Ireland has recorded mixed fortunes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with the lowest rates per capita in Europe in mid-December 2020, but by mid-January this year was in the grips of a rampant new wave. The nation first went into lockdown in March 2020 and has since then faced a patchwork of eased and then reintroduced restrictions. This uncertainty, interruption, and disruption to businesses has wrought economic and social impact across the nation.
The total value of Ireland’s top 25 most valuable brands has dropped from €20.3 billion in 2020 to €17.5 billion in 2021 and, on average, the top 25 brands have lost 11% of brand value this year. With another lockdown in force and lacklustre vaccination rates compared to its neighbour, the UK, the future is looking uncertain.
The Irish and broader European Union’s response to the economic impact of the pandemic has been notably different to the response to the 2008 financial crisis, where lessons about job retention and support income seem to have been learnt. This bodes well for the longer term post-COVID-19 recovery and for brands across Ireland in the coming year.Declan Ahern, Valuations Director, Brand Finance
Penneys retains top spot
Penneys/ Primark has retained the title of Ireland’s most valuable brand, despite recording a 13% decrease in brand value to €2.1 billion. Much has been said about the decline of the high street - particularly in the years following the 2008 financial crisis - but Penneys has demonstrated a formidable resilience, with its distinct brand identity as the go-to spot for cheap and fashionable clothing, while bucking the trend among some consumers for more sustainable ‘slow’ fashion.
Despite this, the brand has suffered amid the fallout from the pandemic. While many brands have a strong online presence and have shifted focus to e-commerce, Penneys has remained an in-store only retailer. With quick turnover times for its products and a reputation for large stores, the brand’s focus has been entirely on instore purchases and has not attempted a shift to online.
As the vaccine rollout continues for the remainder of 2021, health and hygiene considerations will remain important factors in the shift to online retail. It remains to be seen what the longer-term effects will be for the high street, but Penneys will do well to consider a shift to an online presence going forward.
Declan Ahern, Valuations Director, Brand Finance
Engineering & construction is nation’s most valuable sector
The engineering & construction sector is Ireland’s most valuable sector, with the four brands featuring in the ranking accounting for 16% of the total brand value.
Smurfit Kappa is the sector’s highest ranked brand, maintaining 5th place in the ranking with a brand value of €1.3 billion, down 13% year-on-year. The brand benefitted from increased e-commerce sales in Europe spurred by lockdowns across the continent. Despite this boost, however, Smurfit Kappa still suffered a drop in its core earnings, and thus its brand value.
Of surprisingly good fortunes is Kingspan, its brand value up 8% to €813 million. The brand, and specifically its cladding materials, are at the heart of the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which is investigating the use of the brand’s flammable cladding in the 2017 tower block tragedy. Despite this, Kingspan has successfully managed to continue the operation of almost all construction during the pandemic - a stark contrast to most other industries.
Airline brand value grounded
After a year in which the travel industry was battered by lockdowns and uncertainty, it is unsurprising that Aer Lingus is Ireland’s fastest falling brand, its brand value dropping by 29% to €256 million. Irish airline giant Ryanair also suffered, with a 25% drop in brand value to €1.4 billion.
Airlines have had to contend with a stark drop in passenger numbers, closed borders, and new safety procedures on flights. Some airlines have been forthright in their criticism of government responses, with Ryanair accusing the UK and Irish governments of taking ‘draconian measures’ following the reintroduction of lockdowns at the start of 2021.
Trouble for Irish banks
Across the world, governments, central banks, and regional and local financial institutions have taken extraordinary measures to support local consumers and businesses through economic uncertainty and ongoing lockdowns. While this has largely led to improved brand equity perceptions for high street banks, it has meant that they are facing significant provisions for future loan losses as government support is lifted. It is for this reason that we have seen significant brand value declines for the Irish banking sector.
All three Irish banks in this year’s ranking have seen declines in brand value year-on-year with Allied Irish Banks down 24% to €1.4 billion, Bank of Ireland down 15% to €1.0 billion and Ulster Bank down 24% to €176 million.
The banking sector is the second most valuable across the nation, with the three brands accounting for 15% of the total brand value in the ranking.
Think! rebrand pays off
Think! - the US-founded protein bar brand acquired by Glanbia in 2015 - is Ireland’s fastest growing brand, its brand value up 19% year-on-year to €392 million. The brand has undertaken a complete overhaul over the last year, with a name and brand change from ‘ThinkThin’ marking a shift in its offering and focus on general wellness rather than weight loss, reflecting broader cultural trends.
eir faces mixed reception
eir has seen the second greatest brand value jump in this year’s Brand Finance Ireland 25 ranking, up 16% to €608 million. As with other telecoms brands globally, eir’s operations have seen a significant increase in demand since the onset of the pandemic, with customers following stay-at-home and working from home orders. This has not come without its difficulties, however, with the brand facing a barrage of customer care complaints. The brand was already in the midst of undertaking changes to its operations when the pandemic hit, and this, combined with increased demand on the network, created what eir bosses described as a ‘perfect storm’ for the business.
Cheers to Baileys as nation’s strongest brand
In addition to measuring overall brand value, Brand Finance also determines the relative strength of brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating marketing investment, customer familiarity, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation. According to these criteria, Baileys (down 26% to €872 million) retains the title of Ireland’s strongest brand, with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 83.5 out of 100 and a corresponding AAA- brand strength rating.
Baileys has continued to invest in diversifying its product range, with dairy-free, low sugar and chocolate flavour varieties of the liqueur now available, as well as recently launching its easter egg range - all while maintaining its strong brand identity.
Fellow brand under the mighty Diego portfolio, Guinness (down 4% to €1.8 billion), is the nation’s second strongest brand (BSI 81.6) and second most valuable brand. The drink, synonymous with the nation and its beverage industry, has an extremely strong identity, only supplemented by its successful advertising and sponsorship campaigns, most notably as the title sponsor of the Six Nations Rugby Championship.