Mark Ritson on Branding: The whether forecast

Many big brands will be challenged and may fall by the wayside this year, while China is on the up.

Imagine picking up Marketing on 13 January 2000 and reading an accurate prediction of the events of the decade to come.

Back then, would you have believed that an 18-month-old web company called Google, with 40 staff, would become the most powerful brand on the planet? How would you have reacted to the news that Royal Bank of Scotland - which in 2000 was about to acquire NatWest and become one of the world's biggest banks - would come so close to collapse? And would you have believed it possible that Ryanair, still to launch its website in 2000, would grow tenfold over the decade to become the world's biggest airline by passenger numbers?

As the new decade begins, let's look forward to a new chapter of branding twists and turns. I may not be able to give you a prediction for the 10 years ahead, but I am pretty sure what is around the corner in 2010.

The big brand war will be between Nokia and Apple. No big surprise there - the initial skirmishes have already started. But the story that will unfold is very much a tale of two brands going in opposite directions.

For Nokia, this could be the begin-ning of the end. Its inability to produce competitive smartphones renders it increasingly dependent on more basic models and developing markets. This, in turn, starts to diminish its brand equity and, with its single branded-house structure, there is nowhere to hide as sales and profits start to slide. Meanwhile, the true majesty of Apple's iPhone strategy is revealed as it migrates from a relatively small, tech-savvy market segment to the masses. This will be the year your Dad goes to Tesco and buys an iPhone.
The big brand in trouble is British Airways. An easy prediction, but BA's troubles are bigger in scope and scale than any strike action. I think that by May, its record losses and pension deficit could require a bailout to keep it flying. A new government may have to start its tenure with a partial nationalisation of one of Britain's biggest brands.

This may also be the year that Twitter joins the ranks of the Sinclair C5 or CB radio as a fast-fading fad. Tweeting will steadily decline throughout 2010. So please, I beg you, no more conference presentations on how to leverage Twitter to build brand. Enough.

We may also have to say goodbye to some big brands. Both Loaded and Esquire magazines could fold. Palm risks failure in the face of superior competition. Ed Hardy might fade from overexposure, becoming the Von Dutch of this decade. JJB Sports may have to call time on its faltering business, even if England does well in the World Cup. Several iconic 20th-century media brands, including EMI, Kodak and Blockbuster, are also candidates.

It won't all be about goodbyes, however. Tiger Woods will return at the end of 2010, sorry, celibate and filled with humility to talk about his fall from grace on Oprah. Tiger 2.0 will quickly attract several big brand sponsors that are impressed with the golfer's return to form, new-found religious beliefs and a contractual guarantee that he will be home by six every night.

The biggest story of 2010 will be the decline of the old American order. Forget about India or Brazil, this is China's decade. Have you heard of Chonqing? Guangzhou? Tianjin? I hope so, because there are more consumers living in those three cities than in the whole of the UK. And there are 75 more cities just like them. As the market moves East, better marketers will redirect their gaze accordingly.

Enough predictions... let's just get on with it.

Mark Ritson, PPA columnist of the year (business media), is an associate professor of marketing and consultant to some of the world's biggest brands

30 seconds on...   four brands' odds of surviving 2010


JJB Sports: 4/1 The sports retailer is possibly the worst-placed company in the UK. Sales are down by 30%. It lost £43m in the first half of 2009. Many suppliers have been reticent to provide stock because of doubts over JJB's liquidity, and it is being investi-gated by the Serious Fraud Office over a suspected sport retail cartel. Game over?

Palm: 3/1 Squeezed by BlackBerry and a host of smartphone entrants, Palm's latest models are under-whelming consumers, mobile networks and retailers. The firm was reportedly losing about £15m a month in 2009 and 2010 will be no easier. Disconnection imminent?

EMI: 5/2 Despite being home to artists such as Coldplay, the music company is losing millions on new releases. Back-catalogue hits from the likes of The Beatles have kept it going. Private-equity firm Terra Firma is so thankful to have acquired the brand in 2007 that it is suing the bank that advised it. Is the fat lady clearing her throat?

Loaded: Evens The first 'lads' mag' has lost a quarter of its readership in the past 12 months. Its current monthly tally of about 70,000 repres-ents less than a sixth of what it achieved in its 90s heyday, but a new editorial team is trying to arrest the slide with celebrity colum-nists such as Vinnie Jones and Richard Bacon. Have the tits moved from the front cover to running the title?

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