Superbrands Exposed!

What’s the biggest marketing hoax in our country today? Superbrands Sri Lanka.

At the launch of the annual in 2007, one of the press articles read: The description of the cover picture is so apt – “a young Sri Lankan face appears, surprising us from behind a traditional exorcist’s mask… because brands in Sri Lanka are all about the blending and juxtaposing of the contemporary with the traditional; the modern with the ancient; the young, bright, optimistic present day with old customs and beliefs…”

What rubbish! The picture is so apt – because the mask hides the true façade of this biggest marketing scam of the century.

One should not get confused with the original British (and now very much international) version, which is a far cry from Superbrands Sri Lanka. I’m familiar with Superbrands overaseas, since some of the brands under my creative portfolio – such as Panadol, bp, Duracell and Kodak to name a few – were, in fact, true Superbrands in those countries at the time.

Why do I call the local Superbrands Sri Lanka the biggest marketing scam, a shame? Here are 10 good reasons:

  1. In the UK (where Superbrands was born in 1995) and elsewhere in the world, Superbrands are chosen by the general public.
    In Sri Lanka, Superbrands are chosen by a handful of people, without public participation.

  2. In the UK and the rest of the world, brands do not pay or apply to be considered.
    In Sri Lanka, Superbrands would approach prospective clients “with a proposal” and the status is given in exchange for a certain fee. No payment, no status.

  3. Superbrands are identified, scored, shortlisted and chosen from a compilation of brands coming from from the market, sector reports to blogs, by the general public and a voluntary council of experts under the supervision and administration of a professional body.
    In Sri Lanka, Superbrands are directly linked to the organisers, council members, their families, friends and their connections. Its like Ali Baba and the forty thieves, literally.

  4. Council members with any connection to a shortlisted brand are not allowed to evaluate or score for the brand.
    If this rule is applied here, half the Superbrands would be knocked off the list. Would Dilmah still be there without Mr Malik Fernando, Singer Plus without Mr Hemaka Amarasuriya and ODEL without Ms Otara Gunawardena, I wonder.

  5. Superbrands are chosen annually.
    In Sri Lanka, Superbrands is lifetime title (or rather interpreted that way) and its printed on the SKU’s, including biscuit packs. The only thing annual it seems, is the payment.

  6. Superbrands is a recognition, a salutation – not a title.
    In Sri Lanka, its a title; not a salutation.

  7. Being a Superbrand does not give you the right to command a premium.
    The initial advertising campaign to raise awareness conveyed that Superbrands could command a premium.

  8. Only the Superbrands “Membership” (which is by invitation) is charged a fee, and there are perks and benefits such as events and networking in return.
    In Sri Lanka, money talks. No money, no talk.

  9. When considering brands, both the experts and consumers are asked to bear in mind the definition of a Superbrand: “A Superbrand has established the finest reputation in its field. It offers customers significant emotional and tangible advantages over other brands, which (consciously or sub-consciously) customers want and recognise.” And all Superbrands must represent quality, reliability, and distinction.
    The only qualification required in Sri Lanka to be a Superbrand is the money, and willingness to part with it.

  10. One of the best tools for an outsider to peek in to a country’s best brand mix is the Superbrands Annual.
    Superbrands Sri Lanka can only baffle and misguide a reader – the most of the true “super” brands are nowhere near the book.

The initial annual had 33 Superbrands, and they were all local brands. Did you ever wonder why the multinational FMCG’s are reluctant to appear in the list – given the international credibility Superbrands enjoy worldwide? Did you ever question how and why Suntel is a Superbrand and Dialog is not? Heritance is a Superbrand and Hilton is not? Clogard is a Superbrand and Signal is not?

Now we know why some of the real “super” brands in the minds of the consumer such as Anchor, Nokia, Dialog, The Daily News, Hilton, Lipton, S-lon, Milo, Nescafé, Toyota, Cargills, Keells, Signal, SLT etc. are not in this book.

They are not there, perhaps because the marketing managers and the brand managers who nourish and develop these brands are not idiots. They are nobody’s suckers. I do have a huge respect for those brands who are the real “super” brands with a backbone to stay away from scams like this, even though the scams are run by some very influential people in the industry.

