Whittaker’s makes it a three-peat in Readers Digest most trusted list, but what’s it worth?

The brands that New Zealanders trust the most were announced by Readers Digest recently, with Whittaker’s winning first place for the third year in a row, and also taking out the New Zealand icon and confectionery sections.

“We think a major reason we’ve been voted Most Trusted Brand for three years in a row is that Kiwis appreciate our commitment to quality. It’s a core company value that we will never compromise on,” said Whittaker’s marketing manager Holly Whittaker.

Each year many brands use these little winner badges on their packaging. As a consumer facing a shelf full of items, it’s human nature to make comparisons and look for signals, so why not choose the one with the little medal on it? Wine is a prime example, with some companies basing their entire marketing pitch on show success because, as Belinda Jackson told Stuff, they guide the consumer, especially if they do not know what they are looking for or do not know the brand, and generally lead to more sales (let’s not mention the fact that a California winemaker/oceanographer has proven “again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine). 

Whittaker’s marketing head Philip Poole says the award certainly helps in the company’s marketing strategy. “It’s also nice that it is about the consumers voting. It’s good to know that all our effort, quality, and innovation is paying off,” he says.

Here’s the top ten (2013 ranking in brackets). 

  1. Whittaker’s (1).
  2. Dettol (4).
  3. Toyota (2).
  4. Sony (8).
  5. Panadol (3).
  6. Yates (/).
  7. Wattie’s (/).
  8. Tip-Top Ice Cream (7).
  9. Mitre 10 (/).
  10. Sanitarium (/).

And for a run-down by the numerous categories, click here

Nielsen’s New Wealth New World report from July 2013 says that compared to other places in the the world, New Zealanders need more than brand reputation to buy something. They need to know that the item is value for money. Whereas 74 percent of Chinese consumers will spend more on a product if it has a designer label (highest in the world), only 26 percent of Australians and 17 percent of Kiwis will. In addition, 55 percent of global consumers say commercials increase their preference for buying a brand, compared with only 32 percent of Australian and New Zealand consumers.

Suzie Dale, Nielsen head of brand and customer experience practice, said although Kiwis aren’t immune to status, they generally also “need to believe this bag will last for many years and be the best-performing handbag we’ve ever owned, since it costs the most we’ve ever paid for a fashion item.”

“Status cues alone will fall short; instead premium brands need to work harder in Australia and New Zealand, and avoid relying solely on their ‘premium’ status as a famous brand; it has to deliver more authenticity and better quality to entice the majority of our buyers,” she says.

Becoming New Zealand’s “most trusted brand” certainly sounds authentic enough.

But how does Readers Digest create these lists that certify brands as being trustworthy, and provide them with such awesome marketing material? Is it legit? The Readers Digest website says discovering the “Most Trusted Brands in New Zealand” was a two-stage approach: First scoping, where an initial scoping survey was conducted to build brand lists for each category, via an open-ended questionnaire. Then measurement, where after analysis of the scoping results, the main survey was deployed to 1,201 New Zealanders who rated brands on a trust scale of 1-10. Data was post-weighted to ensure the data is representative of the New Zealand population.

Thomas Lumley, Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland, says in Stats Chat blog post about ‘most trusted people’ that these lists don’t make sense.

“Firstly, ‘trusted’ requires more detail. What is it that we’re trusting these people with? ….. Secondly, there’s no useful way to get an accurate rating of dozens of people (or other items) in an opinion poll. People’s brains overload. Thirdly, even if you could get a rating from each respondent, the overall ranking will be sensitive to how you combine the individual ratings,” he writes.

And what of the damage if brands make the bottom end of the list? Back in 2004, the Children’s Charity run by Variety Club of New Zealand complained to the Press Council that the Readers Digest magazine unfairly portrayed it as a loser because it didn’t win in the survey, which effectively damaged the charity’s reputation.

“Whilst we do not expect the public to understand the detail of the work done by an umbrella charity such as Variety, neither do we expect organisations like Reader’s Digest to present information that is unfair and does not communicate how their outcomes have been achieved. A reputation takes years to build and only seconds to destroy,” it said in its letter of complaint.

But its complaint was not upheld.

The Press Council said: “Polls and lists generated by magazines are a staple of magazine journalism because of their proven reader appeal, whether they be lists of best-dressed, worst-dressed, richest, most powerful, most trusted, or man or woman of the year, decade or century. Magazines tend to control the whole process editorially themselves to retain the exclusivity and recognisable style of the publication. The categories of ‘most’ and ‘least’ are generally treated by readers to be comparative within the survey structure set up, and not absolutes.”

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