SOUNDING OFF-Ernest Riba: “The Top 5 Brands That Lead the Global Ranking Today are Technology Brands”

In the below Sounding Off-Thought Leadership article, Ernest Riba, Head of Business & Product Development at Havas Media Group Argentina explains that technological brands lead in all global brand valuation models and that the success of these emerging brands is different to the one achieved by traditional mass consumer brands which typically relied on high ad investment.

Although the issue of brands with purpose has been a recurring one in recent years, it seems that its appearance in mainstream marketing has unleashed a latent conversation aimed at discussing the potential and limitations of an approach that recently is being held out as a universal formula for any brand in any market or context.

In order to explain this boom in interest in the purpose [of a brand] from the perspective of marketing and advertising, we can look at it in different ways. There are those who relate the need for building brands from its purpose with a society that is leaving aside the culture of image linked to consumption and mass media, demanding companies with a greater commitment toward their fellow citizens and ecosystem. That would be the optimistic view. The one that indicates new generations like committed, entrepreneurial young people connected globally who demand brands behave in the same way that they do.

There are others who believe the opposite is true.  Are we looking for new values in brands that represent us better? Or do we continue to look for what we want to have but do not have in them? Seen that way, consumption continues to act as a vehicle to channel and deepen anxieties that living in our society generates for us. The image culture would not necessarily be replaced but rather deepened in a more holistic sense of beauty that includes not only the need to be taller, younger and more beautiful but also more committed, more entrepreneurial or solidary.

Both approaches have probably been part of the reason and each individual will take a position based on how they slept the previous night. What is certain is that when asked to specifically explain the explosive interest in the world of marketing, given the history of the discipline, the second perspective is more convincing than first.

Without delving any deeper, in recent years, we have seen the emergence and new leadership of technological brands in all global brand valuation models, from very little to nothing based on traditional brand models, associated with mass consumption. In Meaningful Brands 2017, the global study conducted by Havas, which has been measuring brands based on their contribution to people’s quality of life for ten years, the top five brands that lead the global ranking today are technology brands. And that is not all. Other brands with less intensive advertising investments, like retailers or hotels, are also growing.

This paradoxical situation, in which today the leading brands are the ones that the pioneers of mass consumption historically looked down on from above, is moving the foundations of marketing. That is why when we speak about purpose, one cannot help but wonder if the people who have lost the purpose are not the marketers and advertisers, rather than the brands we work with.

Either way, there is a strong consensus that we need brands that capture and express a strong purpose. What we could call their raison d’être. It’s their why or for what, as different as both approaches may be. That is why it is important to ask which purpose we are talking about. What we mean exactly. Otherwise we fall into the temptation or the trap into which we already fell regarding innovation in recent years: Embrace a diffuse idea and navigate the uncertain waters between blurred projections that never moved away from the traditional axis of marketing and advertising.

A good test of purpose adapted to the advertising trajectory is the proliferation of cause marketing. A perspective where brands are semi-artificially tied to social or environmental causes and that, in their more sophisticated versions, enable the participation of citizens through product consumption. In this dominant approach, the choice of cause continues to be made in terms of originality and ownership. That is to say, history remains central to value creation, more so than scope or direct impact on the people who ultimately buy the product. Something fresh and inspiring for the category and distinctive for the brand is prioritized over its centrality in people’s lives.

Not only is this the predominant form, it is also valid and in force. Nevertheless, a review of Havas’s ranking of Meaningful Brands reveals that the brands that operate in this regard lag far behind those that lead in terms of meaning for the people.

What can we learn from technology brands?  What is the explanation behind their leadership?

It is dangerous to simplify, but I understand that first, their purpose is rooted is the company’s main activity. Its contribution to people’s well-being is made mainly, although not only, through its products and services. In second place, this practice goes hand-in-hand with a society-based project. Not only does it express the company’s values but it also forges ahead toward an imagined society. Not only does this translate into communication but also into how it treats its employees or suppliers, use of materials, handling of waste, production or labeling processes; among others. Its purpose, therefore, is not an accessory matter but a central aspect of the company.

Connecting brands and purposes implies putting them at the service of society; at the service of culture and at the service of individuals with a real ambition of transformation. With the will to contribute to the life of the people directly, from the heart of their practice and in fundamental aspects of day-to-day tasks.

Perhaps that is why in the context of accelerated progress, within the framework of the information society, software companies are the leaders of meaning. The rest can ask themselves what they can learn from them. Or perhaps it is the other way around:  What space do they leave to the rest?

Ernest Riba, a 35-year-old Catalan with vast experience in brand and business strategies in highly competitive markets, is a graduate in advertising and has a marketing and social anthropology degree. He is currently based in Buenos Aires, where he has been part of the Havas Media Group team since 2016 as Head of Business & Product Development. Previously, he worked at Wunderman as responsible for both brand strategies and the agency’s intrapreneur team.