Modern brand-building in age of crisis

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 6 March 2017

More Australian brands need to embed themselves within culture in Australia or ultimately they will lose consumer involvement.

“Australian brands suffer from a combination of factors. Firstly, Australia is a geographically vast yet isolated western market with a (relatively) tiny population,"  Iris Sydney planning director Celia Garforth tells AdNews.

"As a result, Australia has some of the most expensive media yet some of the lowest marketing spends in the world. These two things combine to create an environment where everyone is struggling to carve out any significant share of mind with traditional media spend alone.”

Garforth's comments follow off the back of a global study conducted by Iris, which determine “modern brand-building is in an age of crisis” as three in four brands fail to create any form of emotional connection with people.

Through a study of 14,000 consumers and 177 brands, Iris set out to showcase why the world’s most successful brands are choosing to bring people into their brand-building and identify common traits for success.

The report found that Australian brands have the lowest average Participation Brand Index in the world, looking at regions including Australia, Brazil, Thailand, UK and US. 

iris study

The brand index ranks brands on their ability to design product and marketing experiences that are relevant and meaningful and therefore engage people. It identifies the success of a "participation brand" based on the five pillars of passionate purpose, culture shaping, category innovating, people powered and distinctive character.

On the upside Iris found that provocative brands can drive a premium compared to brands that copy their competitors. Meanwhile, passive brands are being commoditised.

Other findings showed that despite Aldi’s comparatively low market share, the retail challenger is stronger across all participation pillars versus competitors, demonstrating that market share isn’t always a reflection of brand health if brands behave the right way.

Categories that performed particularly poorly in the index were FMCG and alcohol, indicating that the ballpark for staying ‘hot’ has shifted and former leaders have failed to keep up.

The findings show that alcohol brands in Australia particularly need to focus more effort on providing aspirational drinking occasions and symbols of social status that can be amplified at scale through social media.

In 2016 Little Creatures was the chart topper when it came to cultural relevance alcohol brands, with 48% of consumers agreeing that the brand is “hot right now in popular culture”. The smaller brand beat second in line VB by a whole 10 percentage points.

Meanwhile, consumer tech brands should focus on amplifying the social benefits of product ownership, versus pure functionality. The survey said all brands should remember that in our innovation-obsessed world, pioneering initiatives and consumer advocacy go hand in hand.

Another disadvantage for Australia in terms of brand building is location, with the region often lumped into APAC by marketers.

“The majority of brand-building activities rely on retro-fitted global business models and adapted creative output. This doesn’t sit well with a nation driven by immense local pride, a spirit of championing the underdog and a more recent history of rejecting colonial overlords,” Garforth says.

“It’s no surprise that across most categories, home-grown Australian brands that feel more actively embedded within local culture performed better on the index.”


Alcohol – Little Creatures, VB
Retail – ALDI, Subway
Auto – BMW, Uber
Consumer Tech - Apple, Google
FMCG – Tim Tams, Red Bull


Consumer Tech – LINE, Samsung
Auto – Uber, Honda
Alcohol – Hibiki, Johnnie Walker
Retail – Aldi, Muji
FMCG – Brand’s, 100 Plus


Travel- Virgin Atlantic, AirBnB
Retail - Amazon, IKEA
Auto - Tesla, BMW
Consumer Tech - Apple, FitBit
FMCG - Vita Coco, ProperCorn


Travel – AirBnB, Tripit, Hilton, Expedia
Retail – Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Etsy, Walmart
Auto – BMW, Jeep, Ford, Uber
Consumer Tech – Apple, Google, Netflix, GoPro
FMCG – Coke, Red Bull, Snickers, Doritos

See the full study here.

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