Australia Through Zeitgeist Eyes – Our January branding article for The Melbourne Review

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Each year Google publishes its Zeitgeist report, a summary of the mountains of data they collect based on the search behavior of the ‘hooked-up and linked-in’ citizens of the digital world.

Previously, we’ve had annual snapshots of the nation, utilizing traditional market research to conclude who we are, what we think, and what we do when the lights are on and when they’re off. But because you never ever seemed to be personally included in the survey, or your cynicism has you feeling that the people interviewed only really answer what they think they should say, rather than what they actually think, you are often left wondering if they really were a true reflection of our nationhood – warts and all.

But Google’s Zeitgeist is different. It does not ask individuals ‘what they search on the internet’; it reports on exactly what they do search. Given that a 2012 report by Swinburne Universities ARC Centre reports that 87% of Australians had used the internet in the past three months, it is truly representative of where our interests reside. Google’s report is filled with sparkling insights into the brands that genuinely capture our interest across a number of categories – even if they’re not the most aspirational of their peers.
Here’s how some of the categories researched play out:

Most searched car brands:
• Toyota
• Ford
• Holden
• Nissan
• Honda
• Mazda
• Hyundai
• Subaru
• Suzuki
At first glance the list of car brands makes a lot of sense with a reasonable correlation between online search and sales data. The interesting car brand here is BMW, the only European car on the list. The BMW brand sells on aspiration and has very strong ranking in online searches relative to the number of cars it sells.

Most searched fashion brands
• Forever New
• Country Road
• Witchery
• The Iconic
• Victoria’s Secret
• General Pants
• Mimco
• Portmans
• Lorna Jane
As a snapshot of a category, this search data is strongly skewed towards women’s fashion. Men really don’t get a look in. Forty percent of the top ten fashion brands searched for are online offers; ASOS, The Iconic, Victoria’s Secret and General Pants. While online retailing still only accounts for around 5% of all retail spend in Australia, it is nevertheless a reminder that if you’re in the women’s fashion game there’s a compelling need to develop strategies to compete against online retailers.

Most searched Australian athletes:
• Stephanie Rice
• Sally Pearson
• Tomic Bernard
• Lleyton Hewitt
• James Magnussen
• Cadel Evans
• Lauren Jackson
• Lissel Jones
• Anna Meares
• Liz Cambage
Interesting by way of the potential for sponsorship and brand alignment these Australian athletes represent. With the exception of ‘bad boy Bernard’, an appearance on this list represents the widespread interest of a big chunk of the Australian population, providing a clear insight into which sporting star personal brands carry the most brand interest. Whilst it’s been an Olympic year, spotlighting our swimmers, what is more interesting is the focus on international sports and sportspeople and the lack of representation of athletes from the strongly dominant domestic sports of AFL, Cricket and Rugby.

Most searched food & beverage brands:
• Pizza Hut
• McDonalds
• Coffee
• Lite N Easy
• Eagle Boys
• Dan Murphy’s
• Subway
• Dominos
• Hungry Jacks
The prevalence of fast food chains suggests membership of this top ten list may be skewed by a search for nearest store location and home delivery details. But beyond that we get some insight into a pecking order of interest in a number of brands that offers up some surprises. The non-delivery fast food brands still have a very strong showing, as does the Woolworths Ltd owned Dan Murphy’s as the only liquor brand on the list, demonstrating brand dominance in that category. Also of interest is the Pizza category which represents 30 percent of the top ten searched brands – possibly skewed by the home delivery habits of pizza lovers. But what is most interesting is the dominance of Pizza Hut, a brand that’s been trying to reinvigorate itself and has the least number of stores of the big three with 270. Eagle Boys Pizza who come in at number five have around 300 stores, and Dominos who dominate the pizza landscape with more than 400 stores were the least searched brand of its peers – a result at odds with what their scale should provide.

Most searched beer brands
• Carlton Draught
• XXXX Gold
• Skinny Blonde
• Crown Lager
• Tooheys Extra Dry
• Tooheys New
• Victoria Bitter
• Melbourne Bitter
• Brisbane Bitter
When it comes to beer our search habits are strictly old school. With barely an imported or boutique beer to be found, the Zeitgeist list of most searched beer brands reads like a back porch beer fridge anywhere in suburban Australia. The dominance of two XXXX brands suggests either a very active digital media campaign, or an unfortunate overlap with searchers of the adult entertainment kind.

As with any report of this nature, the interest is in the detail rather than the ability to draw any sweeping conclusion on what it all says about us as a nation. But like a good session of people watching, the delicious detail reveals a deeper glimpse of our friends, neighbours and fellow countrymen – a fascinating perspective that perhaps allows us to see a truer, sharper picture of ourselves.

David Ansett and Peter Singline
Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and direc­tors of Truly Deeply, a Mel­bourne based brand strat­egy and design con­sul­tancy.
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