Africa’s Top 100 Brands in 2021
After a steady decline, African brands have stood their ground in our 11th annual survey of the most admired brands in Africa. However, brands from Europe and North America continue to dominate the rankings.
Brand Africa founder and chairman Thebe Ikalafeng reviews the findings from a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with contributions from Reahile Ramathesele, Thabani Khumalo and Karin du Chenne.
When last year’s Brand Africa survey was undertaken in the first quarter of 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had just declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, pointing to over 118,000 cases of the coronavirus in over 110 countries and territories around the world and the sustained risk of further global spread.
At the time of writing there have been over 173m confirmed cases and over 3.7m deaths across the globe, according to the WHO. Africa, one of the least tested regions, officially accounts for 2% (3.6m) of the confirmed cases and 2.4% (88,585) of the deaths, although the real totals are likely to be much higher.
It usually takes around a decade to bring a new vaccine to market, but many of the leading pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca focused their attention on delivering a vaccine for Covid-19 in less than a year, and to date more than 1.5bn doses have been administered.
While globally the primary concern shifted to the efficacy and safety of the vaccines developed at such a record speed, in developing regions such as Africa, with no vaccine development initiatives in place, the focus has been on equitable access.
With many African nations battling to find and/or fund vaccines for their citizens, and struggling to convince citizens to understand the necessity of lockdowns and their consequential economic impact, the pandemic has occupied the conscience of citizens across the developed and the developing nations.
Given the pandemic’s omnipresence and impact, Brand Africa sought to determine its impact on the brands’ balance of power and status in the rankings.
Despite a year of massive upheavals, and a larger sample size this year, we noticed little change among our survey of Africa’s Most Admired Brands. US sportswear brand Nike retains its spot at #1 in our Top 100, while Samsung is at #3 for a third year and Coca-Cola maintains its #4 spot.
Ethiopian Airlines makes a grand entrance in the list as the only airline, at #51. It was the first out of the big three African airlines (Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South African Airways) to resume service and has been praised for its strategy in converting passenger planes into cargo planes during the depths of the pandemic. Such shrewd measures bolstered the airline’s already strong reputation and contributed to its high debut in the Top 100.
Stubbornly, foreign brands continue to dominate our continental ranking. When the brands are broken down by origin, the make-up is also largely unchanged. Europe leads the way again with 41% (-1%) of all entries, North America at 30% (+1%), Asia at 16% (unchanged) and Africa retains its 13% share.
Similarly, the leading African branding nations largely retained their positions, with Nigeria (-1) and South Africa (-) on five each, Ethiopia with two (+1) and Kenya one (-), accounting for the 13 brands among the Top 100 Most Admired Brands in Africa.
WHO brand takes Covid centre stage
Unsurprisingly, given its global role and media presence during the pandemic, the WHO emerged as #1 in the list of brands perceived to have been the most helpful during the pandemic. Governmental agencies, international bodies and NGOs represented 20% of the brands named by respondents – organisations like the WHO and Unicef (#7), the Centers for Disease Control (#16) and USAID (#19) – while private sector companies represented 80%.
South Africa’s MTN, which donated 7m Covid-19 vaccine doses to nine African countries, is the leading private sector brand at #2, in a private sector list where all multinational mobile operators in Africa – Vodafone Group (#3), Orange (#4), Airtel (#6) – and media brands Facebook (#10) and DSTV (#24) made the list of the Top 25. Unsurprisingly, the leading pharmaceutical groups, Johnson & Johnson (#12) and AstraZeneca (#25) feature, but Nigeria’s Dangote (#8) is the only industrial brand in the list.
‘Made in Africa’ on the rise
A 2017 survey by How We Made It In Africa found that 63% of African respondents said they prefer to buy African brands whenever possible, but over the past 10 years only 20% of the brands that Africans most admire have been “Made in Africa”.
Against the backdrop of the AfCFTA, now in its implementation phase, there has been a marked shift to local economies and a renewed focus on “homegrown” brands.
How have African brands and businesses reacted and which brands have retained, improved or lost their status among African consumers? As usual this year, we prompted respondents to name their favourite African brand (see the methodology section for the definition we use to identify a brand as African). The resulting list shows a 28% change on last year, with several upstart local brands muscling their way into the Top 25.
Entering a list dominated by stalwart brands Dangote (#1), MTN (#2) and DStv (#3), is a relatively new brand, South Africa’s Bathu, at #10. The sneaker brand was founded only five years ago by accountant Theo Baloyi, who quit his job at PwC to start the brand. During the Covid period, the firm grew its footprint by more than 50%. The brand now operates 24 standalone flagship stores with a staff complement of over 250 to deliver over 100,000 pairs of shoes annually to adoring “sneaker heads”.
While the brand has no physical presence outside South Africa, e-commerce, sustained and inspirational social media and collaboration with celebrated artists such as the well-known singer, dancer and influencer Somizi Mhlongo have helped boost the brand beyond its home market. As Baloyi puts it, Bathu brand is “a shoe with which Africans can proudly affiliate… and a journey to reignite hope and create sustainable jobs”.
