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The iPhone: number one desirable brand

Human desire is the fundamental motivation of all human action, according to 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. And brands that can evoke this powerful emotion in consumers are pulling ahead of their competitors, according to research shown exclusively to Marketing Week. Brand consultancy Clear has compiled an international league of the most desirable brands and shown that desired brands can generate a higher return on investment for shareholders.

Clear benchmarked the top 100 desirable brands against international index the S&P 500, and the results show that the average return on investment for a company that owns a desirable brand is 12.8%, versus 7.5% for the S&P 500 as a whole, based on the last five years’ performance.

But desirability does not just apply to the most expensive products. The research reveals that of the 300 brands analysed for the UK part of the study – asking British consumers which brands they most desire (see Method, below) – only eight of the top 20 are expensive, luxury labels including Rolls-Royce, Rolex and Ray-Ban.

Three-quarters of the UK’s top 100 are not high-end goods. Dettol (82), sanitary towel brand Always (74), Domestos (91) and Oxo (47), for example, all rank higher than luxury jeweller Cartier (94). Rather than being seen as aspirational, these products are seen as brands that matter and so rival the most luxurious desirable brands on this league table.

Other brands that make it into Clear’s UK 100 most-desired brands league are less surprising. Apple and its products iPhone, iPod and iTunes all feature in the top 20, with iPhone topping the whole list. Consumers across the country covet Apple’s products, with the business maintaining a sense of need and intrigue by restricting access to its products when they first launch.

Desirable brands: the top 20:

(To see the full 100 click “The 100 most desired brands” in Tables below this article)

1. iPhone
2. Rolls-Royce
3. iPod
4. Cadbury
5. Ray-Ban
6. Emirates
7. Sony
8. Red Cross
9. Fairtrade
10. Aston Martin
11. Nintendo
12. Prada
13. iTunes
14. Disney
15. Google
16. Playstation
17. Rolex
18. Apple
19. Bang & Olufson
20. Tag Heuer

With such a wide range of brands stoking the fires of passion in people, from luxury to mainstream, and technology to charities, how can marketers make their brands sizzle? What have the brands on Clear’s list done to become so desirable? There are five strategies that need to be considered to boost your brand’s wish-for factor. These cover areas such as having a single-minded proposition, not being afraid to exclude some consumers and thinking outside your category.

1. Be sharp and simple

Stripping back a brand to its core proposition is perhaps the most difficult thing for marketers to do, but it can make a massive difference to the success of the business says Clear director of strategy Nick Liddell. Brands people most desire do only a few things but they do them very well.

He says: “The majority of the most desirable brands tend to stand for something very distinct in consumers’ minds, whether they desire them or not. They have a fairly specific profile,” he says.

But marketers should be aware that having a single-minded proposition means considering what they do not want to be good at, which will mean excluding some consumers.

Bang and Olufson – 19th most desirable brand

For example, Google isn’t seen as sexy and BMW isn’t thought of as approachable, but these brands are highly desirable, ranking at 15 and 25 respectively. For high-end hi-fi brand Bang & Olufsen, this means not being afraid to launch products later than competitors, rather than trying to get to market first. It ranks at an impressive 19 on the list of most desirable brands. Clearly aimed at a wealthier than average consumer, B&O wants to make sure new products meet exacting standards before releasing them. For example, it has only just brought out a docking station for MP3 players – even though the iPod was launched in 2001.

UK sales and marketing manager Jason Smith says the brand’s proposition is about making products that last. “We haven’t necessarily rushed to market but when we get there we make sure it is relevant and right. We wouldn’t bring a product out that moves us away from our core values of delivering lasting experiences,” he says.

While for some manufacturers, being the first to bring out a flatscreen 3D television might be the holy grail, B&O is firmly of the opinion that people will wait for its products. “At no stage would we compromise, whether it be on the design or on the material quality because we see something else we want to compete against,” says Smith. He adds that this also means its products are long-lasting and not seen as disposable by its customers.

2. Think outside your category

People don’t think about product categories, marketers do. Consumers might not even feel they are buying a “brand”, let alone into a particular category.

Instead, Clear’s research shows that three out of four people show a strong preference for brands with a particular personality, or type. So, for example, consumers who say they aspire to being sociable and open-minded look for brands they think have similar traits, and say Disney, Cadbury and Lego are the ones they most desire.

“We found that the type of person you are and the type of person you want to be is a big influence on the type of brands you desire,” says Clear’s Liddell.

He adds that he now sees marketers asking to be benchmarked against brands in other categories. “They want to know about what brands in other categories do best, so they can borrow or steal with pride.”

People know that the Red Cross is a symbol of neautrality. It has an iconic status over and above Coca-Cola. And we have the same kind of football and global presence – Fiona Smith, British Red Cross

This may mean that marketers should look at the personality of their brand, whatever its sector. “What comes through in the research is that regardless of the category a brand is in, a consumer would probably be biased towards a certain type of brand,” says Liddell.

