What makes an icon?

What do a controversial singer, a boxer and an archbishop have in common? The answer is not the punch line to a comedy skit but the fact that all three are highly revered as South African icons.

Brenda Fassie rose from modest beginnings to stardom and was adored for giving voice to a marginalised community. She was surrounded by controversy and died of a cocaine overdose.

The resilience and strategy former president Nelson Mandela learned as a heavyweight fighter put him in good stead for an almighty battle against apartheid. Meanwhile, Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu continues the good fight against society’s ills with dignity and an unflappable sense of humour.

What these examples serve to show is that an icon can come in many guises, but ultimately they should demonstrate a sense of integrity, authenticity and independence.

Can the same values be used to measure South Africa’s most loved brands? Andrea Gever, founder and CEO of Ask Afrika, South Africa’s largest independent market research company believes the answer is yes. “The most loved brands, those we come back to again and again, form part of our national identity. Who can forget that KOO ‘is the best you can do’ when opening up a tin of plump peaches, or that Huletts ‘makes every day sweeter’. We identify with certain brands as being an important part of who we are as South Africans.”

Recently, Ask Afrika’s annual Icon Brands™ Awards unveiled the most popular brands across the entire South African landscape for 2017/2018.

These are brands that South African’s use regularly and loyally. The results were gleaned from surveys of 15,284 consumers, aged 15-years and older (representing over 25-million adult South African consumers).

With increasing competition and a tough economic climate, it’s getting trickier for brands to maintain a loyal following but certain stalwarts prove themselves time and again as being worthy of Iconic status.

The Ask Afrika Icon Brands™ 2017/2018 are: Kiwi Shoe Polish, Coca Cola, Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid, Maggie Two Minute Noodles, KOO Fruit Cocktail, KOO Baked Beans, Clover, McCain, I&J and Hullets.

The times they are a changing …

“A trend we are noticing is that there is a decline in consumer loyalty. This is particularly relevant in South Africa where we are very open to change,” says Sarina de Beer, Managing Director at Ask Afrika. “Out of 11 countries surveyed, South Africans came ninth in terms of brand loyalty, just one place ahead of China.

“What this means is that brands can no longer expect absolute consumer loyalty. To attain and maintain Iconic status they need to take a combination of factors into consideration. It’s not just about quality and price anymore, but where a brand fits in socially and what it stands for. This is something that a brand like Coca Cola does very well.”

Coca Cola is an international brand but has managed to build a strong heritage that is deeply rooted in the South African culture. It has clear identifiable values and has, over time, generated solid compelling stories. It’s not just about the function of the brand but the emotional benefits that they consistently deliver for their consumers.

Coca Cola South Africa says: “Coca-Cola is the world’s most recognisable brand that over time has become part of the culture of its consumers, well beyond the simple refreshment it offers as a beverage. Coca-Cola exists to inspire a better world by bringing people together. Coca-Cola has stayed true to its brand promise of consistently delivering original, bubbly refreshment that brings enjoyment and positivity to its South African consumers with every sip.”

A brand like Sunlight, meanwhile, continues to do well because it appeals to family values while still providing quality and value for money.

Lerato Dumisa, Brand Manager at Unilever says: “An icon is someone or something that is firmed into our memories to a point where they are regarded as a representative symbol, or as worthy of adoration, they have become an ‘ideal’. Two qualities that icons display are consistency and added value. Sunlight has consistently held a presence in South Africa, providing tried and trusted answers for your fabric-washing to your dish-washing needs. People have gone from just using Sunlight to loving Sunlight.”

The world is in increasing flux, politically, in terms of changing social values and as a result of the rapid pace of technological advances.

“Just about the only thing that is clear,” says Gevers, “is that brands are going to have to take a dynamic, multi-pronged approach if they want their products to continue to find their way into consumers’ trolleys.

“Things are tough, but then again no Icon ever had it easy. It is the resilient, the tenacious, the future-forward thinkers who fly in the face of convention and defy the odds who win the adoration and respect of the world. That is what it means to be an Icon.”

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