Revealed: Marketing Week Masters Brand of the Year shortlist

A total of seven brands have been nominated for Brand of the Year, with the winner to be announced at the Marketing Week Masters awards in September.

Birds Eye, BrewDog, Microsoft, NHS Charities Together, Oatly, Tesco and TikTok have been nominated for the Marketing Week Masters’ Brand of the Year award for 2020.

The shortlist was chosen by the Marketing Week editorial team based on marketing strategy and performance over the past year.

The winner will be selected through a combination of public vote and the views of our jury of senior marketers. This year, our expert panel of judges includes Sara Bennison, CMO of Nationwide; Sharry Cramond, marketing director for food at Marks & Spencer; Alessandra Bellini, chief customer officer of Tesco; Keith Moor, CMO of Camelot; Katherine Whitton, CMO of Specsavers; and Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4’s CMO.

The result will be revealed at an online showcase of the winners in September.

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The shortlist for Brand of the Year

Birds Eye

Birds Eye might be synonymous with fish fingers and frozen peas but it has been branching out into new areas as it looks to build on strong growth.

The launch of its Green Cuisine range and accompanying campaign in which vampires found they have been eating meat-free burgers shows a confident brand with a keen understanding of consumer trends and its target audience.

It has also been reinvigorating its image with a competition to find a new Captain Birds Eye to appear on limited edition packs and give frozen food a burst. The winner was 24-year-old Charlotte Carter-Dunn, the first time the captain has been a woman.

There no doubt Birds Eye has been among the brands to benefit from the pandemic. As countries went into lockdown, families stocked up on frozen food and ate more at home, with Kantar figures for April showing the number of meal occasions using frozen food spiked by 68% for lunch and 28% for dinner.

But here the strength of its brand paid off as customers looked for brands they could trust. Its owner, Nomad Foods is reaping the benefits, with revenue up 10.5% to €683m in the quarter to the end of March as gross profits rose 4% to €199m.

With the market growing in its favour, Birds Eye rose to the occasion, deciding to launch a campaign in the midst of lockdown to reach worried consumers and try to reassure them.


UK and Ireland marketing director, Sarah Koppens, told Marketing Week at the time: “For us being on air wasn’t about saying ‘Get out there and buy our chicken dippers or our waffles’ or ‘Have you tried our new Green Cuisine?’ because we didn’t feel that was an appropriate message. What we wanted to say to consumers was ‘You’re there for each other, we’re here for you’.”

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brewdog punk sanitiserBrewDog might no longer be a challenger brand in the beer market but it still knows how to disrupt and insert itself into popular culture.

But this year, a brand whose marketing has on occasion been controversial in the past founds a renewed purpose amid coronavirus. The brewer opened its distilleries to make hand sanitiser, which was then given away for free by charities to those in need. In May, it also launched a kickstart collective, supporting independent bars, pubs and bottle shops with both financial and operation support including £250 to restock, online training and a guidance on reopening.

However, it also would not be true to the BrewDog brand without a joke in there too. When Dominic Cummings decided to “test his eye site” by driving to Barnard Castle in May, BrewDog launched a tongue in cheek nod to the series of events with a ‘Barnard Castle eye test’ New England IPA release.

Elsewhere, it has overhauled its visual identity, launched its sustainable business charter and restated its commitment to alcohol-free beer with the launch of an alcohol-free bar.

All this has helped catapult BrewDog into the top 75 UK brands, according to Kantar BrandZ, with a valuation of $1.2bn up 40% year on year. It has struggled as the coronavirus pandemic forced its bars to shut and reduced sales of its beers in the on-trade but it has innovated through initiatives such as drive-through ordering.

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MicrosoftThis year’s Kantar BrandZ Top 100 Global Brands didn’t contain too many surprises, showcasing instead how companies, big tech in particular, have become so completely entrenched in our daily lives, a situation only magnified by the restraints of lockdown.

Microsoft was one of the notable movers on this year’s list, taking third place ahead of Google, thanks in no small part to the success of its Teams platform, the video and chat meetings service that became the go-to option for companies and individuals forced to work from home after the pandemic hit.

