Who Are the Year’s Best-Loved Brands? Hint: Half Are Probably Younger Than You

Conventional wisdom holds that it takes decades of hard work for a company to become the most respected in its field. Maybe that’s still true, but consider this: half of the most respected brands in existence have been around fewer than 20 years.

That’s just one of the findings of the YouGov BrandIndex’s best-perceived brands of the year, released today. (You can find profiles of the Top 10 brands and charts of their brand growth in recent years below.)

Not only are the top placers surprisingly youthful companies, but they are—not coincidentally—also media and technology heavies. “New media and technology are dominating the list,” said BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli. “Seven out of 10 of these brands are these new media brands and many of them didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

YouGov polls consumers each year about 1,400 brands, asking respondents to score them based on what they’ve heard about them (good or bad) in the preceding two weeks. That makes the survey a pretty good measure of advertising efficacy and media reach, which probably explains why Amazon, Netflix and YouTube—all of them companies involved in disseminating content as well as creating their own—reign at the top of the list.

But by ranking brands on customers’ perceptions, the survey is also a gauge of how much damage a bad incident can do to a brand. Case in point: Subway, last year's No. 4 brand, got knocked clean out of the Top 10 list—most likely in the wake of the disaster that spokesperson Jared Fogle became.

In fact, as the charts below illustrate, YouGov's data highlights how fast-changing American perceptions of brands can be.

Brands like the iPhone have passed in and out of favor, for example, while Amazon has consistently held the high ground. As Marzilli points out, it's not always easy to pin down exactly why consumers hold a brand in high esteem in the first place, then turn their backs on it.

But one thing is certain: Being digitally savvy and socially sharable goes a long way to keeping a brand in high regard. And in that respect, even an older brand can still share the limelight with the youngsters. Consider Samsung, founded in 1938, but now the leading maker of smart phones on planet earth—and the No. 7 best perceived brand, too.

Here's a look at America's 10 best-perceived brands going into 2016, and how their popularity has varied over the years:

10

No. 10 – Walgreen’s

There was a time when most Americans wouldn't have given a second thought to a pharmacy like Walgreen's. "It's a traditional retailer, and you don't think of them being on the cutting edge," Marzilli says. But Walgreen's—now the largest drugstore chain in America—has worked successfully to reach beyond the boundaries of its category, and moved itself into a position that's central to everyday life.

With 400 walk-in clinics across the country, Walgreen's is now a healthcare provider. Its mobile app lets customers have a digital consultation with a doctor. The chain also offers free HIV testing every year, and partners with the U.S. Department of Health to give free flu shots. Plus, as Marzilli points out, most Americans still fill their prescriptions at pharmacies, and Walgreen's filled 894 million of them in 2015. It all adds up to plenty of awareness among American consumers. Its partnership with the Hallmark Channel, which aired eight weeks of around-the-clock holiday programming this year, probably didn't hurt, either.

9

No. 9 – Lowe’s

According to the National Association of Realtors, some 5.3 million single-family homes were sold in 2015. That’s a lot of home-improvement projects underway, too, which no doubt helped keep Lowe’s top of mind for American consumers.

Though Lowe's ranking has slipped a few notches, it's been a consistent Top 10 resident on YouGov's list, and its 2015 marketing probably helped keep it there. Timed to the Super Bowl, Lowe’s released a pair (its first) of amusing and sharable Instagram videos. The chain turned heads again—upward, this time—when it announced plans to launch a 3-D printer into space. Why? To make space-station-improvement tools, of course.

8

No. 8 – iPhone

With over 6 billion smartphones now wandering around, it's worth remembering that when Apple's iPhone debuted nine years ago, it felt like the future knocking at our doors. And while the market share for Apple’s iOS slipped to just shy of 39 percent in September, the fact remains that the iPhone—by virtue of being first—is virtually synonymous with smartphone and continues to enjoy a considerable reputation if not considerable market share.

Last year, Apple essentially confirmed this view with a pair of ads touting the claim that 99 percent of people with an iPhone love their iPhone, and the tagline: “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone.” No arguing with that.

7

No. 7 – Samsung

Samsung surpassed Apple as the world’s largest seller of smartphones way back in 2011, and the brand has been on an upward track ever since. Priced considerably less than the iPhone 6, the Galaxy S6 is finding its way into more homes and hearts all the time.

But Samsung's solid No. 7 rank on the best-perceived-brands list may have more to do with its marketing than its products. The South Korean tech giant trotted out some of the most colorful advertising of 2015, including the infectious “Turn the Bezel” spot featuring Cash Cash’s “Kiss the Sky.” Samsung also made an unabashed play for millennial hearts and minds with its “Because it’s what we do” spot. And if there was anyone not drawn in by those efforts, there was the sensory extravaganza that was the “We are greater than I” effort.

