South Africa's biggest brands in 2024

What insights can we harvest from this year's Brand Finance list?

For a relatively small market, South Africa does have quite a smorgasbord of brands.

When it comes however to the ranking of these brands in terms of value, I have to be entirely honest here and say that generally these lists come across as somewhat of a big circle jerk. The marketing teams at these companies may give a shit about their ranking for ego purposes, but nobody else really gives a damn as to who ranks where.

It's also just so bloody obvious that the biggest brands that we have are going to be the mind-numbingly dull cellphone companies and banks. These things are hardly comparable to the 'TikToks' and 'Apples' of this world, which from my perspective makes looking at the Top 100 South African brands an exercise in depression management.

2024 Top 10 most valuable SA Brands

The Top 10 South African brands 2024

On top of this, if you compare the 2024 Top 10 most valuable list with the biggest SA brands in 2012, you would be excused for asking the question whether or not anyone at Brand Finance is actually plugging in any new numbers here. In the span of eleven long years, hardly anything has changed.

2012 Top 10 most valuable SA Brands

Top 10 South African brands 2012

Same top two...although MTN, even though they are listed at #1, appear to be destroying brand equity at a rate of knots ($5200mil in 2012 down to $3570mil in 2024). SASOL is gone (because their management are effectively mad), Nedbank is gone because it's properly shit; Netcare are now down at #46 (oops).

The 2024 version now welcomes Nando's (where they have been all along, nobody knows), Investec (well deserved, great brand) and Multichoice (a big surprise to us too).

If we look further than just the Top 10 - we can see Checkers (just one of the many, many, many Shoprite-owned brands on the list) are up one place from last year, to #11 this year; and Woolworths have dropped dramatically from #6 last year to #12 this year (WTF? What on earth is going on over there?).

In context of what's happening globally

Top 25 Global Brands 2024

Perhaps it's optimistic to expect significant change in the index after just a decade, but in comparison to the global chart, which is now tracking a plethora of Chinese brands and counters like Tesla and Nvidia that were nowhere ten years ago - the local landscape is very static.

BTW - as far as we can tell, no South African brand makes it into the Top 500 global brand list.

The biggest surprise

Back to the South African 2024 list. At number 29 on this year's rankings is the biggest surprise to us...the cigarette brand, Peter Stuyvesant, is the 29th biggest brand in South Africa? How?

With zero agency to advertise, how did the marketing team at BAT get Peter Stuyversant to number 29 on this list? Every single brand after this should be ashamed of themselves. You were beaten by a brand, that next to Satan, is considered by society to be the archetype of evil.

Then to top that off, #39 on this year's list is Twisp (that e-cigarette brand). Twisp? Bigger than Lucky Star, bigger than Ricoffy, bigger than Pep Stores for goodness sakes. Smoking and its associated brands appears to be in very high demand in this country.

The take-out

The take out here - if we are to draw some insights and conclusions from this thing - is a cautionary one for South African entrepreneurs; and I do hate to be the messenger of terrible news. But the reality is that in this economy - big, established legacy brands carry with them an enormous multiplier of momentum that keeps them in the entrenched positions that they enjoy, simply because they are household names. Many of them don't even need to advertise that much to keep them where they are. This either points to the fact that we as consumers are pretty stuck in our preferences (which I struggle to believe) or that there are very few new viable challenger brands coming in to fight for these Top 100 category positions.

What this list proves is that disrupting these brands in the minds of consumers takes an enormous amount of money...and talent... and effort... and GREAT strategy. Unlike in a country such as the United States where a start-up can go from zero to Tesla in a matter of a few short years, there isn't one South African fledgling startup that has managed to shake up the scene here. things stand right now, Brand Finance might as well publish this thing by carving the results in stone.

But having worked with loads of smaller brands in this country what is apparent is that there is a genuine lack of fight in many small businesses here. Entrepreneurs start ventures seemingly just to make up the numbers rather than actually trying to outsmart the dominant players in their category. They start out thinking small, stay small, struggle to attract customers and then wonder why they weren't able to stay in business.

Small brands die - that's just the reality of it; it's called capitalism and its fucking unfair. Either you go into the arena looking to win (which BTW the system of capitalism requires as a kind of ground rule), or you go get a job at Old Mutual (which for some reason it's on the list at #19).

In reality the lived experience of dealing with MTN is as crappy as trying to register your staff for PAYE with the Department of Labour. Nobody is honestly being fooled into actually believing that this is a great brand. But what these rankings show is that new brands; new ventures; disruptive models are not making any headway in this market place.

For this economy to create the jobs and opportunities that we so desperately need, new brands need to be making an appearance here. The future needs to be starting to emerge for Pete's sake.

Nobody said that outsmarting these massive companies was going to be easy, but if you are not starting out with the intention to win, then you have statistically already lost.

Before our startups go out looking for funding, they perhaps need to spend some time fine tuning their appetite for competition. This is after all a game where the winner takes all. Don't fool yourself into believing that there's a little slice for everyone to share - there isn't. Smaller brands do business with fewer customers who are less loyal and spend considerably less on average per sale than bigger brands who just ride the wave of their past successes.

Now let me go pour myself a Hansa Pilsner and light up this Stuyvesant.