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  The Search is Over: Google Wins in 2006   The Search is Over: Google Wins in 2006 fifth annual readers' choice awards fifth annual readers' choice awards  Robin D. Rusch  
The Search is Over: Google Wins in 2006 Global: Google Tops Ranking (view results)

In 2005's results, Google took the lead from Apple in what is shaping up to be a back and forth contest through the years for these two innovative tech companies. Each year one out-does the other, and this time it is Google's turn to shine.

Google went public in the summer of 2004, and the hype hasn't died yet. Notable milestones in 2005 included the launch of Google Mini (around the same time that Apple unveiled its own mini product) and Desktop Search, which, like most Google product, falls under the "descriptive" school of naming. The quirky brand also treated us to Google Earth, arguably the greatest thing to hit the Internet since porn.

Prior to Google, life was a source of wonder with no ready answers; with Google, we are all instant scholars. Those worried that the company might run out of ideas should visit Google Labs—a welcome assurance that more delights are close on the horizon.

Equally impressive on the innovation front, Apple unveiled a tremendous amount of new product in 2005, prompting pundits to speculate that the brand would soon flame out in exhaustion. (Just how low are our expectations?) The iPod shuffle, iPod nano, iPod video, Mac mini, and Tiger operating system all emerged from the busy Cupertino workshop this past year.

Well below these two leaders but rounding out the top five for Global brands are newcomer Skype and old favorites Starbucks and Ikea.

Skype rapidly took off in Europe before being bought by eBay in September 2005. Launched in 2003 and headquartered in Luxembourg, Skype is a voice over Internet protocol provider, which allows free (or cheap) communication between users over the Internet. Skype is not alone in the field or unhindered for future growth; competitors include Google Talk, Vonage, and SIP; hurdles include Luddites.


Europe & Africa: Nokia Dials Back (view results)

Nokia pulled back up to number one for Europe & Africa after slipping in the past years from first place (2001 and 2002) to third (2003) and then fourth in 2004.

"Renewal" is listed as a value in the company's literature, and it seems that is what we are seeing here. The Finnish telecom and technology brand continues to dominate world mobile phone sales, followed by Motorola, then Samsung and LG.

Swedish retailer Ikea has lurked at the number one or two spot for the last four years; in 2005, it settles into the second spot behind its eastern neighbor Nokia. Ikea opened over 20 new stores in 2005, helpfully showing 410 million shoppers how to fill a space and budget with cheap Scandinavian design.

What's next for the home furnisher? Probably more store, more parking lot. But if Ikea wants to really rock our world, then we suggest an Ikea hotel. Call it Hotell Gäspa, and allow Ikea lovers to indulge in a complete brand immersion. The Bible in the drawer would be replaced with the popular Ikea catalogue; orders for home delivery could be placed on the door handle alongside requests for next morning's breakfast. Assembling the bed before sleeping could be optional.

New to the list this year and coming in third is Skype, which also made the Global list at third. We placed Skype in Europe & Africa because, for the greater part of the year, it was a European company and continues to headquarter in Luxembourg (eBay purchased it in September). Assuming Skype is still ringing off the hook by the end of 2006, it will move to the US & Canada list.

Finishing out the top five brands in Europe & Africa are Spanish clothing retailer Zara and German car manufacturer BMW.

US & Canada: Apple Polishes Off Google on Home Turf (view results)

Apple loses the battle for world dominance this year in our Global results but soundly beats Google at home. Similar to the Global contest, the two have shared top five distinction in the US & Canada results for the last four years.

Scooping third place, Starbucks continues to waft through our world. We asked readers to choose those brands that had the most impact on them in 2005; Starbucks is for many a daily ritual, made more noteworthy by the cost and experience of choosing this retailer over the corner street vendor.

Mega-retailer Target has been sinking since holding the first place position for 2001 and 2002, before falling to second position in 2003 and then third in 2004. In 2005, it queues up at fourth position. Unique among other national retailers in its focus on design, Target probably faces steep competition with the expansion of Ikea and Wal-Mart throughout the US.

