The triumphs and failures of some of the world’s biggest brands

We tend to think of the world’s biggest brands as monoliths—perpetual, immovable, so deeply entrenched in the fabric of our lives that we begin to wonder why they should advertise at all.

Does a day ever go by when you don’t at least see, if not touch, an Apple product? There’s certainly barely an hour in our lives that we don’t interact with Google, a brand so big and intertwined with the way we live that it’s now considered a verb.

And unless you’re a teen and therefore too cool to have an account, you could probably say the same about Facebook (or Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok — pick your personal poison).

But the fact is that the global dominance of these brands is a fairly recent phenomenon. You may even remember a time when there were other search engines – Yahoo! or even AltaVista, anyone?

As late as 2000, the top brands on Earth were Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and IBM (followed by General Electric, Intel, Nokia, Ford, Disney, and McDonald’s), respectively. The carbonated drinks maker topped the Best Global Brands Rankings from 2000 to 2012. That was the year Apple made its way to the top, where it has remained ever since (although Amazon and Google are nipping at its platinum-plated heels).

So how did those brands get such a powerful exposure? What do they do so much better than their competitors? And what does the example of Kodak—a brand that was seemingly too big to fail…until it did—tell us about how fickle a brand’s success can be?

Market dominance

It may not be number one, but when it comes to dominating the market, it’s hard to beat Google’s staggering success, according to UNSW associate professor of marketing Sydney Nitika Garg.

“It’s a story of sheer dominance over product quality, when if you look at Microsoft, it’s failed so miserably,” says Garg.

†[Google is] not only meet the needs that the consumer recognizes today, they meet the needs that the consumer will recognize as soon as he offers the product.” – Nitika Gargo

“As a researcher, I often talk to other colleagues and ask, ‘What happened to Microsoft? They have the means, how can they be so terrible? How is it possible?’

“What Google did and still does really, really well is innovate in the truest sense of the word. Not only do they meet the needs that the consumer recognizes today, they meet the needs that the consumer will recognize once they offer the product.

“I haven’t seen a search engine that comes close to Google yet. They had competitors, but they’re all gone, and then they build synergies between categories.

“So when you think about Google Photos or Google Drive, these are things that people didn’t even recognize or thought they would need. Now, how many of us end up using these products? Nearly everyone does.”

The cool factor

So being brilliant and innovative is of course one way to achieve success, but the only company that is even stronger financially than Google is the one we often use to access the ubiquitous search engine: Apple. And while it has many more competitors, including Samsung, which is also one of the world’s most successful brands, it has managed to differentiate itself by not necessarily being the best, but rather being the coolest.

Garg says the secret is there to create desirability through design. Apple doesn’t just sell devices or computers, it sells an image, and while that image may have been “more geeky-than-mainstream” in the days of the company’s jelly bean-colored iMacs, that all changed with the launch of the iPod. in 2001 and then, six years later, it took it to the next level with the launch of the iPhone.

“When we teach here, the laptops in the classroom are all dominated by Apple, although if you ask the experts, their laptops aren’t exactly the best,” says Garg. “But that’s what they’ve done very well; they have understood who the consumer is because they are not trying to please everyone and they are no longer just behind the tech savvy types.

“They are going after the consumer who values ​​the aesthetics, the clean look of Apple, the promise of Apple that it is top of the line, which shows that they can afford this product. And it is also a form of conspicuous consumption. It’s a symbol that says, “Look, I can afford an Apple” or “I can have the latest Apple device.”

“And then Apple backs up that selling point with excellent service, because that’s also very important. People expect consistent quality and you don’t want to break or disappoint consumer expectations, because then they will adjust their view of the brand and their preferences.”

Luxury in demand

When it comes to selling an image rather than just the product, the premium brand world operates on a whole different level.

Today, Professor Ian Phau is the director of the Luxury Branding Research Cluster at Curtin University, but he used to work for LVMH, a French company that includes some of the world’s most exclusive brands, including Louis Vuitton, Moët and Chandon, Hennessy, Bulgari , Fendi, Christian Dior and many more.

He explains that the world of luxury brands is all about how other products are marketed.

“When you talk about the luxury industry, you talk about exclusivity, scarcity, rarity. So the less of that particular product, the more consumers want it.” – Ian Phauc

“Start with the price. If you look at your ambitious brands, your H&M for example, all the fast fashion brands, they will offer things like discounts and promotions. But if you look at Louis Vuitton, there is no such thing as a promotion,” explains Phau.

“When you talk about the luxury industry, you talk about exclusivity, scarcity, rarity. So the less of that particular product, the more consumers want it.