South Africa’s popular streetwear and lifestyle brand Loxion Kulca, whose co-founder, Wandi Nzimande, died earlier in the year, made a resurgent entry at #16. Available in more than 150 outlets in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia primarily, it is among the iconic brands inspired by local lifestyle and culture.
These South African brands reflect a rise and appreciation of local heritage and lifestyle among African apparel brands. Rounding the three apparel category brands is Ethiopia’s made-to-order sustainable and ethically handcrafted brand, soleRebels (#19), created by Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in 2005. Like many daring African brands, soleRebels has benefited from global media coverage.
Ghana’s Kantanka Automobile, established in 1994 by Kwadwo Safo Kantanka, makes its way into the Top 25 at #24, representing a category where African brands hardly participate due to high investment and technical expertise requirements. In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, Kantanka announced a shift to producing smaller, less expensive cars to compete with new and used global brands in Africa.
The used car market has found a lucrative secondary market in Africa. But as Innoson Motors, at #13, one of Africa’s first and few automotive manufacturing companies, put it, “Africa has literally become a dumping ground for foreign used automobiles. We are not second class people that should only drive second hand vehicles.”
In 2018 Rwanda banned the importation of second-hand clothing to protect its nascent garment and textile industry. Politicians hope these actions will raise the opportunity for more “Made in Africa” brands, especially with the AfCFTA drive to increase intra-Africa trade.
Banking on relevance and agility
Our ranking of the financial services sector is again dominated by African brands, particularly from South Africa (7), Nigeria (6) and Kenya (3), who make up 75% of the Top 25 brands. The sector was marked by adaptation to the digital era, acquisitions and support for customers during the pandemic’s tough economic conditions.
GT Bank held on to the #1 spot for the second year in a row after another strong financial performance. With its digital-first customer-centric business strategy, the forward-thinking bank retained loyal customers during a time when the whole world was in lockdown. A restructuring and shakeup of top management as the bank strives to attract digital customers should see GTBank retain its #1 spot into the foreseeable future.
The biggest change comes from Equity Bank. The Kenyan bank moved up (+6) following expansion in East and Central Africa. The bank expanded its operations in the DRC by merging its existing operation of Equity Bank Congo with its acquisition of BCDC to form Equity BCDC, which is now the second largest financial services company in the country. Equity played a big role during the pandemic by positioning itself to support SMEs.
Kenya’s KCB Bank retains a strong presence in the tables with its bold move to acquire 100% of Rwanda’s Banque Populaire du Rwanda as part of its drive to increase its regional footprint. This should not be confused with Banque Populaire, the Moroccan financial services group, with a large presence across North, West and Central Africa, #19 in our ranking.
The world reports Africa
The media category continues to reflect a bias towards non-African media which represent more than 75% of the most admired media in Africa.
With Covid limiting entertainment options beyond the home, digital businesses such as streaming services thrived. Netflix, the home entertainment giant, rose to #5 in our media ranking by doubling its subscriptions in 2020. Globally its share price climbed more than 30% in 2020 as investors bet on people spending more time indoors.
The rise of Netflix, National Geographic (new at #13) and the maintenance of the mainstay news brands BBC (-1), CNN (-) and Al Jazeera (-), which are all accessible through South Africa’s DStv platform, propelled DStv to leapfrog BBC as the #1 media brand in Africa.
The challenge for African media brands remains fragmentation and lack of investment. Other than Cameroon’s Afrique Média, all other entrants in the media category are non-African. Consequently, despite the finding by Africa No Filter’s recent research that “63% of non-African media have no correspondent in Africa – and only 1% of content is from African news agencies,” Africa’s story and perceptions continue to be shaped outside its borders.
Pent up luxury demand
One of the biggest winners in this year’s main table was luxury fashion brand Christian Dior, rising 25 slots to #41, buoyed by what Forbes refers to as “pent-up luxury demand” due to the pandemic.
Many of the luxury brands in the rankings saw an improvement versus the previous year. Gucci (+1), Louis Vuitton (+2), Lacoste (+10), Versace (+5), and Dolce & Gabbana (+4) all rose up the rankings, while Tommy Hilfiger (#92) and Fendi (#98) returned to this year’s rankings after having not featured at all in the previous two rankings.
The trend of surging luxury brands goes beyond apparel, with auto manufacturing brands, Ferrari (+17), BMW (+10) and Mercedes-Benz (+4) all surging up the rankings. With no opportunity to travel, spending on luxury became a sanctuary for big spenders.
Winners and losers
The common denominator across this year’s Top 100 is the impact of Covid-19. As people’s lives became more digitalised, using technology to work, shop, buy groceries and connect with loved ones – and mostly staying home during lockdowns – many technology brands saw themselves exploding into the rankings, with the highest debut coming from Chinese consumer electronics company Oppo Mobile at #42, fellow Chinese consumer electrics company Xiaomi debuting at #64 and a 29 place climb to #35 for Japanese company Toshiba.