The current Superbrands Sri Lanka does more harm than any good to the local advertising and marketing industry. Its biased, deceptive and unreliable – composed with discrimination and alienation in mind; and sadly, there is a panel of well-respected names entangled in this, endorsing this shameful scam. These panel members should either resign from the council or set this scam straight if they ever want to maintain their individual, respectful image.

Superbrands is a wonderful concept. Its painful to watch that being abused, bastardised and sold like a prostitute by the people who are supposed to be the pillars of the ad+mark community. I’m sure a good marketer – I mean a “good” marketer – could find a better way to make a living, than pimping-out a beautiful concept.

The consumer is not a moron, David Ogilvy once said. Its a pity that the educated, well-informed Superbrands Council Members from the ad+mark community seem to think otherwise.

Source of Methodology: Superbrands UK


  1. Well said, I've been thinking about it for a while and reached the same conclusion.

    Amongst the worthy winners in Sri Lanka is the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Is it even a brand?

    I think its a symptom of the brain drain, only idiots and the mad are left in the country.

    I've blogged a bit about it here:



  2. I agree...but very puzzled at your inclusion of The Daily News in the list of 'real Superbrands'!!!

  3. The Daily News is a f*cked-up newspaper today, but as a brand its still very strong in the minds of the consumer. Lakehouse is the birthplace of local newspapers and The Daily News and The Observer were, and still are, stronger “brands” (perhaps its the heritage) than the Sunday Times and Divaina. The latter are so-called Superbrands.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Serendib_isle, you are so wrong. The brand I market (pls note - a multinational brand) is a Superbrand here in Sri Lanka as well as abroad. Your "idiot" reference is rather offensive not to mention the fact that you are very misinformed but yet talk with so much authority. Get your facts right. Talk to the brands that are in the Superbrands portfolio and you will find that the way the program operates here is entirely in line with how it operates in the UK (where I too incidentally worked for sometime!!!). Your ignorance is no excuse for publishing such deregatory comments about something you know zilch about. I am not sure this comment will get published anyway due to your "moderation" requirement; well if it doesn't, lets put it down to cowardice; if it does, well good for you!

  6. This is Mr Ruchi Gunewardene's comment – I have deleted the telephone number:

    Hi, This is Ruchi Gunewardene, the CEO of Superbrands Sri Lanka.

    Let me start off by putting our programme in the right perspective.

    This programme which was launched in 2006, is just 2 years old, whilst it has been going on for over 13 years in the UK. It is a highly developed programme there, whilst in Sri Lanka, we are still very much in the start up phase. At its initial phase in the UK, it was an expert panel which selected the brands. Later, as the programme evolved, consumers were invited to vote electonically through the Web, which is still combined with an expert panels' opinion.

    As our programme evolves we will be involving consumers too, and for our next round of selection we have used the services of an independent professional market research company (TNS Lanka) to carry out this survey. You will appreciate that we can't rely on the Web for our research purposes, and that we had to conduct face to face interviews with nearly 1000 respondents across the country. A much more cumbersome but more accurate process than a Web vote, I assure you. This survey has just been completed and once finalised, a short list of brands voted by these consumers will go to a newly reconstituted expert panel for our next version of Superbrands which will be announced in 2009. The scores from the consumer data and the expert panel are to be merged to provide us with the final listing of those Superbrands.

    This, you must understand is a part of the evolving process of the Superbrand programme.Two years ago no one knew what Superbrands was, its only now that it's gaining awarness and recognition.

    We currently get many requests from brands wanting to get Superbrand status. Most recently, this amounts to at least 4 to 5 requests a week. Our response is that you can't apply for Superbrand status, nor can you buy it. You have to be invited to particpate. This invitation to particpate is NOT in our hands but in the hands of the independent council of judges (and soon to be, in the minds of consumers).

    If you are challenging the integrity of our panel, then I am sorry to say that you stand alone with that belief.

