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Brands of the Year

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Idea Engineers’ Janice Spark peers across the 2007 brand scape, examines the winners, the losers and those negotiating troubled waters…

The winners…

Apple and the iPhone

In June 2007 New York Magazine featured Apple’s driving force, Steve Jobs, on its cover supported by the tag “iGod” – which was only relatively hyperbolic. Apple just seems to get it right, over and over and over again.

Perhaps the key to the power of the Apple brand is its focus on giving people what they want while staying true to the style and ethos of the Apple brand identity. Apple may not dominate the global economy in terms of market share, but the loyalty customers have towards the brand is unprecedented, and is returned by Apple with the delivery of products such as the iPhone that are uniquely beautiful and functional.

Facebook storms the social networking front line

Facebook only opened its doors to the public last September (access was initially restricted to people with university or high school email addresses) yet Microsoft has already forked out a whopping $240 million for a tiny 1.6% slice of the company, creating an effective market value of $15 billion.

With 50 million seemingly insatiable members, Facebook is a phenomenon that many are comparing to Microsoft’s initial boom. One of the keys to the social networking portal’s success was founder and president Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to open Facebook’s development platform to all comers. This has created unprecedented application functionality for site users, while also giving Zuckerberg and his team the first investment bite at any clear ‘killer apps’.

While the world freaks out about Facebook power, Zuckerberg himself remains fairly cautious, pointing out that the business is still small and has only recently passed 300 employees. And he may have a point. Similar hype has surrounded Google, YouTube, MySpace and even Yahoo, yet all of these major online brands have shown that getting to the top is one thing, and staying there another altogether. With advertisers now allowed to access personal information and Google searchability meaning all member information is open to search engines, Facebook could well face a range of key privacy and ethical challenges in the years to come. Yes, it is possible for users to enhance security settings, but the site’s default ‘wide open’ position could create recurring security problems. Another interesting issue will be how Facebook deals with brands using the portal to drive ‘hard’ commercial agendas, and possibly damaging the authenticity of the Facebook brand in the process.

But with a market value of $15 billion, life without a few challenges would be a little boring, wouldn’t it?

Vida e Cafe

Vida e Cafe smashed into the South African high end coffee market in 2007 with a brand that has made rivals seem boring and lazy. Given that the global high end coffee market has been booming for some years, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see that a new brand has taken the still relatively unconquered South African market by the scruff of the neck. What is a surprise, however, is the character of the brand that has done it.

Roughly translated, Vida e Cafe means ‘Life and Coffee’, and Vida has certainly brought life to South African coffee through its Euro-centric, multi pronged approach to innovation. Vida stands out thanks to it’s singing, vibrant staff, its live Sunday jazz stints featuring big name artists (think Marcus Wyatt, for example), its partnerships with like-minded brands (Levis, Mini, Lindt, Converse and Virgin), its distribution of Obrigado Magazine (featuring a heavy Mini influence as well) and its Vida e Cafe “MVPs,” (Most Valuable Personalities).

Against this blizzard of innovation, traditional American / Italian coffee house brands come off looking pretty dull. Put simply, Vida e Cafe seems to be the only brand in South Africa with real, passionate fans. Not bad for a five year old business that began life throwing down the industry gauntlet with a single Cape Town store – right across the road from Seattle Coffee.


Outsurance has featured as a premier South African brand for several years running now. And the brand that shook up South African insurance is undeniably still a ground breaker.

To illustrate – the Outsurance “helping SA out campaign” is a pioneering effort that takes full cognisance of South Africa’s very fluid socio political context. The blend of conventional mass market advertising and Corporate Social Investment places Outsurance beyond most local brands as a demonstrably committed and relevant corporate citizen. Instead of spending money on promoting good intentions, the brand publicises on the ground community work. It’s an unbeatable combination that will surely be mimicked more and more in years to come as other local brands finally pick up on the power of getting involved.

And the runner’s up are…


The heavy beverage hitter continues to perform well, and was particularly strong in its handling of the Amstel crisis.