Brand Z’s $327bn valuation of Microsoft is up 30% on last year. Launched in March 2017, Teams was already showing signs of outperforming competitors like Slack, Workplace and Google’s Hangout Chat before the virus struck, but three years after launching, the Microsoft announced daily user figures of 44 million, with 2.7bn minutes of meeting time recorded on the platform in a single day in late March, up 200% in usage from earlier in the month.

Talking to Marketing Week last month, Microsoft’s UK CMO Paul Bolt described the company’s role as being “digital first responders”, able to react with fluidity and pace whenever the need arises.

To that end, the company has been notably busy this year, not just in terms of Teams, but with programmes like a global skills initiative that aims to have 25 million people around the world upping their digital and data tech game, and the partnerships with McLaren and Ford to create state-of-the-art ventilators for the NHS.

With a bid for TikTok’s US operations still very much in the works, Microsoft’s post-pandemic positioning looks very much to be one of strength, with the video-app buyout opening up the company to millions of GenZ brand-savvy users.

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NHS Charities Together

Before the coronavirus pandemic, you probably hadn’t heard of NHS Charities Together.

In research the organisation ran with JCDecaux last year, it found that two out of three people did not know the NHS had its own charities. Among those that said they did, they mostly came up with non-NHS charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support or the British Heart Foundation when asked to name one.

NHS Charities Together is a membership body for local health service fundraisers. There are almost 240 local NHS charities in the UK, the biggest and most well-known of which is Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. Between them, they contribute more than £1m every day to NHS causes – ranging from the nearly £90m Great Ormond Street raises a year to just tens of thousands of pounds for smaller organisations.

The body that ties them all together, however, is neither well-known nor a big fundraiser. It’s annual appeal over the past couple of years has been tea parties, which have raised around £170,000 annually.

Then along came coronavirus. NHS Charities Together launched an appeal to ask the public to help in the NHS response to Covid-19. The organisation thought it might raise £20m. So far, it has brought in more than £133m, rocketing NHS Charities Together into the charity super league both in terms of donations and awareness.

The organisation has of course benefitted from circumstance; coronavirus and the public’s desire to support the NHS through the crisis. But it has done some savvy marketing too, partnering with the ITV and Marks & Spencer, among others to raise its profile, and tying its positioning into support for healthworkers.

“We thought if we could tell people that the NHS has charities you can give to, people might want to support it. That was the case,” says CEO Ellie Orton.

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Oatly-It’s fair to say 2020 has been a big year for Swedish alt-milk brand Oatly.

The oat milk company notched up a $2bn valuation in July after selling a 10% stake to a group of investors including entertainment giant Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z’s entertainment organisation Roc Nation and Oscar winning actress Natalie Portman.

Oatly plans to use the £200m investment to build a global network of factories from the US – now its biggest market – to Singapore, catering for the 20 countries it currently supplies. The company is on track to produce 300 million litres of milk this year.

While the closure of cafes and restaurants caused by global coronavrius lockdowns could have had a big impact on B2B milk sales, Oatly has stood up well to the disruption. In April, the brand signed a lucrative deal with Starbucks to put its milk on the menu at 4,300 of the coffee chain’s locations across China.

Oatly’s sales rose 123% to £21m in the 12 weeks to 16 May, according to Nielsen figures. Ecommerce is proving an important source of income, with online revenue tripling during the first quarter compared to the previous three months.

More widely, Oatly has positioned itself at the forefront of oat milk’s transition from fringe choice for the lactose intolerant to a mainstream consumer product.

Waitrose, for example, announced in July that sales of oat milk had increased by 113% compared to 2019. Searches for ‘oat milk’ on the supermarket’s website were up 210%, while compared to last year the number of customers searching for ‘barista oat milk’ have risen by 1,517%.

Having carved out a clear identity thanks to witty and visually striking outdoor campaigns, there was a risk Oatly’s marketing may have suffered as consumer footfall dwindled during the early days of lockdown.

However, in April, the brand announced it was temporarily “giving up on selling” oat drinks to form the ‘Oatly department of distraction services’. The creative team set about devising various ways to eliminate “unwanted stress” amid lockdown. Ideas included designing limited edition prints to help people make their own ‘quarantees’ and developing a ‘Skip the Cow’ mobile game.

