Amazon Has the Best Consumer Perception of Any Brand

Mid-year rankings show Target hit hard by data breach, TV viewing habits changing

Target’s much-publicized data breach cost the company more than the $400-$450 million that’s been estimated—it also levied heavy damage on the retailer's perception among consumers, according to new rankings from research firm YouGov BrandIndex released today.

“While it surfaced an issue for the entire industry, Target took nearly the entire brunt of the discussion in the media,” said Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov BrandIndex. “And there was a lot of discussion in the media.”

The retailer last year was the No. 7 best-perceived brand among consumers, but not only did it fall off the top 10 list, it plummeted all the way down to No. 21.

While negative news reports usually have some effect on consumer perception of brands, the impact varies. For example, in spite of its ongoing dispute with book publisher Hachette, is still the No. 1 best-perceived brand. The affected group in this case—book buyers for Hachette titles—is small and unlikely to drag down overall perception, Marzilli said. Also, the first half of the year saw the company’s Prime service expand its HBO and music streaming offerings, and it debuted the Fire smartphone.

High rankings for YouTube and Netflix, on the other hand, is evidence of a lifestyle shift among consumers.

“YouTube at No. 3 speaks to the power of online video,” Marzilli said. “YouTube is becoming the ‘Google for video’—the  go-to place to search for a current news story, a new advertisement or an old TV clip. Unfortunately, ‘YouTubing’ doesn’t roll off the lips as easily as ‘Googling’—at least for now."

“Same with Netflix,” he added. “TV and movie viewing habits are changing, and the brand is well-positioned to capitalize on the trend to stream content.”

Another surprise in YouGov’s ranking is Carnival Cruise Line’s incredibly fast recovery from a series of unfortunate events last winter that received heavy media coverage—including horrific passenger accounts from five days spent on a disabled ship, The Triumph, in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the biggest improver in perception in the first half of 2014, which Marzilli credited to the company’s immediate spending on major safety improvements—including a safety and reliability review board—and upgrade of its entertainment, bars and restaurants.

The return to the top 10 of Apple and Google, who both fell off the list in the 2013 ranking, is “a vote from the mainstream” for those two brands, Marzilli said. “While it may be trendy sometimes to criticize both companies, the fact is that everybody hangs on everything they do.”

YouGov also slices its data down to the category level, showing how competitors stack up in 19 verticals ranging from airlines to social media and TV networks.

Here are the top 10 best-perceived brands, and the biggest gainers in the first half of 2014.

Top 10 Best-Perceived Brands, First Half 2014
Rank Brand Buzz Score
1 29.5
2 Subway 26.3
3 YouTube 26.3
4 Ford 25.2
5 Netflix 25.2
6 Samsung 25.0
7 Walgreen's 23.1
8 Apple 22.9
9 Lowe's 22.7
10 Google 22.4

Top 10 Buzz Improvers First Half 2014 vs. 2013     
Rank Brand Change in Score
1 Carnival 19.2
2 Bank of America 9.5
3 Facebook 8.0
4 NBC 6.8
5 ABC 6.7
6 Nike 6.5
7 Red Bull 5.4
8 AT & T 5.3
9 Goldman Sachs 4.8
10 Wells Fargo 4.7