Smith at B&O says that while the brand does compete with others in its category, it views other lifestyle brands as competitors too. “We don’t necessarily see ourselves competing with other audio and TV brands. Clearly we are because we provide similar products to them, but we see any kind of lifestyle choice or product as a competitor. That is why it is important to make sure our offering delivers the best,” he says.

So, people who want the highest quality products see B&O on a par with Rolls-Royce and Rolex, rating these brands as ones that are realistic, hard-working and independent.

Other brands that sit together are Jaguar, Sony and Cartier, which are considered sophisticated, modern and ambitious. Fairtrade, Dettol and AA are also seen as having similar desirable personalities, appealing to those consumers who want sensible and careful brands (see Hot brands and why people want them, below).

3. Be ambitious

Ambition is the single most popular personality trait shared by the most desirable brands in the study, ranking higher than adjectives such as exciting, sexy or confident.

Red Cross: ranks higher at number 8 than Virgin Atlantic (21) and Porsche (32)

Many businesses will have a vision, mission and values, but these tend to be more for shareholders, says Liddell. “The vision or mission is used to reassure shareholders and employees that senior management has considered how the company should evolve in future,” he says.

But he stresses that brands need to consider their ambition in terms of how consumers might see them. “Really great brands have a purpose that inspires people other than their shareholders. If you’ve got an ambition, make sure everybody knows about it,” he says.

For example, Red Cross ranks at number eight, higher than brands such as Virgin Atlantic (21), Porsche (32) and the BBC (22). Head of marketing and brand development for British Red Cross Fiona Smith says her charity gives people a sense that it can help solve a problem, which gives the brand ambition.

“Our vision is to create a world where everyone gets the help they need in a crisis. Even if people don’t know that is our vision, they can see how we work towards that when they see images on the news of how we are intervening and bringing something hopeful to crisis situations. There is a sense of inspiration – people want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves,” she says (see Case Study, below).

4. Appeal to hearts, hands and minds

The most desirable brands find the right balance between presenting their emotional and rational side. They think about how people feel about the brand, from their initial feelings towards a product right through to their intention to purchase the brand in future.

Lego ranks an impressive 38th in the most desirable brand league, just behind Skype (37) but ahead of luxury brand Bentley (39). It is highly respected by consumers, who are also unlikely to consider a product alternative, according to the research – a perfect example of a product that appeals to the heart, hand and mind.

Lego: an impressive 38th in the top desirable brands list

For Bernd Larsen Linde, director of global trade marketing for Lego, this is because people are able to make what they want with the build-together pieces, which appeals to their imagination. He also says that while the brand is known for its brick toys, it is extending to reflect the creative and imaginative side of its personality.

Larsen Linde explains: “We have developed a lot of exciting digital marketing such as [the game] Lego Universe. People are also creating their own films using Lego for YouTube. We are a creative brand and are well in line with current trends.”

Launching Universe, as well as another game called Ninjago, new this month, can help Lego become broadly relevant. Clear UK managing director Charlotte Highfield says the brand has successfully moved with the times without straying from its core proposition. “Given the importance of imagination to brand desire, this isn’t so surprising. Considering the incredible range of ways Lego features in people’s lives, from Star Wars Lego to Nintendo games, this brand continues to delight consumers,” she says.

Engaging people on an emotional level has been a growing trend for brands that have come to realise that rational reasons are not enough to persuade consumers to buy. For Smith at British Red Cross, appealing to someone’s rational as well as emotional side is important.

“We used to talk about [giving] information [to people about the brand] and now we talk about engagement – and much more about emotional engagement – as well as the ’rational’. It can be rationally easier to donate to the person who is holding out a box on the street, but you may be more drawn to another brand that has a warmer glow around it,” she says.

Cadbury famously appealed to people’s emotions when it ran a TV ad for Dairy Milk featuring a gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. Spokesman Tony Bilsborough explains the ad aimed to appeal to people’s feelings.

“There is no point in saying that Cadbury is chocolate [as people know that], it is about reminding people of the emotion when buying chocolate and enjoying it. The sheer enjoyment of the gorilla beating the drums reflects the joy of eating chocolate,” he says.

But to do this, the brand had to be prepared to risk viewers not understanding the ad. “A lot of people didn’t understand it, but in the end it didn’t matter – people seemed to like it.”

5. Know how and why you fit into someone’s life

The brands people desire say a lot about who they are as a person. When thinking about a successful brand strategy, it’s essential to know who your customers are and how they use your brand. Clear’s Liddell warns that different personality types are attracted to brands for a variety of reasons. “Some are drawn to those brands that mirror their own values, and others to brands that can fill particular gaps in their lives,” he says.

For Cadbury, this has been crucial over the years, according to Bilsborough, who says: “Cadbury has always tried to look at how people live their lives and create our brands accordingly. So a product such as Heroes, which is a casual chocolate-giving experience, would not have existed 30 years ago because dinner parties were much more formal.

“We have a whole team of people looking at how people lead their lives and making sure that Cadbury remains desirable and relevant to their lifestyle.” Bilsborough adds that the team looks at the recipes, the type of chocolate eaten, and whether people want to eat chocolate from bags or multipacks, among other things.