The most obviously Covid-19 related surge came from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, who entered the rankings at #82, catapulted by their development of a Covid-19 vaccine that was the first to be approved as a single dose in the US.
The company’s pledge to develop and distribute a not-for-profit vaccine also contributed to the brand’s goodwill and positive media coverage. Similarly, with the greater awareness around hygiene, it is no shock that Dettol (+8) rose up the ranks.
One of last year’s biggest losers, LC Waikiki has rebounded to become this year’s biggest winner. Rising a whopping 49 spots to #50, the Turkish apparel retailer has reached a higher spot than the one from which it fell last year. Its rebound could be attributed to its growth in Kenya, Uganda and plans to expand in Zambia.
Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, which became the world’s most valuable car firm after seeing its shares rise more than 700% in 2020, made a spectacular debut, the third highest, at #58. Tesla’s surge as a brand is likely attributable to increasing car sales and a general global shift towards demand for electric vehicles as well as confidence in South African-born CEO Elon Musk.
Finally, after living in a Covid world, it is surprising that brands like Zoom, MS Teams and Google Meet, which have boomed at the expense of physical offices, didn’t make the list.
There is no doubt that Covid, despite its devastating impact on lives and lifelihoods, has presented opportunities for African brands to challenge non-African brands. While Africa’s share remains a mere 13%, the rise in entrepreneurial African brands in the Top African Brands list offers a ray of hope and insight into Africa’s potential best, exemplified by South Africa’s Bathu and Ethiopian Airlines, which transported more than 20m vaccines to more than 20 countries.
As Africa’s inability to play an active role in developing a vaccine against Covid for the continent shows, the challenge remains Africa governments’ inability to create an enabling environment and support industrialisation and the development of Made in Africa brands.
Until then, the ambitious goal of AfCFTA to drive intra-Africa trade to 50% by 2030 will not benefit African brands that cannot compete with non-African brands on the continent.
Surveying the most admired brands in Africa: The 2021 Brand Africa 100 methodology
Now in its 11th year, Brand Africa 100 is a consumer-led survey which seeks to establish brand preferences across Africa. Conducted in 28 countries covering all economic regions in Africa, which collectively account for over 80% of the continent’s population and GDP, it is the most comprehensive survey on brands in Africa.
The research, which yielded over 80,000 brand mentions and over 2,000 unique brands, was conducted independently using Geopoll’s sophisticated digital survey platform, during the first quarter of 2021, by Brand Africa partners Geopoll, the world’s leading provider of remote market research solutions in Africa with a database of over 250m respondents in emerging markets, with strategic analysis and insights by Kantar, the globally respected consumer knowledge and information company, and Brand Leadership, Africa’s leading brand research, strategy and activation advisory firm.
Brand Africa has been using GeoPoll’s research platform for data collection since 2015 due to the high penetration, convenience and effectiveness of mobile across Africa. Conducting interviews via mobile ensured a wider reach and expediency in conducting research across the continent than would be possible with face-to-face interviews.
Individuals aged 18 and older in the sample countries were asked to report on their top three most admired brands, irrespective of country of origin or domicile. In 2021, due to the pandemic, a new question was added, to understand the one brand that Africans perceive to be the most helpful during the on-going pandemic. In addition, because of their catalytic impact or influential role, respondents were further asked to rank their top three most admired media and financial services brands respectively.
As an African-focused survey and given the growing number of African brands, since 2017/8 a new question was introduced specifically focusing on identifying “the Most Admired African brand”.
With the final coded data, Kantar calculated a score for each brand and created an index that takes into account the sample and population sizes of each country, weighted on gender and population of the countries covered. The brands were analysed to ensure there are no duplications and no generic categories rather than trading brand mentions.
Where the brand operated under different names in different names in different markets such as Stanbic/Standard Bank and Vodacom/Vodafone/Safaricom, or where the brands were sub-brands of a dominant brands such as Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad, the results where consolidated under one score for the group brand.
In identifying the list for the Most Admired African brands, where the brands had a dominant African residual equity or identity derived from their origins in Africa such as Safaricom, Mpesa and Tusker from Kenya or Castle from South Africa, irrespective of its ownership or shareholding the brand was recognised as an African brand.
To make the list of the Top 100 Most Admired Brands in Africa and the Most Admired African brands, the brands had to be available or recalled in at least one country other than their domicile market. Given the fragmentation and proliferation of local media, the media list is based only on truly pan-African media with reach across a significant number of African countries.
Finally, in recognising the impact of brand reputation on the value of brands, since 2019, Brand Africa 100 analysis has been identifying the most admired brands listed on leading African bourses.
Overall, since its founding in 2011, the Brand Africa 100: Africa’s Best Brands has been based on the most rigorous consumer-led methodology consistent with global best practices. Over the years, despite the increase in the sample number of countries and doubling the sample, the survey has yielded relatively consistent results and has become a trusted barometer of brands in Africa.
Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa Middle East and Matthieu Sauvage-Mar, VP of Client Development, GeoPoll