Advertisers who want to reach the Bublitz family of Montgomery, Ohio, have to leap a lot of hurdles. Telemarketing? Forget it — the family of five has Caller ID. The Internet? No way — they long ago installed spam and pop-up ad blockers on their three home computers. Radio? Rudy Bublitz, 47, has noncommercial satellite radio in his car and in the home. Television? Not likely — the family records its favorite shows on TiVo and skips most ads. "The real beauty is that if we choose to shut advertising out, we can," Rudy says. "We call the shots with advertisers today."
The Bublitzes and other ad-zapping consumers like them pose an enormous challenge these days to marketers trying to build new brands and nurture old ones. To get a reading on which brands are succeeding — and which aren't — take a look at the fifth annual BusinessWeek/Interbrand ranking of the 100 most valuable global brands. The names that gained the most in value focus ruthlessly on every detail of their brands, honing simple, cohesive identities that are consistent in every product, in every market around the world, and in every contact with consumers. (In the ranking, which is compiled in partnership with brand consultancy Interbrand Corp., a dollar value is calculated for each brand using publicly available data, projected profits, and variables such as market leadership.)
The best brand builders are also intensely creative in getting their message out. Many of the biggest and most established brands, from Coke to Marlboro, achieved their global heft decades ago by helping to pioneer the 30-second TV commercial. But it's a different world now. The monolithic TV networks have splintered into scores of cable channels, and mass-market publications have given way to special-interest magazines aimed at smaller groups. Given that fragmentation, it's not surprising that there's a new generation of brands, including Amazon.com, eBay, and Starbucks, that have amassed huge global value with little traditional advertising. They've discovered new ways to captivate and intrigue consumers. Now the more mature brands are going to school on the achievements of the upstarts and adapting the new techniques for themselves.
So how do you build a brand in a world in which consumers are increasingly in control of the media? The brands that rose to the top of our ranking all had widely varied marketing arsenals and were able to unleash different campaigns for different consumers in varied media almost simultaneously. They wove messages over multiple media channels and blurred the lines between ads and entertainment. As a result, these brands can be found in a host of new venues: the Web, live events, cell phones, and handheld computers. An intrepid few have even infiltrated digital videorecorders, devices that are feared throughout the marketing world as the ultimate tool for enabling consumers to block unwanted TV ads.
Some marketers have worked to make their brand messages so enjoyable that consumers might see them as entertainment instead of an intrusion. When leading brands are seen on TV they're apt to have their own co-starring roles — as No. 9 Toyota Motor Corp. did in reality show "The Contender" — rather than just lending support during the commercial breaks. All are trying to create a stronger bond with the consumer. Take No. 41 Apple Computer Corp., which last fall launched a special iPod MP3 player in partnership with band U2. Not only did the "U2 iPod" say "U2" on the front and have band signatures etched into the back, but the band starred in a TV ad and buyers got $50 off a download of 400 U2 songs. No. 8 McDonald's Corp.'s sponsorship of a tour by R&B group Destiny's Child means that fans who want access to exclusive video and news content about the band have to click first on the company's Web site. "It's hard here to tell where the brand message ends and where the entertainment and content begins," says Ryan Barker, director of brand strategy at consultancy The Knowledge Group.
It's no accident that most of the companies with the biggest increases in brand value in the 2005 ranking operate as single brands everywhere in the world. Global marketing used to mean crafting a new name and identity for each local market. America's No. 1 laundry detergent, Tide, is called Ariel in Europe, for example. The goal today for many, though, is to create consistency and impact, both of which are a lot easier to manage with a single worldwide identity. It's also a more efficient approach, since the same strategy can be used everywhere. An eBay shopper in Paris, France, sees the same screen as someone logging in from Paris, Texas. Only the language is different. Global banks HSBC, No. 29, which posted a 20 percent increase in brand value, and No. 44 UBS, up 16 percent, use the same advertising pitches around the world. "Given how hard the consumer is to reach today, a strong and unified brand message is increasingly becoming the only way to break through," says Jan Lindemann, Interbrand's managing director, who directed the Top 100 Brands ranking.