American athlete and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong brings up the tail of the top five brands. Armstrong joins craigslist and Whole Foods as new entrant notables who made the top ten for US & Canada brands. The Armstrong brand boasts an irresistible story of record-breaking success after the cyclist's death-defying recovery from cancer. A genuine specimen with no supplemental hype.

Global Internet listing site craigslist (a possible omission from our list in previous years) perhaps placed so high in part due to a revived economy in 2005, causing users to flock online in search of jobs, employees, housing, or love, while natural foods chain Whole Foods reflects the commitment of those who are choosing organic, pesticide- and cruelty-free food production over processed Frankenfoods.

Asia-Pacific: Sony Stays Steady (view results)

Despite press reports criticizing Sony for everything from product to practices, the Japanese consumer electronics maker remains steadfast in the number one position for four of the five years we've conducted the study. It is joined by fellow Asian competitors Samsung (a sometimes collaborator with Sony) at third and LG at fourth.

Driving past Samsung (which had been hovering in the number two spot for the past four years) is Japanese automaker Toyota at second place this year. Year by year, Toyota's increasing popularity can be traced to quality product across a range of price points and lifestyles, while its focus on hybrid-powered vehicles is gaining resonance with fuel-conscious consumers.

Deposited at fifth place is the multinational bank HSBC. Hard to know if HSBC is chosen for good or bad impact, or something else entirely—brand awareness perhaps. (The bank has been on an acquisition spree particularly in the last five years, and it is the third largest corporation in the world ranked by assets.) Large multinational banks are not often immediately loved, and it's not apparent that HSBC has done anything to affect an image other than that of impersonal corporate giant. That said, one's bank does have a big impact on one's life, and with more than 100 million customers, that could certainly launch HSBC's balance to fifth place.

Central & Latin America: Drinks Dominate (view results)

First place is Corona, chased down by Bacardi, among Central and Latin America brands. It's possible that our readers enjoy their drink, but more likely, the two brands' domination of the list each year reflects brand awareness more than impact. (Although too much of either brand could cause considerable impact in one's life.) South America's brands may be strong at home, but they do not always cross borders or rank high in neighboring countries. This causes a broad split or dilution when we lump the countries under one regional heading. The placement of Corona and Bacardi may simply come down to strong recognition across a broader segment of the voting population.

Movistar, a mobile phone operator from Spanish firm Telefónica, rings in at third place in our poll. Rebranded as movistar just last year, the brand took off rapidly, causing some to suggest it will burn out just as quickly. Other voters seem delighted by the communication campaigns and optimistic about the brand's longevity. The support of any market is dependent on the brand's ability to deliver on the promise, which in the case of phone operators distills to service, service, service.

Rubber sandal maker Havaianas slides comfortably into fourth place. A fashion trend that doesn't seem to end, the fun footwear has found a place in wardrobes worldwide. A rare brand that cultivates fierce loyalty despite being low-cost and nonexclusive. Mexican cement manufacturer Cemex falls to fifth place.

Methodology: Who Decides?

While it's true that our readers appear at first glance to be easily lured by shiny design, innovative technology, coffee, and booze, they should not be dismissed as a bunch of hyper-caffeinated gearheads. Year after year brandchannel voters identify brands that the mainstream world eventually catches up with; impact is felt first by these early adopters.

Over 2500 people from 99 countries voted in the 2005 poll. The greatest number of voters fell in the age range of 26 to 35 year olds, with about a third more men voting as women. Slightly more claim employment with actual brands as opposed to agencies.

Respondents per region equal: 2528 for Global; 1295 for Europe & Africa; 1158 for US & Canada; 841 for Asia-Pacific; and 508 for Latin America.

Brandchannel conducts the study each year under the following conditions:

  • Readers are instructed to vote for the brands that had the most impact on them that year.
  • Impact is defined as good or bad. (Bad impact might be a brand like Enron.)
  • The study runs online and is open to the public during November and December.
  • Votes can be cast for up to five brands per region; respondents can only vote once per region but no section is mandatory.

We recommend an immediate cessation of all other distractions while you browse previous year results.

Thank you to all those who voted. We salute our discerning readers and urge the rest of the world to heed the impending impact of their choices.     



Robin D. Rusch is Editor-in-Chief of brandchannel.

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