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  Similar Search Results: Google Wins   Similar Search Results: Google Wins  Anthony Zumpano  
Global: Bow to Your Google

Google hogged technology headlines and spread its ubiquity (which is a nice way of saying "world dominance") throughout 2006. The dust barely cleared on its US$ 900 million deal with News Corporation to provide service to sites such as MySpace when it purchased video site and workplace time-waster (as well as third-place finisher) YouTube for $1.65 billion. But perhaps its most noteworthy brand achievement last year was the addition of the verb "to google" in two major English-language dictionaries. (More valuable to shareholders was the stock price cracking the $500 barrier.)

Apple barely edges YouTube for the runner-up slot. The company launched its first computers powered by Intel processors (as it phased out those by Motorola), the iTunes Music Store sold its 1 billionth song, and so far, people haven't been chucking their iPods for the Microsoft Zune. Apple CEO/deity Steve Jobs has (so far) survived an investigation concerning backdated options; similar scandals have felled several other CEOs. In 2007 Jobs plans to walk on water, which he will then turn into wine.

Following Apple are two Readers' Choice newcomers: the aforementioned YouTube, and the spreading-like-Google Wikipedia. The backbone of both brands is user-created content: one allows you to watch (or upload your own version of) a "Mentos eruption" that occurs when you slip the chewy candies into a bottle of diet cola, while the other details why this junk-food fireworks takes place.

YouTube launched in 2005, and this year, with 20 million monthly visitors, exploded like Mentos in Diet Coke and was named Time's "Invention of the Year." And did we mention that Google bought it for $1.65 billion in stock?

Since its creation comparatively eons ago (2001), Wikipedia grew slowly and steadily (pages in well over 100 languages, with more than 1.5 million articles on the English version alone) as it became the premier—if not always accurate—online research tool.

In a virtual tie for fifth place are perennial favorites Starbucks and Nokia, proving caffeine and cellphones haven't gone out of style. In 2006, the java giant added more franchises in China and also branched into the entertainment business as one of the producers of the film Akeelah and the Bee. Nokia and Siemens AG created one of the world's largest network firms, called Nokia Siemens Networks, by merging their mobile and fixed-line phone network equipment businesses.

Europe & Africa: IKEA Assembles a Winner

IKEA wrestled the top spot from Nokia, which slipped to third behind Skype. The Swedish-founded, Dutch-headquartered home-products retailer expanded its reach even further in 2006 with 16 new stores. Of note was the opening of its first two stores in Japan; one grand opening attracted 35,000 fanatics of furniture you assemble yourself. In 2007 IKEA plans to open 24 more stores, including one in Tokyo and premiere locations in Romania and Northern Ireland.

While we're on the subject of expanding juggernaut brands, runner-up Skype doubled its number of concurrent users last year to 8 million. The Luxembourg-based voice over IP (VoIP) company, which was purchased by eBay in 2005, is now supported by over 120 devices that run Windows Mobile software. (Steve Jobs acolytes were able to download the first video-enhanced release for Macs in October.) Some techies grumble that the code is closed-source, unlike competing protocol SIP, but Skype addicts don't seem to be complaining.

Nokia staved off competition in 2006 by aggressively marketed its low-priced mobile phones, but its high-end N93 smartphone, which is packed with multimedia functions including the recording of DVD-quality video, won several awards and may well beat the iPhone to the punch when the latter is released later in 2007. Rounding out the Top 5 in Europe/Africa are Spanish clothing retailer Zara and German apparel company adidas.

US & Canada: Apple Shines Again

While Google kept its top Global ranking, Apple held on to its number-one spot in North America. Its notable 2006 product releases included the Intel-powered MacBook and MacBook Pro notebook computers, which replaced its three-year-old G4 iBook and PowerBook, respectively. The year also saw upgraded iPods including a revamped Shuffle that's teeny—less than half the size of the original—and carries a $79 price tag, ensuring that few will be priced out of the privilege of wearing the familiar white headphones.

Though Apple hasn't yet taken credit (or blame) for it, the company is also responsible for the proliferation of products whose names begin with a lowercase i, even if they're not iPod compatible. (We wonder how many brand names in the early 20th century borrowed the consonant from Ford's Model T.) In kicking off 2007 with the iPhone and Apple TV (and despite those increasingly annoying "I'm a Mac…I'm a PC" ads), the company, which altered its brand by dropping "Computer" from its name, will likely be a top contender in next year's poll.

Considering Google's purchase of YouTube ($1.65 billion!), it's fitting that the two brands finished within a few votes of each other. While most people know that second-place YouTube caught fire in 2006 because of the number and diversity of videos available, it should be noted that its popularity was driven by the technology under its hood, which makes videos as easy to upload as they are to play.

Google is more than a Spartan but efficient search engine; it's a company that has developed and acquired many applications and products. Blogger, the popular blog-publishing system purchased by Google in 2003, launched its latest version, adding new features and migrating users to Google servers. The company released a mobile version of its Gmail, its free web email service that offers enhanced spam protection and a large storage capacity. (Oh yeah, and they bought YouTube—did we mention how much they paid?)