Possibly no brand has done a better job of mining the potential of these new brand-building principles than Korean consumer electronics manufacturer Samsung Electronics Co. Less than a decade ago, it was a maker of lower-end consumer electronics under a handful of brand names including Wiseview, Tantus, and Yepp, none of which meant much to consumers. Figuring that its only shot at moving up the value chain was to build a stronger identity, the company ditched its other brands to put all its resources behind the Samsung name. Then it focused on building a more upscale image through better quality, design, and innovation.
Beginning in 2001, the newly defined Samsung came out with a line of top-notch mobile phones and digital TVs, products that showed off the company's technical prowess. By vaulting the quality of its offerings above the competition in those areas, Samsung figured it could boost the overall perception of the brand. Besides, consumers form especially strong bonds with cell phones and TVs. Most people carry their mobile phones with them everywhere, while their TV is the center of the family room. "We wanted the brand in users' presence 24/7," says Peter Weedfald, head of Samsung's North American marketing and consumer electronics unit.
Now that strategy is paying off. Over the past five years, No. 20 Samsung has posted the biggest gain in value of any Global 100 brand, with a 186 percent surge. Even sweeter, last year Samsung surpassed No. 28 Sony, a far more entrenched rival that once owned the electronics category, in overall brand value. Now, in a nod to Samsung, Korean electronics concern LG Electronics Inc. has followed its rival's playbook. Cracking this year's global list for the first time at No. 97, LG has also sought to elevate its product under a single brand led by phones and TVs.
Some of the older brands in our ranking are clearly struggling to remake their marketing and product mix for a more complex world. This year's biggest losers in brand value include Sony (down 16 percent), Volkswagen (down 12 percent), and Levi's (down 11 percent). VW acknowledges its brand value slippage. "Volkswagen is well aware of the current deficiencies," says VW brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard. Sony, which disputes that it is losing brand value, has suffered from an innovation drought. The electronics giant pioneered the Walkman, but left Apple to revolutionize portable MP3 players, as well as digital downloading and organizing of music. Meanwhile, Sony's moves into films and music put it into areas where its brand adds no value. Worse, those acquisitions made Sony a competitor with other content providers. That, notes Samsung's Weedfald, gives his company an advantage in linking to the hottest music and movies. Samsung, for example, is lead sponsor of this summer's much-hyped movie, “The Fantastic Four”, in which a variety of Samsung gadgets play a part. VW faces different problems. It has attempted to move upmarket with the luxury Touareg sport-utility vehicle and Phaeton sedan models; but that has left car buyers, who associate VW with zippy, affordable cars, confused. Similarly, Levi's introduction of its less pricey Levi's Signature line in discount stores means it now competes on price at the low end, while trying to fend off rivals like Diesel at the upper end with its core "red tab" brand.
Of course, defining the essence of a brand is only part of the battle. Communicating it to the consumer is the other. On this front, there has clearly been a divide between newer brands that use traditional advertising as just one tool in an overall marketing plan and older ones that grew up with it. Sony, for example, far outspends Samsung on traditional advertising in the U.S. on electronics products. (Samsung advertises on TV only during the last six months of the year, its peak sales period.) Many young brands that scored big gains in value, like Google, Yahoo!, and eBay, depend on their own interactive Web sites to shout about their brands.
Now some older brands, like Coke, ranked No. 1 in overall brand value, and McDonald's are decreasing traditional ad spending. In the past four years, McDonald's has cut TV advertising from 80 percent of its ad budget to 50 percent. Most of the shift has gone to online advertising. What's evolving, then, is a model in which most brand builders use a variety of marketing channels. HSBC has branded taxis to carry customers for free. And although eBay spends most of its marketing budget on Internet advertising, it also relies on TV to some extent to boost simple brand awareness. "With fragmentation and ad evasion, you can't count on one medium," says Tom Cotton, president of Conductor, a branding strategy firm.
