Mark Ritson: 10 reasons why Superbrands 2018 is a worthless list

Superbrands’ bogus methodology regularly turns up inexplicable and nonsensical ‘findings’. Here are my top 10 aberrations from this year’s Superbrands Consumer Top 20 ranking.

SuperbrandsSuperbrands is back. Again. With another shit-filled annual compendium of hoo haa, I give you the 2018 UK Superbrands top 20.

The Superbrands organisation describes its list as the “definitive benchmark for brands who’ve set the agenda, outwitted the competition and built enviable reputations”. OK then, if you say so. From where I am standing this year’s list makes just as little sense as all its equally ridiculous predecessors, but that will not stop naïve journalists covering the thing with the kind of reverence and analysis it so clearly does not merit.

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I’ve been trying for more than a decade to point out the utter, utter, utter pointlessness of Superbrands. I’ve talked about everything from the ridiculous sample to the bonkers methodology and the strangely mercurial results that seem to bounce all over the shop from year to year – almost as if the whole Superbrands system was built on a highly unreliable, random set of data points.

But I have failed. Abysmally. Like a bad case of the clap that inevitably engulfs your genitals every year, or that old single sock with the hole that you swear you threw away but reappears at the bottom of your laundry basket, or that horrendous kebab that you inhaled at 4am and continue to taste three days later, Superbrands just keeps coming back.

That is despite the fact that the only thing super about it is the massive flashing headache that it gives me and every other self-respecting marketer when the results emerge, and bemused journos try to explain why an airport beats toilet paper for the nation’s consumer affections.

Superbrands’ wonky methodology rates BP as more super than Burberry, and Shell a better brand than John Lewis.

I think the genius of Superbrands is in the list itself. Put anything into a top 20 or a top 10 and journalists from near and far are hypnotically drawn to the results, finding it impossible not to open their laptops and start writing plausible nonsense to explain why a beans manufacturer has beaten a German automotive brand to eighth place in this year’s table.

The list is the source of Superbrands’ power. So this year I am flinging shit at shit, fighting fire with fire, and accepting that if I cannot beat Superbrands’ list of shame I can surely joint it with my own entirely arbitrary countdown. I encourage journalists and social media amateurs (it’s a thin line these days) to dwell on my own top 10 below. I give you the top 10 reasons why Superbrands is not super based on their latest 2018 “findings”.

1. Lego is number one

Lego’s emergence as the top brand on this year’s league table caused quite a few headlines. It’s barely a week since the same brand was making the news for an entirely different reason – the brand is actually in trouble.

Barely a week ago the Danish toy company reported its first fall in sales and profits in more than a decade and a growing surplus of stock. Despite Superbrands proclaiming Lego to be the best brand in the UK, the company’s own management team was starkly admitting they were not happy with its current position and that there was much work to do – seven days before Superbrands crowned it the champion of everything. Odd.

2. British Airways dropping out of the list

The big headline for this year’s league table was the dramatic fall of British Airways (BA). Last year the airline was sitting pretty at the top of the Superbrands UK league table. This year it could not even make it into the top 20.

According to a Superbrands’ spokesperson: “British Airways tumbling from top spot to outside the top 20 should be a wake-up call for all brands. In a world where customer expectations have rightfully risen, brands cannot afford to disappoint and need to continually deliver to retain their valuable reputations.”

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No, that’s not it. BA was crap on customer satisfaction long before bedbugs and IT explosions took their toll (see below) so I suspect the real reason it has dropped inexplicably from top to completely out of the list is epistemological not endogenous to BA. (The research method is balls, in layman’s terms.)

3. British Airways being top for the past four years

And before this looks like a column defending BA (it’s not) let’s make it clear that, until its “wake-up call” this year, it had been the most ‘super’ of brands for the past four years. That’s equally ridiculous, given BA has regularly been among the least satisfying airlines in the world according to other, less ‘super’, research.

In 2017, for example, consumer organisation Which? ranked BA as 18th out of 20 short haul airlines – behind such aerial behemoths as Air Malta and Flybe – and only 15th out of 17 for long haul flying. Given numbers 16 and 17 were American and United Airlines, which specialise in brand destruction and customer alienation, this is the equivalent to pretty much coming dead last.

For many years Skytrax has rated BA as mid to low in terms of satisfaction and it has consistently failed to get anywhere near the top 10 airlines ratings, yet Superbrands crowned BA best of the best for four years running – not just of airlines (a category every other poll has BA losing hands down) but of all brands. Super odd.

4. Coke is…improving. Wait, what?

I bet they were rubbing their eyes in disbelief down in Atlanta this week. With Coke’s brand equity slumping, its product invariably on a permanent death spiral of sales promotions and stupid product innovation, there is a clear lack of good news.