6

No. 6 – Apple

It might seem a given that the Cupertino house of cool would have a spot (it held the same rank last year) on a list of best-perceived brands. Still, as Marzilli points out: "Apple is polarizing. There is a cult of Apple die hards that buy into the Apple ecosystem, but a subset of people who are anti-Apple.”

Apple's much-respected status took another hit at the end of 2015 amid accusations that the company, through use of its Irish subsidiary, was dodging U.S. taxes—a charge that CEO Tim Cook called "total political crap" on 60 Minutes. Nevertheless, lovers gotta love, and Apple kept its place in the hearts of the American public. No doubt, much of the esteem has to do with the company's popular products, not its corporate affairs. Not only did the App Store do $20 billion in business in 2015, the company also made news with the launch of Apple TV and the iWatch. Plus, Apple’s predictably mushy holiday commercial was enough to soften the hearts of all Apple haters—at least for a minute or so.

5

No. 5 – Cancer Treatment Centers of America

YouGov added hospitals to its brand index survey only a year ago, and Cancer Treatment Centers of America made a potent debut. Not only does CTCA does a lot of advertising (watch some of the spots here), its spots focus on individual stories of survival. That, plus the sheer ubiquity of cancer itself (the disease will touch one in three families) most likely explains respondents’ favorable view of CTCA, which operates five cancer hospitals across the country.

“Cancer just touches so many people, so if the ads come off as credible, it’s hard to have a negative view of the company,” Marzilli said. The ads do come off as credible, despite skeptics who contend that CTCA uses survival statistics that are misleading.

4

No. 4 – Google

For the more than 7 million people who watched Google’s “Year in Search” video, Google’s place on YouGov’s Top 10 best-perceived brands needn’t be explained.

The world’s No. 1 search engine (Google gets 1.1 billion unique visitors monthly) isn’t just a portal to information, but it's also a mirror to the culture at large, a tool that measures and records what we care about. This past September, Google’s high profile changing of its logo typeface and introduction of its “identity family” reminded everybody that Google reaches our lives via many platforms now—devices, TV, laptops, and even car dashboards. All of those interfaces are bound to leave an impression—at least a big enough one to have moved Google from No. 7 to No. 4 on the survey.

3

No. 3 – YouTube

It may have slipped one place from 2014’s list, but does that matter? YouTube remains the go-to platform for watching a wide range of videos online, which gives it a brand awareness that’s both incomparable and indomitable.

A third of the people on the Internet itself use YouTube, with an estimated 300 hours of video uploaded to it every minute. YouTube reaches more consumers than any cable network, and the hours people spend on YouTube has surged 60 percent over the last two years. Along with Amazon and Netflix, Marzilli said, “YouTube confirms what everyone knows—that the way we consume media is changing. The idea of us once being at the mercy of TV networks,” he said, feels like it’s part of a past era.

2

No. 2 – Netflix

It might be hard to believe this, but Netflix has actually been with us for close to two decades now, having started as a simple online movie rental service that jumped to streaming in 2007 and counted 20 million subscribers by 2010.

But it was Netflix’s decision to produce programs (starting with 2013’s House of Cards) that’s made it a cornerstone of entertainment. That decision likely explains why Netflix has been on a dramatic climb on YouGov's survey for the past four years. Billing itself as a “Global TV network,” Netflix now reaches 70 million homes, largely thanks to shows that are just as good or better than what’s on TV anyway. Shows like Orange is the New Black and newcomer Narcos helped Netflix land eight Golden Globe nominations at the end of 2015. So it’s little wonder that Netflix jumped from third to second place in the YouGov survey—and this was before CEO Reed Hastings flicked a switch at CES earlier this month and expanded his network’s reach to 130 new countries. 

1

No. 1 – Amazon

Leaving aside Amazon’s PR flub in wrapping a NYC subway train with Nazi insignias to promote its show The Man in the High Castle, the everything store is doing everything right lately, and grabbing the sort of attention that explains why it leads YouGov’s list—and has stayed at or near the top since 2012. Not only did Amazon Prime notch 3 million new members in the third week of December 2015, the aforementioned show was the most watched on Prime Video.

And nowhere did Amazon earn more visibility than this past holiday season. While sales for major brick and mortar retailers slid by 20 percent, Amazon happily slipped 200 million packages to 185 countries. “Amazon is more and more a part of everyday life,” Marzilli said, adding that even piles of Amazon boxes that accumulate in offices and front stoops only serve to increase customer awareness of the service.