The Drum's New Year Honours 2015: From Alphabet to Burberry - a look at this year's best brands

There's no question that brands have upped the game over the past 12 months.

From taking on tech to experimenting with live-streaming and (in some cases) rebranding completely; marketers have taken the year in their stride.

Yesterday The Drum celebrated the most innovative agencies of the year as part of its New Year Honours list, today we look at 2015's most brilliant brands, including Burberry, Starbucks and Snapchat.

The Drum's New Year Honours list will be teased out each day over the Christmas period, with the list published in full in our first issue of 2016, published on 13 January.

Brand of the year: Starbucks

Starbucks is the Marmite of the world’s global corporations. You’d be hard pressed to find a business that can seemingly incite such anger from people but still get many to buy its wares – and what’s more, use their smartphone to do so.

And yet that’s exactly what the brand has been honing this year, hailing its decision to invest in tech rather than digital ads as the reason it dodged the seismic shift in consumer behaviour that has knocked traditional retailers. Its mobile and loyalty offerings hit new heights in 2015, with more than a fifth of its transactions in the US now made on a mobile device and more than 10 million active loyalty members. 2016 is set to see both revenue spinners expand, with the business looking to strike deals with other brands.

Best challenger brand: Snapchat

Facebook reportedly tried to buy Snapchat for $3bn in 2014, but the startup declined the offer and stuck to its guns, reaping the rewards in 2015. 
Kicking off the year with a bang, the image-sharing app launched its editorial platform, Discover, which saw publishers such as Cosmopolitan, CNN and MTV flock to the service.

In May, a cash injection of $200m from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba placed the company’s value at an estimated $15bn. Over the past 12 months, it has monetised selfies through its Lenses feature, provided Bond fans with exclusive Spectre content and helped raise money for World Aids Day. Having tripled its viewing figures in the latter half of 2015, it’s certainly gaining ground on Facebook, but chief executive Evan Spiegel recently said: “We are famous for not talking about the future” – so who knows what’s in store for the brand in 2016?

Most creative brand: Burberry

It may be steeped in luxury history but that hasn’t stopped British fashion house Burberry from embracing digital channels and innovatively using emerging platforms such as Snapchat and Periscope to creative success.

The brand was seriously inventive in 2015: It used Periscope to live broadcast its ‘London in Los Angeles’ fashion show, worked with Google to create the interactive ‘Burberry Booth’ campaign using the latest real-time video, and in October devised the first ever 24-hour fashion campaign via Snapchat, which was shot by Mario Testino. Burberry has shown that even as a luxury brand, its creative prowess – particularly in the digital space – has placed it far ahead of the competition.

Best new brand: Alphabet

Google shocked us all in August with its plan to create a new public holding company, Alphabet Inc. Announced by co-founder and chief Larry Page via a blog post, Alphabet was described as “mostly a collection of companies” that would serve as the parent company of a newer, slimmed down version of Google. Alphabet’s launch, however, was far from smooth, with BMW and Disney both staking a prior claim to the name.

Under the reorganisation, co-founders Page and Sergey Brin now serve as chief executive and president of Alphabet respectively, with Sundar Pichai named as chief executive of Google. The most recent addition to the Alphabet family is Verily, the new name for Google Life Sciences.

Best tech brand: Apple

Repeatedly named the most valuable brand in the world since dislodging Coca-Cola from the top spot in 2013, Apple was valued at $170.3bn according to Interbrand’s 2015 report, up 43 per cent on the year before. In an exceptional year for the company, along with a range of new products including the iPhone 6S, iPad Pro and Pencil stylus, we also saw the launch of iOS9, with its ad blocking possibilities, which will shake up the industry in untold ways.

Perhaps most noteworthy however was the introduction of Apple Pay, which hit UK shores and (some) stores in the summer and which holds the potential to have the biggest impact on the way we live our lives.

While the mobile wallet has been a growing concern for some time, it will likely be Apple’s loyal fan base that pushes mass adoption, giving it a major advantage over competitors. Opportunities for digital marketers abound too, from collecting customer data around purchasing habits to increasing engagement through personalised content.

Best retail brand: Aldi

There are many reasons Aldi deserves this accolade, not least for having the balls to spoof John Lewis’ Man on the Moon and run it as a TV campaign. The German discounter this year beat once untouchable Tesco to land eighth place in BrandZ’s ‘Top 100 Most Valuable Global Retail Brands’ ranking, with a value of £7.6bn. And while the Big Four were left grappling with marketing messages and loyalty schemes, Aldi has been quietly refining its image and product offering to move itself out of being seen as a budget brand, and into the mainstream.

The coming year shows no sign of it slowing down, having made the move into e-commerce and inking a highly-prized £10m deal to sponsor the British Olympics team in Rio.

Best social brand: Instagram

From its early iteration as a trendy picture app, Instagram has exploded onto the advertising scene and become a must-have tool in a marketer’s campaign box, with 2015 being a real year of maturation in the social platform’s life. As of November Instagram had 400 million monthly active users, with 27 per cent of the US population estimated to have used it during this year.

But it’s not just the numbers that are impressive. With the rising appetite for visual communication Instagram has played host to a cacophony of brand campaigns including Ted Baker, Land Rover, L’Oreal and Gap taking advantage of its ‘Shop Now’ and ‘Learn More’ buttons, particularly since the platform opened up its API to all brands over the summer.

Brand turnaround: Blackberry

Blackberry surprised both analysts and investors when it announced that its software revenue had grown by 150 per cent to $137m in the first quarter of last year. Unable to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung, the Canadian smartphone maker had been subject to doomsday predictions in 2014, but a refreshed strategy appears to have brought it back from the brink.

The past 12 months has seen the brand turn its attentions toward its software arm in order to alleviate losses in handset sales. Chief executive John Chen has shown support for the plan, saying Blackberry will vanish from the mobile market if sales don’t increase six-fold.

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