Well here it is: Superbrands thinks Coke is much more super this year versus last. Despite widespread acceptance that Coke is in deep marketing shit, Superbrands has moved it up five places from last year. What a result! Magic.

5. Gillette

It’s a similar story for Gillette. Last year it was only the fifth most super brand, this year it is up to second place. Who would have thought it?

Well, not me and certainly not Gillette. The razor brand faces significant competitive threats for the first time in two decades from Unilever and a host of smaller startup brands. It has been forced to cut prices by as much as 20% in a forlorn attempt to stall the decline.

Gillette is “bleeding market share”, according to the Wall Street Journal. No it’s not, argues Superbrands, it’s super! Even more super than last year and nearly as super as Lego and Coke. Which are also more super this year than last. Go figure.

6. The mysterious case of the declining Rolex

Last year, Rolex was the third most super brand in the UK. This year it drops out of the top 10 and comes in at 12th behind Cadbury (clearly a much more super brand) and Andrex (also more super). This is a particularly inexplicable shift because, and there is no polite way to put this, Rolex is the most boringly lovely brand ever invented.

Its watches don’t change. Its endorsers don’t change. Its sponsorships don’t change. It’s the epitome of Swiss sophisticated stability. It just sits there being superior and making enormous amounts of cash. If Superbrands ranks Rolex as third, it has to stay third. That is just the way it goes. It’s Rolex. It doesn’t go down, or up. It just is.

7. Where’s Cornflakes?

Kellogg’s has just completely disappeared from the list. It was in the top 10 last year but now, for reasons known only to God and Superbrands, it has completely disappeared from the list. Coke had a great year and went up five spots, but Kellogg’s is totally fucked. Are you sensing a pattern yet? Me neither.

8. Amazon is apparently not massive

It’s the brand on everyone’s lips. It leads voice technology; it’s bigger than the Vatican; for every tenner spent online in this country, four quid goes its way. Hell, even Google is soiling its multicoloured knickers at the thought of competing with it.

Amazon is everywhere, except on the Superbrands list. It did not make the top 20 this year. Heathrow did. Kleenex did. But Amazon missed the cut. It was ranked last year, squeezing into the list at number 19, but it dropped off in 2018 and given what a crap year it has been having that is hardly surprising. Hang on, what?

9. BP and Shell

Both big oil brands made it. Obvious really, because nothing says brand strength in 2018 more than giant, commodity-producing corporations that are widely disliked by a vast swathe of the population. Sigwatch has been monitoring the most hated brands in the world for many years and both BP and Shell regularly feature at the very top of the list.

According to a delighted Shell spokesperson, the company’s inclusion in the top 20 rankings is “a testament to the power of the Shell brand” and its “customer-facing organisations that have helped to build such a solid reputation”. Perhaps. Or it could be a function of a wonky methodology that rates BP as more super than Burberry, and Shell a better brand than John Lewis.

10. Everything else

I’ve run out of bullet points, but with so many more weird things to draw your attention to in this year’s list, let me just reiterate that Shell and Heathrow are in the Superbrands Consumer Top 20 and then remind you of some of the brands that did not make it: Google, Mars, Pret A Manger, the BBC, Burberry, L’Oréal, McDonald’s, The Guardian, Zara.

Again, one more for the road: BP is more of a super brand than Toyota and Häagen-Dazs is more super than Amazon. Thank you Superbrands.

Right, I am done. I’ve tried my best but it will make not one jot of difference. In almost exactly 12 months, the flying method-monkeys of Superbrands will drop their magic balls of fate into the 20 random receptacles of 2019 and the whole process will begin again. Journos will write about the inexplicable shifts, Superbrands will point out the “important lessons” for other brands to heed and I will lift my weary head from the table I have been banging it against and try, once more, to bring about their downfall.

See you in 2019.

Professor Mark Ritson will be teaching the next Marketing Week Mini MBA course from 24 April 2018. To book your place, sign up here.



There are 18 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Andy Porter 14 Mar 2018

    I think Coke starting to produce alcoholic versions of their drink says it all really… they are running out of ideas and are in trouble.

    Also, BA have some of the worst customer service I have ever endeavored as a fairly frequent flyer. How they were even considered a Superbrand previously is beyond me.

  2. Tadas R. 14 Mar 2018

    Well done Mark, all those charts does not make any sense at all. Love your column!

  3. Julian Pratt 15 Mar 2018

    You need a like button for stuff like this.
    Or do you measure success by time spent on page?

  4. Steve Thomson 15 Mar 2018

    Convincing journalists to run with this on a slow news day I get…but who is paying for this guff?