Bean king Starbucks continues to enjoy a latte success. During the 12-month period between October 2005 and October 2006, the company opened 733 new licensed retail stores in the US. In line with its attitude that it's not merely a coffee brand (but rather a lifestyle brand that happens to sell coffee), Starbucks owns and operates the Hear Music franchise. Where the typical Starbucks outlet sells a few CDs within a coffeehouse setting, Hear Music locations feature listening stations and allow users to purchase, download, and burn custom music CDs (while downing Starbucks beverages, of course).

In its first appearance on a Readers' Choice ballot, Wikipedia cruised into fifth place for the North America region. A boon to people for whom research meant sifting through Google-search results (or, at an earlier time, thumbing through the World Book Encyclopedia), this user-developed reference site is often a starting point for people looking stuff up. Time magazine named "You" its Person of the Year because of sites like Wikipedia (and blogs, YouTube, and MySpace), whose content—and, one can say, branding—is enhanced and shaped by its users. The magazine also named Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales one of the most influential people in the world, though it's more accurate to say that Wikipedia's users are the influential people in terms of the brand.

Latin America: A Toast to Beverage Brands

The top four Latin American brands maintain their positions for the second consecutive year. As we noted last year, Corona and Bacardi likely benefited more from brand awareness among our readers from outside the region than actual impact. (We could also conclude from the vote tally that our readers are more likely to imbibe beer than rum.)

If you own a cellphone in South America, it's likely that your service provider is third-place movistar. Though the brand's owner, Telefónica, is based in Spain, movistar has a huge (and growing) presence in other Spanish-speaking countries. (In non-Hispanic countries like Germany and the Czech Republic, Telefónica operates under the O2 brand.) In Peru, for instance, the brand expanded its client base 48 percent in 2006. With flip-flops becoming more acceptable as work attire (to the consternation and/or revulsion of some traditionalists), Brazilian sandal brand Havaianas steps into fourth place. Food conglomerate Bimbo, the owner of brands including Wonder Bread, came in fifth.

Asia-Pacific: A Tale of Two Sonys

For perennial Asia-Pacific winner Sony, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Gamers drooled at the release of the long-awaited PlayStation 3 game console, and Sony's digital camera, mobile phone, and film divisions (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby drove in $162 million worldwide) were successful. But laptop users were inconvenienced (or, in some cases, risked burns) by malfunctioning Sony-made batteries. Companies including Apple, Toshiba, Dell, and Lenovo recalled millions of these power cells, resulting in a second-quarter net-income loss of 94 percent.

Toyota keeps on rolling as a dependable, safe, well-liked auto brand. Notable 2006 releases from the company, which also owns the Lexus and Scion brands, were the Belta (known in North America as the Yaris), a compact economy model that boasts gas mileage up to 40 miles per gallon, and the retro sporty/outdoorsy FJ Cruiser. With the rise in gasoline prices, demand for the hybrid Prius reached new heights. And as if the slumping Big Three US automakers didn't have enough to worry about, CNN reported that Toyota is on target to become the world's largest automaker in 2007.

Multinational bank HBSC cashes in at third place, its highest ranking ever. By mid-2006 the money monolith overtook Citigroup as the world's biggest bank by assets. (That's $1.74 trillion, most of which is not invested in low-return certificates of deposit, we're sure.) It expanded deeper into Latin America with the purchase of Argentina-based Banca Nazionale del Lavoro and Panama-based Grupo Banistmo, the largest financial-services company in Central America.

Closing out the top five are perennial favorites Samsung of South Korea and Honda of Japan. In 2006 Samsung was a leading brand in the competitive flat-panel TV market and also introduced the K5, yet another answer to the iPod. (Steve Jobs still sleeps well at night.) Honda not only maintained its market share as a manufacturer of cars and motorcycles (among other things), it continued to promote its humanlike robot, ASIMO, which took another leap forward—some would say "downward"—when it unintentionally displayed human klutziness by falling down a flight of stairs.

Generating the Results: How'd We Do That?

Unlike other brand rankings that crunch financial numbers, the Readers' Choice poll measures brand impact according to brandchannel readers. "Impact" can be good or bad. For instance, Sony could have impacted you positively with its PlayStation 3, negatively with a malfunctioning laptop battery, or both.

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.

More than 3,600 people from 99 countries voted in the 2006 poll. The greatest number of voters fell in the age range of 26 to 35 year olds, with an almost equal number of men and women. Voters claiming employment with actual brands as opposed to agencies was greater by half.

Respondents per region equal: 3,625 for Global; 1,595 for US & Canada; 1,420 for Asia-Pacific; 1,358 for Europe & Africa; and 581 for Latin America.

Track the results of your favorite brand through the years by viewing past results.

A special thanks to all those who voted!

Now that the 2006 results are in, what do you think will happen in 2007? Join the debate now!    



Anthony Zumpano lives and works in New York.

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