    You are also wrong in saying there are only local brands and no multi-national brands particpating in our programme. Coca-Cola, Caltex, Nissan, Panadol, Singer, Sony and Sunlight are some of these multinational brands that are Superbrands. Indeed, most of the brands that are particpating in the programme are local brands. This is because they have the most to gain through an international endorsement, which Superbrands provides them. And if you do your research, you will see that this is an international phenomenon.
    What is noteworthy, is that several of these local brands have indicated to us how it has helped them in their international marketing efforts.

    Our objective through this programme is to highlight a collection of brands. We approach each of the brands which are deemed to be of Superbrand status (through our selection process), and they have the option of either particpating in this programme or not. Just because a brand which is eligible does not particpate does not mean it is not a Superbrand. It is an option that your favourite brand has exercised. As the prorgamme gains momemtum and there is wider recognition, we beleive that more of those brands will particpate.

    You also need to understand that there is a cost to this programme, for which we have to charge a fee. The costs relate to the royalty fees that have to be paid to the international organization as this programme is run under the licence and guidance from UK, the cost of producing a high quality publication and a variety of educational events to enhance the discipline of branding. We have hosted several events with eminent international and local speakers, seminars as well as workshops on branding over the last 2 years.

    I would urge you to look at the broader context of this initiative:

    1. Through our Superbrands publication we have finally given a "face" to Sri Lankan business. And our publication has been distributed by the Minsitry of Foreign Affairs to several embassies in Europe and Australia to be used to promote investment into Sri Lnaka. It is also used by the BOI and the Ceylon Chamber for invstment promotion purposes.
    2. By establishing a benchmark for brands, we are getting those that are outside of this status to strive to do better. We know of several companies which have set themselves a target of achieving Superbrands status in the future. This means, more and more brands will use more professional services (including yours!), whilst striving to build a better business.
    3. It does help local brands market themselves overseas. There are several cases where this has happened. This creates value to our local businesses.

    So, why don't you give me a call (on + xxxxxxxxx) and come over and meet me. I will take you through these initiatives in greater detail, so you can be reassured that these are indeed the facts.

    And, I promise you that I will be more civil to you than you have been to me.



  7. Well said MR CEO.

  8. Dear Mr Gunewardena,

    Thank you for your comments and appreciate your response. My sincere apologies if I have been ‘harsh’ in my post.

    I’m glad to hear that the programme is improving – that’s exactly what I was urging the elite council members to do in my post.

    I was saying the “the initial annual” had only local brands, and I know its has changed since. I also appreciate the fact that you are trying to promote local brands overseas, but the presence of BOI and the Chamber of Commerce still puzzles me. I guess its there to facilitate other needs, but, they are NOT Superbrands.

    Agree with you in your long-term vision for Superbrands, but advertising and marketing should remain truthful; please don’t underestimate the Sri Lankan consumer. Hope you get the support you deserve form the people involved in the process – if everyone does their job right, you could be proud of your achievement.

    If I get to see a “super” Superbrands annual soon, then I guess our common objective is fulfilled.


  9. Dear Scrabby,

    My comments are moderated (like everyone else’s) to keep the viagra ads out of my blog. The comments are always posted without editing (with the exception of Mr Ruchi Gunewardena’s one where I deleted the phone number immediately after publishing it).

    You seem to be irritated, perhaps because the hat fits. If not, there is no need to panic.

    Authority to criticize comes from me being a citizen, a consumer, of this country – walk in to any Laughs outlet and you will see my rights displayed behind their cash counters. You are free to respond to my 10 facts, fact-to-fact and I'm sure you will enlighten me on things I know zilch about.

    Mr Gunewardena promises that significant improvements are taking place (compared to the initial annual) as part of its natural progression, and I am quite happy to hear that. That’s what my post demanded.

    Good luck with your brand, we will one day see your brand building capabilities – that’s if you have the guts to disclose the name.


    PS: Wonder why your profile is hidden, cowardice perhaps?

  10. Yes go on, exercise your consumer rights and blog all you like. As for my identity, well I have absolutely no intention in sharing that with someone who sounds like he's had a traumatic childhood and is screaming for attention. It certainly sounds like that in your attempt to entertain yourself by "pimping" and "bastardizing" the wonderful concept of blogs.

