Brand Visibility Equals Brand Esteem? 'No', Says Study

16 November 2004

High visibility of a corporate brand is no guarantee of its good image, reports a series of worldwide studies by US researchers Harris Interactive and The Reputation Institute.

Exemplifying this factor is McDonald's - along with Microsoft the most visible corporate brand in on earth. However, the former also generates a high level of antipathy, measurably greater than other multinational giants such as Coca-Cola, Nike and Sony.

Although the burger behemoth enjoys high recognition from Alaska to Zimbabwe, it languished in the bottom half of the European reputation rankings and only made it to the halfway point in the USA and Australia.

Despite its much hyped I'm Lovin' It global ad campaign, the golden arches were deemed lower than the fallen variety in Denmark and the UK where Big M came last of fifteen companies, its offerings repeatedly described as "rubbish" - or worse.

Likewise, in the time-honored manner of those who hail from the eastern side of Brooklyn Bridge, words were unminced: "The so-called healthy choices are just token gestures to appease an unhappy public," opined Arnaldo Buzack, an interpreter in the brusque borough. "It's like a wolf wearing a lamb's skin. They do as little as they can so they can keep selling unhealthy food full of fat."

That dismissive view from the bridge may say more about Larry Light's $577 million (€444.77m; £311.02m) campaign than a hundred lobby groups!

As for Microsoft, it's the corporation people love to hate. Although generally admired for its financial performance, vision and leadership, there are also scathing comments on its market dominance and glitches in its software.

"I truly believe that Microsoft would love to be a complete monopoly", said Terry Rodgers, a painting contractor from Lubbock, Texas. "Still, I feel some respect for Microsoft because it has made an awful lot of money while producing software that has proven very useful."

Respect, however, was notably absent in one British respondent who dismissed the software giant as "a corporate shark".

The companies below notched the highest scores for advertising recall. However, these scores weren't matched by their corporate sincerity ranking (in parentheses) …

USA (60 companies ranked)
1. McDonald's (19)
2. Coca-Cola (3)
3. Ford Motor (23)

Germany (15 companies)
1. McDonald's (6)
2. Deutsche Telekom (13)
3. Deutsche Post (7)

UK (15 companies)
1. McDonald's (13)
2. British Telecom (12)
3. Tesco (5)

France (15 companies)
1. Renault (3)
2. McDonald's (10)
3. France Telecom (12)

It could be that anti-American feelings over the war in Iraq are a factor in the dearth of US corporate icons in the European rankings. "It is impossible to ignore the fact that things American may have recently lost some cachet," believes Hayes Roth, a vp at brand consultancy Landor Associates.

And it seems that wrapping the national flag around the push for profits cuts little ice with consumers. American Express and American Airlines ranked 29th and 50th, respectively in the US ranking of 60 companies.

In Europe, British Airways was number 10 (of 15) and British Telecom 12; while Air France came in at number 8 (of 15) and France Télécom at number 13.

Germans were even less inclined to link nationalism with brand preferences. Of the fifteen companies ranked in Germany, the four lowest-rated were Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Post and Deutsche Bank.

To rub salt into an open wound, German consumers even rated McDonald's more highly!

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff