The Top Brands in the AP (and the implications)

Annual research conducted by Nielsen and presented by Campaign Asia-Pacific on the most popular brands in the Asia-Pacific region was recently released to the public. The survey encompasses 14 major categories and 13 major markets: Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The top 10 brands for 2016 are:

  1. Samsung
  1. Apple
  1. Sony
  1. Nestle
  1. Panasonic
  1. Nike
  1. LG
  1. Canon
  1. Chanel
  1. Adidas

So, what do the tea leaves say in all of this? Overall, of course, they’re just tea leaves. But we might draw a few interesting tidbits from the results.

First of all, of the top 10 brands only two, Apple and Nike, are American. Three are European. And the rest are Japanese or Korean.

One might argue, moreover, that the Apple and Nike brands have transcended their national identity. Neither relies on its American roots to define its brand image in the same way that, say, Coca-Cola or Budweiser, do.

A few of my personal take-aways, although I again caution about reading too much into any annual survey.

The first is the question of who will really benefit from the disproportionate growth expected in AP economies relative to those of Europe and North America? This is an inherent key to the debate over global trade that has dominated much of national politics in the US and Europe of late.

Nearly every major American company has some presence in China. Few, however, have been successful there. It is, perhaps, the most competitive market in the world, and Western companies, in my experience, struggle to navigate its waters.

And if you look at what drives the American economy, financial services, media, and telecom companies dominate the list of influencers. These are the sectors that remain the most highly regulated in China and dominated by state-owned companies. And under any circumstances, I submit, are the sectors structurally inclined to provide the most home field advantage in any of the major economies. General Motors has seen a lot of success in China. But will Wells Fargo see the same success, even if the markets are de-regulated?

And although trade is a critical component of everyone’s politics, there is a political element to trade beyond the trade itself. It’s called leverage.

At the moment, China is relatively hesitant to tweak the US in the nose due to the enormous trade ties that the two countries share. As China pivots to a services economy, however, and as the natural dilution of American influence in the global economy implied by disproportionate growth in the AP economies occurs, will the US enjoy the same political leverage in the global economy of the future?

Will the US, in other words, be capable of controlling the South China Sea debate? The human rights debate? The debate over geo-political influence and independence in Asia?

Speculation, of course. But that’s where every meaningful insight starts.

It is likewise interesting to look at the survey results from 2006; 10 years ago. Again, the top ten brands, ranked from most popular down:

  1. Nokia
  1. Sony
  1. Nestle
  1. Colgate
  1. Panasonic
  1. Honda
  1. Coca-Cola
  1. Samsung
  1. Canon
  1. 7-Eleven

Of the top 10, obviously, 3 were American, 2 were European, and the rest were Japanese or Korean. And, of course, some of the change is a simple reflection of the development of the Asian-Pacific economies. Few could afford Chanel 10 years ago. Many could afford 7-11 or an occasional bottle of Coke.

Having said that, however, it would appear that after a decade of investment the West has not made any obvious progress in its penetration of the Asia Pacific economy. Japan and Korea are the only truly consistent players.

One last observation.

Whether or not the US economy became the engine of the global economy on the back of the US political system, the political system gained global leverage, in part, on the back of the US economy. Can the US pivot-to-Asia, therefore, succeed in the long-term if the US loses that economic leverage? As China pivots to services, and Asia continues to develop at above average rates, is the pivot realistic, or even desirable?

Food for thought.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com