Best and Worst Brands of 2022
From YouTube, Patagonia and Taylor to Twitter, FTX/Crypto and Adidas
This has been a year for brands to shine in big ways–and fall in even bigger ones. It has also been a year of impressive brand heroics, with record-setting generosity, expanded inclusivity and high-octane comebacks. We’ve seen more companies spin pandemic-era lessons into smart marketing moves, using brand purpose and customer engagement to achieve impressive levels of relevance.
Many brands unleashed their inner value propositions, from EVs coming out of Detroit to the inspiration named Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the hard-charging prowess of HBO Max and Hulu. And many took the world by surprise, like the brilliance of BeReal and the reimagination of “ugly” shoe brands such as Crocs and New Balance. It’s also been a blast to see Harry and Taylor rise (again) and watch the coming-out party for AB InBev. All in, 2022 found plenty of unexpected ways to win hearts, minds and wallets, especially in an unstable economy.
With as many brand winners, we saw an equal number that either missed the mark or raised more questions than answers. Elon Musk imploded, tainting Twitter and Tesla. Then there was FIFA’s continued corruption and Ticketmaster’s monopolistic nightmares coming true. Singer Jax revealed the truth about Victoria’s Secret, Shopify lost some magic and Beyond Meat failed to meet the moment. Big Oil garnered record profits while most of the world struggled at the gas pump, and questions about Meta(verse) abound. Many brands are ending the year trying to climb out of big holes.
That said, I went to my amazing Prophet colleagues from around the world to get their take. For the tenth straight year, they delivered, producing close to 100 nominees. A dozen stand out, all with lessons for marketers as we head into 2023.
The 2022 Brand Winners
This hospitality company continues to expand its frame of reference with a super-inclusive approach and stream of updated offers. This includes a new listing service in the U.S. that allows renters to offer their apartments for short-term sublets, just as homeowners can. And its categories feature is a genius way of browsing. Why not stay in homes that are 10,000 feet above sea level, built into caves or with amazing pools? Even as rival VRBO comes on strong with consistently powerful marketing of its own, Airbnb continues to redefine what it means to be a creative traveler.
In a world full of Mars-bound billionaires, Founder and Chief Executive Yvon Chouinard donated the entire organization to Planet Earth. By giving his $3 billion company to a foundation that will devote all profits to the environment, he invented a Triple Crown for branding: Epic generosity, the most significant investment in brand purpose ever and a competitive difference none can match. Bravo Patagonia!
Few performers–and fewer women–have built a brand as strong, enduring and appealing as Taylor Swift. Her tightly controlled record releases with a host of product tie-ins (the record clock) show that no one else is calling the shots. And in an acid test for all brands, she’s expertly steering through her part in the epic Ticketmaster fiasco, reaching out to fans to heal the damage.
YouTube, the Google-owned social media platform that’s also the world’s second-largest search engine, outdid itself this year, proving its relevance as never before. It surpassed Netflix in global streaming watch time. And it sharpened its support for creators, launching monetization for shorts and providing a much better deal on revenue sharing than TikTok. It’s barreling into live shopping. And it surpassed 80 million music and premium subscribers, up 30 million in one year.
This social platform appeared out of thin air and captured an audience of 74 million with its two-minute window of authenticity. Radically different from competitors, it finally gives young fans the ability to shake off that phony Instagram vibe. And like Wordle, which won big love last year by asking for so little, BeReal is fast becoming a daily ritual for increasingly anti-social young people. Is it sustainable? That may be a meaningful question for marketers. Gen Z could care less.
OK, Budweiser and the AB InBev stable of beers have been languishing stateside for years. But a moment on the giant stage of the FIFA World Cup gave Budweiser a chance to shine, making it the beverage of choice for pro-Western democracies. When Qatar banned beer sales just days before the tournament, Budweiser’s quick-witted response made sure its $75 million sponsorship didn’t go to waste, with its promise to donate all that beer to the winning country with a smart new campaign, “Bring Home the Bud”.
The 2022 Brand Losers
Unsurprisingly, Elon Musk and Twitter are No. 1 on the most bad-brand lists. But the real loser may turn out to be Tesla. Musk’s reign of terror at Twitter transformed his personal brand from disruptor to dirtbag, a reputational body blow that may follow him forever. With massive layoffs, his gutting of the unprofitable social media company has resulted in plunging ad revenues. Hate speech on the platform is soaring as customers flee: In the first week of Musk’s control, Twitter lost 1 million users.
Elon may have also believed Tesla, long a darling of the tech world, was immune. But there may be little overlap between the free-speech absolutists who love him on social media and Tesla’s affluent planet-conscious customer base. Tesla sales are declining, pressured by cheaper competition and anti-Elon-ism. And its stock price keeps dropping, falling 50%–well below the overall market.
Adidas first formed a partnership with Kanye West, now known as Ye, in 2013, earning plenty of sales and enviable cultural relevance. The relationship deteriorated, and Adidas reportedly has been looking for an exit for four years. But by waiting until Ye spiraled into overtly antisemitic tirades, Adidas calls its commitment to purpose into question. In some ways, it is understandable: Yeezy products brought in $2 billion in sales or 8% of its revenue. But the delay is inexcusable–perhaps more so because of the founders’ apparent ties to the Nazi party. Will Adidas bounce back? Of course. It’s one of the world’s biggest sporting brands. Will consumers ever believe its purpose blather, all about integrity and diversity? That remains to be seen.
This global organization has been engulfed in corruption scandals for so long that it’s hard to imagine the brand faring worse. Yet this year’s FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 vaulted it to new levels of disgrace. The selection of tiny Qatar, triggering human rights, a bigoted stance on the LGBTQ+ community and more corruption accusations proved that the ugliest organization represents the beautiful game.
The world’s largest underwear brand is halfway through an ambitious five-year makeover aimed at erasing decades of sexism and misogyny. Some might say it’s working: Sales are rising, and it’s launched new and more inclusive marketing–there are even reports it may reintroduce its fashion shows. But the popularity of Jax’s “Victoria’s Secret” exposes how many younger consumers still take issue with the unrealistic body image standards that the brand is so well known for promoting. And the $400 million acquisition of AdoreMe, the direct-to-consumer dynamo, seems like an admission that it doesn’t know how to talk to Gen Z.
While FTX’s $32 billion meltdown is deservedly getting much attention, the entire crypto market has taken a terrible hit. And certainly, the 30-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried is a Madoff-level conman. But we’d like to call out the mainstream press, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, that lauded him as an altruist. While some brands will weather the crypto collapse, the entire regulatory apparatus that allowed FTX to happen deserves condemnation. And it likely set retail investing back a generation.
We would love to hear your thoughts. What brands made your 2022 winner/loser lists?