Having a brand with a long heritage – Dairy Milk was launched in 1905 – can be both a help and a hindrance for the chocolate-maker, he says. “It would be very easy for us to hark back to a halcyon Edwardian period and try to build a brand purely around nostalgia, but the Cadbury brothers themselves were always looking to take the brand forward. The notion of stasis would be alien to them,” he says.

Knowing your role in people’s lives can create a very strong brand. But sticking rigidly to this outlook can get your brand into hot water, as Abercrombie & Fitch found when it was successfully sued in the UK by a staff member banned from the shop floor because she had a prosthetic arm. In the retail brand’s view, the staff member didn’t fit with the role it plays in people’s lives.

Chief executive Mike Jeffries has said: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.

“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

While this is an extreme example, the brand clearly has a strong vision of its role and purpose. Abercrombie wasn’t part of the desire study in the UK, but marketers might take something of its single-mindedness to their own brands as they strive to become the most sought-after brands in consumers’ minds.

Hot brands and why people want them

Clear’s research segments people’s personalities based on the brands they most desire and how they describe themselves. Brands either play an aspirational role for people, or they mirror a person’s own values and beliefs.

About three-quarters of the 4,000 people surveyed show clear desire for brands with certain personality types. The remaining quarter don’t have this strong preference for particular brands.


Cool hunters: Marketers that make their brands disrupt categories will get a following from people who want products that fill a gap in their lives, making it more exciting. Cool hunters want the latest gadgets and brands which make them more fun. They aspire to owning brands such as Ferrari (at number 52 in the list) or Agent Provocateur (at 99). This group say they are affected by advertising and 25% of these people are over 55.

Most desired brands: Ferrari, Aston Martin, iPhone, Oakley and Agent Provocateur


Social butterflies: Most of this group is female and under 35 and they like owning brands before their peers. They want to be open-minded and sociable and look for brands that help them achieve this, such as Disney (14), Moët & Chandon (57) and Cadbury (4). Brands wanting to appeal to this group should appear inclusive in their marketing and keep communicating their messages clearly.

Most desired brands: Disney, Lindt, Moët & Chandon, Cadbury, Lego and Nando’s


Badge-wearers: These people love luxury goods and want to be seen with brands that are as image-conscious as they are, such as Jaguar (35), Sony (7) and Tiffany (42). So if your brand exudes sophistication and controls its image, these people are for you.

Most desired brands: Apple, Jaguar, Sony, Tiffany, Cartier and Porsche

Responsible citizens: Most of this group are over 25 years old and lag behind trends. They want brands that are focused on being careful and sensible, such as Fairtrade (9), Dettol (82) and AA (90). Marketers wanting to appeal to this group would do well to show social responsibility and be consistent in their communications.

Most desired brands: Red Cross, Fairtrade, Dettol, AA, Unicef and Post Office

Respect commanders: The people in this mostly middle-aged male group are happy to pay for quality and won’t be swayed by


others’ views. They want brands that they see as independent, organised and competitive, such as Intel (26), Mercedes (49) and Google (15) and will respond to brands with a direct tone of voice.

Most desired brands: Bentley, Google, Intel, Mercedes, Microsoft and Rolls-Royce

Safe players: These people think they are the most reliable of the lot and desire brands that match this trait, such as Waitrose (81), John Lewis (41) and Rolls-Royce (2). They say they are not affected by advertising and prefer trusted products – so marketers wanting to appeal to them should offer reassurance and stability.

Most desired brands: Waitrose, Rolls-Royce, John Lewis and British Airways

Case study: Red Cross


Aid organisation Red Cross comes an impressive eighth on the most desirable list, surrounded by luxury or more aspirational brands such as Emirates (6), Prada (12) and Nintendo (11). But this does not surprise British Red Cross head of marketing and brand development Fiona Smith, who claims the brand’s logo is more recognisable than Coca-Cola’s. “People know that the Red Cross is a symbol of neutrality, that it is there in war zones and disaster zones. It has got an iconic status over and above Coca-Cola, dare I say it. And we have the same kind of footfall and global presence as Coke,” she says.

The simplicity of the brand’s proposition has universal appeal, claims Smith. “When you think about what we do in disasters, conflicts and emergencies around the world, [being high up on the desire list] is not as surprising as you might think.

“We have a universal appeal because we have a universal benefit: we will help you in a crisis wherever you are,” she adds.

But this universal appeal does not dilute the brand’s proposition, she says. Working broadly across conflict zones abroad as well as in emergencies in the UK, such as the floods in Cumbria in 2009, means that people can easily digest the proposition of helping people wherever they are.


Brand consultancy Clear spoke to 4,000 UK consumers, giving each of them a set of brands they were familiar with, from a list of 300.

People were asked about the extent they agreed with statements including the brand being one they respect, feel attracted to, are proud to be seen with, and one that they would love to use in the future.

They were also asked which adjectives they would apply to the brands they desire, such as sexy, exciting, spontaneous, ambitious, wellbeing-focused, sensible and careful.

Consumers were also asked about their own personalities, using the same adjectives used to describe the brands.