category, but followed by the FCs of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool.
  • Campbell’s, known primarily for its soups, is a food Superbrand in the US. It is also acknowledged as Superbrand in the UK, yet Kellogg’s (cereals) is winning there in the general food category and Cadbury (chocolate) in the confectionary, snacks & ice cream food category. Kellogg’s is 9th but also on top from that category appears Heinz (12th). In Italy the native Ferrero Rocher famous chocolate brand is a Superbrand, so acknowledged also in the UK and Israel. Ferrero has another Superbrand in Italy — its Gran Solei cold deserts.
  • The last tribute will be given to alcoholic drinks: Jack Daniel’s (whisky) is the winning Superbrand in this category in Britain; Bailey’s (Irish Cream) is another favourite brand awarded. Italy has named Martini as Superbrand. And Israel has given the title to Jack Daniel’s as well as Johnny Walker, Absolut (vodka) and Chivas Regal.

Many more brands of goods, services and retailers have received this award, every reader is invited to explore and reveal them to his or her own taste or interest.

Public institutions and not-for-profit organisations are also now regarded as brands and therefore can be acknowledged as Superbrands. The BBC broadcasting organisation and the Royal Albert Hall for art performances of music are public institutions. In a category designated to associations & charities, the winning Superbrand is Cancer Research UK. In the US we can find not-for-profit organisations like Autism Speaks and Americare, and in Australia we find Australian Made and Guide Dog Australia.

This raises the question if any organisation, product or other entity that provides a service is appropriate to be treated as a “brand”. Many non-business organisations are required to engage in marketing effort of some form to reach its customers and/or donors. We should consider, however, some more qualifying questions when selecting candidates for this kind of branding award, as follows: How does the organisation relates to and interacts with consumers? What kinds of products or services does it offer to individuals or communities? Is it in competition?

The expansion by Superbrands Israel of entities that can be awarded exemplifies how things may go wrong. Awarding the credit to organisations or institutes such as HaBima National Theatre, Magen David Adom (equivalent to Red Cross), The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and associations for combatting cancer, for organ donation, or for the soldiers, is reasonable and acceptable, similar to institutions and associations recognised in other countries. On the other hand, internal and overseas intelligence organizations (“Shin Bet” & “Mossad”), the army (IDF), Raphael (military industries), Yad VaShem for commemorating victims of the Holocaust, and the Supreme Court do not belong in this kind of league. Even more absurd is the inclusion of the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Symbols of culture and heritage and carriers of values of the people and country that assume important functions should not necessarily be recognized as brands. The list of Superbrand People that includes public figures like political and state officials, novelists and artists is not any more appropriate. I doubt if any entity, no matter how widely accepted, meaningful and cherished it is, should be treated as a brand.

The Superbrands approach is unique in using the judgement of both experts in relevant fields and consumers in the selection and qualification process: experts apply their professional judgement to choose brands eligible for the award before consumers use their personal-subjective judgement to evaluate and/or select the deserving brands that will receive the accreditation. The Superbrands organisation has to ensure that these principles are honoured in every country participating in the programme and that licensee operators implement the methodology adhering to the same or very similar standards (e.g., UK and Israel). It should further specify clear criteria for defining entities eligible to be a “Superbrand” and boundaries for the number of brands that the “league of Superbrands” should include. This is important for the recognition of the programme as international; it would also facilitate and increase the validity of comparison of results between countries.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

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