The Bollywood trend of layered clothing has become massive. Dresses over jeans haven’t been just a fad, and Bollywood celebrities are now ubiquitous product endorsers across the world…. good indicators of the compounding cultural and fashion power of the Indian film industry.

Metro FM

Now that YFM has settled into a more modest brand reality than its first five years would have suggested, Metro has re-established its identity as a brand relevant to everyday South African lifestyles.

The Not So Hot…


Despite the major effort put into the Sony Bravia ad campaign, Sony just keeps on battling.

Attempts to re-ignite the walkman concept that was so massive in the 1980s within the cellphone paradigm have floundered in the successful wake of the iPod. Even worse, the once mighty Play Station has fallen – the much hyped and anticipated launch of the PS 3 has turned out to be a non event. Clearly no one at Sony counted on the Nintendo WII, which is outselling the PS3 six to one in Japan and two to one in the USA.

Having invested extremely heavily in the PS3, Sony now faces an enormous mountain to climb – it’s hard to see how it will get back to the top, other than to take a serious back seat for a while (as Nintendo was also forced to do) and engage in some serious R&D navel gazing.

Brand China

Chinese authorities will be fretting over the negative brand impact caused by the toxic toys scandal, which has been accompanied by global concern over the sweatshop conditions under which much of the Beijing Olympics merchandise is being manufactured.

And these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. Many negative perceptions are associated with the world’s emerging dominant super power as it begins to flex its industrial and commercial muscle. The clear sub-text to the EU / African Union summit, for example, is European concern at the increasing presence of China across the African continent, from mining to clothing.

A dodgy (at best) human rights record on all fronts means the Chinese brand will have to do a lot of damage control in the run up the 2008 Olympics. Fortunately, however, for brand China, brand America continues to do a sterling job of hogging negative global media attention. China’s approach to 2008 might well be to simply grin and bear it, knowing that its major rival will continue to take bigger body blows in the reputation stakes.

Pedigree dog food

Pedigree failed to live up their recent crisis (the recall of Pedigree dry dog food due to suspicions it could be causing kidney failure) adequately. Shoddy communications and an inability to deal quickly, honestly and decisively with upset consumers have caused a lot of damage to the Pedigree brand and hurt loyalty in the market. Now that the crisis is over, a lot of re-building needs to be done.


The Eskom brand has been a disaster story throughout 2007. With massive rate hikes on the way, to accompany ongoing promises of more rolling black outs, Eskom has already laid a good foundation to take the worst South African brand of 2008 spot.

Standard Bank

Uh oh…Standard Bank have proved definitively that back tracking on sweeping brand promises is not a good idea. You can be as committed, motivated and involved as you like, but when you promised Simpler, Better and Faster, consumers expect you to stick to your guns. It’s a safe bet that the South African public is still chuckling sardonically at the new pay off line almost every time it appears.


About Idea Engineers

Idea Engineers believes great brands are built by a differentiated strategy, a strong reputation, excellent brand communications and an experience that lives up to the brand promise.

The Marketing Communications House helps companies enhance market share, profitability and customer loyalty by managing and protecting an organisation’s most valuable asset: its brand.

Idea Engineers marries four disciplines for accelerated growth:

1. Brand strategy – Creating differentiated strategies that are taken from thought to implementation to enhance bottom-line growth.
2. Brand communications – Making the brand come alive through compelling above and below the line advertising campaigns and promotions
3. Reputation management – Growing credibility and trust for corporations by building their reputations.
4. Brand experience – Marrying the brand and business to ensure consistently compelling brand experiences.

Founded in 2002, Idea Engineers has enjoyed rapid growth with clients that include Gold Reef City, Groupe Clarins, Verizon, Nashua Mobile, South African Tourism, Ericsson, Consology, MTN SP, EON Consulting, Super Group, Acceleration, Catalyst Human Asset Management, The Headache Clinic and AMSCO. Idea Engineers is situated in Rivonia, Sandton. More information on Idea Engineers is available at or by calling +27 11 803 0030.

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