When it comes to new product development, Oatly has not let the pandemic put a stop to its plans. In July, the brand launched an oat yoghurt – or Oatgurt – available in a pot made from 70% renewable sources. The ultimate goal is to build a packaging portfolio made from 100% renewable materials, while long-term the company wants to offer the “cleanest, most responsible products” on the market and help the food industry become a “more honest place”.

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tescoTesco’s recovery from its annus horribillis in 2014 appears to be going from strength to strength. Led by CEO and former marketer Dave Lewis, and chief customer officer Alessandra Bellini, the company has taken a customer-first approach to rebuilding the business that has paid dividends.

Its ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign continues to reposition Tesco’s food offering, while its Christmas ad was voted by Marketing Week readers as one of the best of 2019. The launch of skin tone plasters and accompanying ‘It’s About Bloody Time’ comms have been rightly praised for celebrating diversity.

The coronavirus crisis, which might have plunged a lesser brand into crisis, has, if anything, only made the company stronger. Tesco has been widely praised for its response by staff, customers and suppliers both in terms of the experience in-store, but also how it has communicated.

Data from Kantar shows its ‘Some little helps for safer shopping’ campaign was among the most effective of any brand in the initials throes of the pandemic. It scored 89 (out of 100) for long-term return potential and 92 for short-term sales likelihood. It also scored the highest mark possible for brand memorability (100) and 96 for creating branded memories.

This has been reflected in its business performance. Tesco claims it has had a net gain in people switching from Aldi for the first time in more than a decade caused by the combination of its new price match scheme and shift in consumer behaviour caused by coronavirus.

Customers who saw Tesco’s ‘Aldi Price Match’ campaign were 6% more likely to visit its stores, rated the supermarket more highly (had an NPS score 10 points higher) and perceived Tesco as better value (8%), according to the company’s latest results.

Tesco claims 4.5% fewer people are shopping at both supermarkets as a result of the campaign, which it will now extend to nearly 500 Tesco and branded products. It also claims 1.3% fewer customers are visiting the rest of the so-called ‘big four’ UK supermarkets.

Tesco’s brand health is also at the highest level since 2011 after recording improvements in customer perceptions across all key areas, including value, up by five points, and quality, up by 3.7 points.

Covid-19-specific brand metrics show consumers see Tesco as the best supermarket for ‘doing the right thing’ with a score of 29%. This is followed by Sainsbury’s (17%), Morrisons (13%) and Asda (9%). Some 92% of customers are confident in its social distancing measures and 90% believe it is a safe place to shop.

Those improvements in brand perception helped Tesco to a 9.2% increase in total sales in its UK and ROI business in the first quarter, with sales reaching £12.2bn.

Lewis is set to leave Tesco in October, to be replaced by Walgreens Boots Alliance’s chief commercial officer Ken Murphy. He joins a supermarket and brand that is back at the top of its game and ready for a price war with the discounters as the UK heads towards a likely economic recession.

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TikTokThe highest new entry in BrandZ’s 2020 top 100 most valuable global brands ranking, TikTok came in at number 79 with a valuation of $16.9bn.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it should have been much higher. Certainly the video-sharing app’s profile has been through the roof over the past year, downloaded more than 1.5 billion times via Apple’s App Store and Google Play, with 800 million active users worldwide.

In March of this year, the global download figure was 115 million, its highest ever. It’s been estimated that there will be 10 million users in the UK alone by next year, still some way behind the app’s biggest markets in India, China and the US.

Owned by China’s ByteDance, TikTok has long been at the centre of concerns around national security, particularly in its two other leading markets, India and the US. First a clearly rattled Facebook and then the White House have called for the app to be subject to tighter regulation or even banned outright.

Microsoft’s proposed takeover of the app’s US operations came about in part because of (still largely unfounded) Washington fears about data usage. The tech giant is keen to find a direct route to the promised land of GenZ TikTok users, who will doubtless be relieved to know that Bill Gates and co have a history of buying innovative social network platforms and basically leaving them to do the things they do best.

But even without Microsoft’s considerable support in the US, TikTok’s global growth throughout the remainder of this year and into next will continue to be spectacular, mirroring the lightning-speed viral nature of its most successful content.

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