Best Brands 2009

Emily Holbrook


November 1, 2009

When a picture of a can of Coke is recognizable to citizens in the poorest nations of the world, you have a good brand. When your restaurant serves food to 47 million customers per day in 122 countries, you have a good brand. And when your search engine handles 91 million searches per day and people use the name both as a noun to describe the company and a verb to describe the act of searching the web, you have a good brand. In BusinessWeek's annual ranking of the "best global brands" Coca-Cola nabbed the number one spot, McDonald's placed sixth and the relatively new Google ranked seventh. This is nothing new for Coca-Cola, however-the soft drink super force has held the spot since the rankings began nine years ago.

McDonald's enjoyed a 4% change in its overall "brand value" since 2008 rising from $31.5 billion to $32.3 billion. The fast food chain has flourished in a struggling economy by offering cheap menu items while also overcoming some negative publicity. After mounting pressure from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, McDonald's used its status to force egg suppliers to raise their living standards for hens and cease de-beaking them.

On the other end of the spectrum, the UBS brand took a steep plunge, falling 31 places since last year's study to number 72 on the list. Besides the fact that, as a financial firm, it stood little chance of climbing the ranks this year, UBS suffered because of the company's voluntary lack of transparency. Instead of listening to customer's questions and fully disclosing information, UBS became tight-lipped in the face of pressure. As BusinessWeek described UBS' reaction to the financial crisis, "sometimes the first instinct is to duck."

Interbrand Corporation, the branding consultancy firm that conducts the study each year for BusinessWeek, reiterated that not only is it important where each company ranks, but it is also important to note how brands, across all categories, did or did not maintain their value during this recession year. "In this time of intense economic change, we believe that brands will play an increasing role in the marketplace and in consumers' lives," said Jez Frampton, global CEO of Interbrand.

The biggest winners on the list were Google (+25%), Amazon (+22%), Zara (+14%), Nestle (+13%), Apple (+12%), H&M (+11%), Ikea (+10%), Wrigley (+10%), Danone (+10%) and Heinz (+9%). The biggest losers were UBS (-50%), Citi (-49%), Harley-Davidson (-43%), American Express (-32%), Morgan Stanley (-26%), HSBC (-20%), Starbucks (-16%), Sony (-12%), Dell (-12%) and Lexus (-12%).

Though it is impressive to see brands such as Coca-Cola, Google and Amazon remain resilient even in times of worldwide economic despair, seven major brands were not so lucky. Merrill Lynch, AIG, ING, Hennessy, Marriott, Motorola and FedEx fell off of Interbrand's list completely.
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.