  5. Simon Brand 15 Mar 2018

    I love Superbrands; one man’s Superbrand is another’s nervous breakdown, as clearly remonstrated here.

  6. Mark Cruise 15 Mar 2018

    I had forgotten Superbrands existed until I read this article, with tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks, so I have just had a look at the website and had the biggest laugh of all – Buy the Book at £53.70 (saving £6:30).
    That started the laughing but just seeing the ‘Sales Pitch’ and imaging Mr Ritson’s reaction nearly killed me:
    ‘This book also offers an opportunity to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the important and highly topical discipline of branding, as well as a greater admiration for the brands themselves.’
    MWAAAAAA HA HA!! Brilliant.

  7. Dom Graham 15 Mar 2018

    There are so many things that have never made sense to me about Superbrands. It clearly takes a backslapping marketing bubble view of each brand rather than a whole commercial view of the brand. Basically it does what a lot of marketers do in their own company: ignore what’s going on in the rest of the company (gotta avoid those sales people, they might tell you that your latest brand authenticity campaign isn’t aligned with what what sales actually needs from you!) and sit there like a real life version of the “This is fine” meme.

  8. John Bell 15 Mar 2018

    brands have agendas, very reassuring

  9. Marshall Hollis 16 Mar 2018

    Dear Mark, Great article. Those brands that are not listed didn’t pay to be in the book, so can’t be listed as a Superbrand? Your thoughts on Product of the Year?

  10. JULIAN DAILLY 17 Mar 2018

    All lists of brands are designed to sell services. This one, although it’s stupid, is no less defensible really than any other – I know this as I I used to manage Interbrand’s 100 for several years, and have pouered obver most others. The only “clean” lists are the stick exchange and ranked sales. The rest is a hotchpotch of philosphically driven leading indicators to both of those outcomes, built to stimulate demand for an accompanying service platter.

    Ironically, Superbrands have built a brand (“Superbrands”) around a list of brands, where the quality / integrity of the list is far less important than the brand presenting it. Like, say, awful food well packaged and made popular.

    Hmmm. Interesting strategy. I think this is what lies behind marketers’ annoyance with it – it exposes the most used function of brands and their marketing managers – to direct audiences away from underlying product quality and towards acceptance at face value – Superbrands proudly exposes, pehaps inadvertantly and clown-like, the conflict at the heart of marketing.

    It’s no wonder marketers hate it.

  11. Steffen Saemann 18 Mar 2018

    I’ve got offers to participate for money in Czech Republic – I have refused and surprisingly did not make it on the list even having truly superbrands in our portfolio. So it is just another paid ranking – and I dont care. Its better to be first with consumers than on the list.

  12. David Vawter 18 Mar 2018

    This made my early morning. The Coke ranking reminds me of the year not long ago when they were named “Marketer of the Year” at Cannes because of their cool new cans, whilst their market share continued its more than decade-long slide. Magical thinking indeed.

  13. Jim Curran 18 Mar 2018

    I was completely baffled by the entire ‘Superbrands’ concept and how they arrive at their conclusions. The list is clearly so error filled it is worthless. I am so pleased MW has again criticised. Hopefully, this will eventually kill off Suoerbrands for ever.

  14. Caroline Forbes 19 Mar 2018

    Like so many “awards” these days the methodology is simple – got budget? You win! I would suggest the brands that didn’t make the list have got better things to spend their money on.

  15. Adrian Goldthorpe 20 Mar 2018

    Brilliant, love it.
    About time someone hauled this over the coals.
    Can you please do the same for some of the valuation indexes, brand experience indexes, intimacy indexes, country brand indexes etc that are all as dubious as this.
    Oh, and please then review ‘effectiveness awards’…

  16. john Lowery 21 Mar 2018

    Number 11. I just went to buy some toilet paper but decided that Lego was a more ‘super’ brand. Christ on a bike, my arse is hurting.

  17. Simon Draper 21 Mar 2018

    Our brands have participated in the Superbrands programme many times in a few countries. It has served us well. We did not pay for an award, we paid for coffee table books about our brand and sent them through to our customers and franchisees. The award was given to our company regardless of whether we signed up or not. The cost of the campaign was the same as a half page colour advert in a daily newspaper. Superbrands methodology may not be highly scientific and nor do they claim that it is, but if I look at the Interbrand results vs the Superbrands results, there’s really not much in it. If a brand messes up they usually both pick up on it unless of course you are Samsung and then you can get away with exploding mobile phones and survive.

    • john Lowery 22 Mar 2018

      BMW’s rankings
      2015: #17
      2016: Not in the top 20
      2017: Not in the top 20
      2018: #10
      If you needed any more evidence that this thing is utter bollocks, I hope that’s it.

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