Marketers who do turn to TV are trying to make brand messages as engrossing as the programming. Last year Toyota, whose brand value rose 10 percent, paid $16 million to have its vehicles be part of the storyline on NBC reality show "The Contender," about small-time boxers competing for a nationally televised bout. The grand prize: a million dollars and a Toyota truck. Rival Nissan, up 13 percent, has been parking its Titan pickups on Wisteria Lane in hit ABC show "Desperate Housewives." The trucks will also ride into the new "Dukes of Hazzard" movie this month.
Nor are TV and movies the only target. No. 1 Coke, McDonald's, No. 88 Smirnoff, No. 16 BMW, No. 23 Pepsi, and No. 61 KFC are among brands striking deals to plant their brands in video games and even song lyrics. Deborah Wahl-Meyer, who headed Toyota marketing until recently moving to the company's Lexus division, says both divisions attempt to seed magazine and newspaper articles with vehicle references and pictures. "We have to be more a part of what people are watching and reading instead of being in between what people are watching and reading," Meyer says.
In an echo of Procter & Gamble Co.'s creation of the soap opera on radio and then TV, some brand builders are taking control of the programming themselves and creating content that tries to draw in ad-allergic consumers. BMW, whose brand value rose 8 percent over the past year, turned out a series of popular short films on the Internet starting in 2001. The seven-to-ten minute films starred BMW cars and were produced by A-list Hollywood directors like John Woo. The German auto maker has moved onto comic books based on the films aimed at Bimmer-aspiring teens and adults alike. "It's imperative to create media destinations that don't look like advertising," says James McDowell, who headed marketing for the BMW brand before recently taking over as chief of the parent company's MINI USA business. BMW has also embraced the enemy, TiVo, the television-top gadget that consumers use to skip ads altogether. Since last year, BMW has produced short films and long-form ads accessible through TiVo's main menu page. BMW fans are alerted to the films in the on-demand video menu when a BMW ad runs.
Such old-line brands as No. 14 American Express Co. are heading down the entertainment path, too. Tipping its hat to BMW, AmEx ran long-form Internet ads/films starring Jerry Seinfeld last year that succeeded in drawing consumers to its Web site and Webcasted concerts. AmEx Chief Marketing Officer John Hayes says flatly: "Brands are not being built on [traditional] advertising."
Still, none of these marketing ploys are sure bets in a world where old-school advertising means less. That's why more marketers are investing in design as a fundamental way to distinguish their brands and to stay on the leading edge of technology. "Design isn't just the promise of a brand, like TV advertising — it's the reality of it," says Marc Gobe, chief executive of design consultancy Desgrippes Gobe. Samsung has tripled its global design staff to 400 over the past five years. No. 73 Motorola, whose brand value rose 11 percent, and No. 53 Philips Electronics have boosted design spending. The move sparked the launch of Motorola's hot-selling Razr phone, the thinnest flip phone ever made. No. 85 Nissan gained 13 percent last year on a wave of bold designs, like its curvy Murano SUV and Altima sedan, as the Japanese company differentiates itself from Toyota and Honda through design rather than quality.
Good design implies more than just good looks. It's also about ease of use. Apple demonstrated this with its iPod. Users can pick songs or download music from the iTunes music bank with the swipe of a finger. That's blunted sales of Sony's Walkman MP3 player, which has been criticized as too cumbersome. Design can also mean sound. Samsung insists that all its products make the same reassuring tone when turned on. The Samsung tone is even being used in some advertising. "We want to have the same sound, look, and feel throughout our products so it all works toward one Samsung brand," says Gregory Lee, Samsung's global marketing chief.
The era of building brands namely through mass media advertising is over. The predominant thinking of the world's most successful brand builders these days is not so much the old game of reach (how many consumers see my ad) and frequency (how often do they see it), but rather finding ways to get consumers to invite brands into their lives. The mass media won't disappear as a tool. But smart companies see the game today as making bold statements in design and wooing consumers by integrating messages so closely into entertainment that the two are all but indistinguishable.