    Mr. Gunawardena has cleared the point and that's good enough for me.

    Goodbye. I am done here.

  11. Dear Mr Gunewardene

    could you explain how Superbrands adds value, to the participating company and to the public.

    When the Superbrands logo appears in an advertsement all it does for me is to distract from the main message.

  12. I am siging off from here too.

    But I will make a final statement before I do so.

    Its not the logo ("that interferes with the ad") that matters, but the essence or the meaning of it.

    Superbrands is striving to establish a point of differentiation for the brands that can use them. Remember the SLS or ISO standard 10 years ago, and where it is now.....

    As Superbrands is an internationally accepted standard it has helped brands in establishing themselves globally. Just to get a foot in through the door..... And I can give you examples and names of people who you could contact as a reference to substantiate this.

    You need to look at this in the broader context. We are still in the early phases of building our brand, and the true potential will evolve over time.

    Building value takes time.

    Guys, if you are really interested and committed to uplifting the industry in our country, then you need to do more than blog. You have to commit to sharing your knowledge and experiences in the Real world. The reality is that we are not New York. And Colombo, is still a very tiny city which is not internet savvy. Only 2.2 % have access to the internet or 428,000 people! (Source: Internet World Stats).

    You can make a much bigger impact out there through direct contact and by committing your time and knowledge.

    The key is to make a difference WHEN you can and WHERE you can.

    When you can is NOW. And where you can is in Colombo. Contact me, and I will tell you HOW you can.

  13. thekillromeoproject2:05 pm, September 22, 2008

    "Being a Superbrand does not give you the right to command a premium.
    The initial advertising campaign to raise awareness conveyed that Superbrands could command a premium."

    I would like to know in which way the campaign did this? Was it in the visuals used or in the wording of the headline and copy?

  14. Hi Nibras,
    Thanks. I am very much Sri Lankan, born and bred in this beautiful land. I’m not nasty, but I'm not the type who would keep his mouth shut if there’s injustice or unfairness either. I get irritated when I see unethical advertising and marketing practices in general – that’s my nature.
    As far as Superbrands is concerned, we have heard from Ruchi that its gonna get better – so, yes, lets wait and see.
    In my opinion, something that has been tried, tested and successful elsewhere does not need any trial and error to get it right in Sri Lanka.
    I might sound arrogant sometimes: that comes from my overseas experience in selling my creative work to the top marketers with a big bite. They’d eat you alive if you were quiet; the rest of the world is not as nice as we’d like to believe.


  15. Super Brand Victim1:42 pm, November 06, 2008

    Let me add a few Super brands in SL.

    Super brand globetrotter - Rohitha Boggles & the clan
    Super brand Judge - Lord Sarath N Silva
    Super brand Pundit Rebel - Dr. Mervin Silva
    Super brand Looser - Ranil Wicky
    Super brand Terrorist - V. Prabha
    Super brand Asshole - Mahinda Rajapks
    Super brand Bitch - Chandrika Kumaratunga
    Super brand Bureaucrat - TB J ( He is now enjoying his retirement reading books on ECONOMY and preparing for his POST Doctoral degree once again )
    Super brand Gay couple - Kolus & Ranil de silva of leo burnett
    Super brand Beauty - Rosy the Missy
    Super brand Political Agent - Thilanga Sumathipala
    Super brand Corporate Guru - Susantha Rathnayake ( He is awaiting CID arrest any moment for his GOOD work with lanka marine services )
    Super brand Marketer - Sharmila Cassim ofcourse. Who else can beat her when it comes to promoting ( SELLING) a tried & tested concept to other corporate idiots ?
    Super brand ROGUE - Who else But RUCHI the MAN himself.

  16. Macho, I nominated this post.

  17. Hello and whew! How could I have missed this. Was trawling the net for something else and stumbled upon this.
    Wijitha as we both know a good spin doctor can always make anything look positive. I support your original statement 100%. Starting from our government, when has anything ever been all above board?

  18. DD, thank you and glad to hear that we feel the same about the initial annual. I wonder how much improvement Mr Gunawardena has managed to achieve since his reply...