“One of the most important things about luxury brands is that it’s not about satisfying consumers. You see the luxury item as a work of art – you like it or you don’t like it. If you don’t like it, you’re not the clientele, so to speak. But the luxury brands still want you to know them — they still want to build that communication.

“I would say that the successful brands are the ones that set the tone, set the innovation, set the trend for others to watch. And they have a very strong focus on brand culture. The culture of the brand must be consistent, must have a very strong personality and must really act on what the brand stands for.”

Incredibly, the past few years of COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain issues have proved lucrative for the luxury brands. Phau describes them as “recession proof” because it has allowed them to play into their favorite trick – by focusing on scarcity and using it to raise prices to increasingly stratospheric levels.

“Brands like Chanel and so on have increased their prices by 25 percent every quarter for the past few years and that builds on the rarity aspect of it,” he explains.

“I interviewed a consumer in Shanghai in early 2020 who loved Chanel like crazy. She had saved up to get a Chanel handbag for about $18,000, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lockdown, so all brick and mortar stores were closed and she couldn’t get her hands on it.

“After about three months, when the stores reopened, the price had gone up by 25 percent and she couldn’t afford it anymore. I literally made her cry in front of the camera because she lost the chance to buy it.

“If you look at the price of their product two years ago, it has probably gone up two or three times in total since then. So luxury brands work in a completely different way because the whole idea is to build on scarcity, rarity and exclusivity .”

Achieving cult status

For almost all brands, even the most luxurious, advertising is an important way to keep their brand awareness high among consumers.

However, there is one gigantic outlier: Tesla, the world’s most valuable (or overvalued) auto company, which rejected the marketing playbook from day one and spends very little of its billions of dollars on traditional campaigns.

Garg says it was incredible to see how Tesla avoided the conventional marketing plans of advertising, promotion, product placement and co-branding. “Instead, it relies almost exclusively on publicity and PR in the sense that their CEO is the brand — Elon Musk is Tesla,” explains Garg.

“Everything he does or says is covered and it makes Tesla stand out in people’s minds, so there’s a lot of word of mouth. I have a friend who basically said, ‘Oh, I just got my Tesla, it’s on my bucket list was.’ I’m serious?

“They’ve created a cult following for their brand in a way. Initially there was scarcity, but now it goes to the masses and is seen as an innovator in the market.

“And the hype has made Tesla the Apple of cars, right? Tesla symbolizes innovation, it symbolizes technology, it symbolizes superiority on those dimensions, which creates a halo effect for the consumer in terms of how it signals, ‘I am leading the way.’”

The task for other car brands, such as Mazda, is much more traditional, but no less challenging, and branding is still extremely powerful.

Zoom Zoom past the competition

In Australia, Mazda is the second best-selling car brand, a position it occupies nowhere else in the world – in Europe Mazda ranks 18th. In terms of market share, Australia is indeed Mazda’s largest market and much of that success comes down to just one word repeated: ‘Zoom Zoom’.

Alastair Doak, Marketing Director at Mazda Australia, says the launch of that memorable campaign and slogan in 2000 was a huge success.

In terms of market share, Australia is Mazda’s number one market and much of that success comes down to just one word repeated: ‘Zoom Zoom’.

“It really fit with the idea that Mazda is a little bit special, that it’s a little bit sporty, and I think the slogan ‘Zoom Zoom’ really captures what it means to most people in Australia. That’s why we stuck with it in Australia – it’s still there and it’s still an incredibly powerful message,” explains Doak.

“It is no longer used worldwide, they use ‘Feel Alive’ in the US and ‘Drive Together’ in Europe. You have to have something that really means something, that reflects the values ​​of the brand, and for our markets, ‘Zoom Zoom’ has just been incredibly successful.”

Too big to fail?

Consumers are, of course, extremely fickle, as the war between Microsoft and Apple clearly demonstrates. So is there such a thing as a brand that is too big to fail? Garg doesn’t think so.

“We’ve seen plenty of examples of brands that seemed invincible and suddenly they’re nowhere,” she says. “It may seem like you’re in a very powerful position, but if you don’t keep up with current offerings, if you’re not at the top of your game, it’s easy for competition to take you down.

“One example is Kodak, which was the largest on the market, right? When you look at the movie sales these days, and even the brand itself, it just disappeared, which is amazing. How could such a big brand that was number one in its category just disappear? Because they completely missed that opportunity to be first in digital, or even second in digital. Kodak had so much brand equity – people associated them with photography – and they lost the plot.

“So I don’t think any of these brands take their position for granted. Or at least they shouldn’t, because very quickly consumers can let us know that tomorrow, if there is a better offer, they will move on.”

Read next: 10 of Today’s Most Powerful Luxury Brands

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