America's 10 Most Familiar Brands

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To be familiar with a brand means a deeper level of engagement than simple awareness. It implies knowing something about a brand other than its name. It is also not necessarily the case that a brand is familiar because it is well liked.

Brand consulting firm CoreBrand has just released its 2014 ranking of the world’s top 10 most familiar brands, based on a survey of senior executives in the largest 20% of U.S. companies measured by revenue. The survey audience, then, may be affluent consumers, but their judgment of brands is likely to depend more on how the brand companies perform financially and how well the companies’ managers perform.

According to CoreBrand the top 10 most familiar companies are:

1. American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP)
1. Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO)
3. Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG)
4. MasterCard Inc. (NYSE: MA)
4. McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD)
4. Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS)
7. Visa Inc. (NYSE: V)
8. Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE: CPB)
9. Hershey Co. (NYSE: HSY)
10. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP)

The top score was 96.9, while the bottom score was 94.5. Not a vast difference. Going down to the 20th ranked company still produces a score of 93.

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One might say that this is a list of the usual suspects: long-lived brands with virtually instant and ubiquitous name recognition. But look at #3 Walgreen and #10 J.C. Penney. Both have been around a long time, but in both cases familiarity may have bred contempt — or at least some negativity.

CoreBrand thinks that Walgreen’s brand has taken a hit for not following the lead of competitor CVS Caremark Corp. (NYSE: CVX) in dropping sales of tobacco products. A couple of other possibilities come to mind: Walgreen lost a tussle with Express Scripts Holding Co. (NASDAQ: ESRX) over payments that sent customers fleeing in droves. And there is the possibility that Walgreen will move its corporate headquarters offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. Neither action endeared or will endear Walgreen in consumers’ minds.

As for J.C. Penney, CoreBrand says negative publicity from its management crisis and three changes to the corporate logo since 2011 have done little to improve the company’s brand. Sure, everyone’s heard of Penney’s, but that is not translating into a turnaround in the company’s fortunes.

If you think hard enough you can come up with some issues related to many of the brands on the list. The credit card companies have all paid large fines and settlements within the past couple of years for illegal marketing practices and price-fixing. Coca-Cola has gotten some grief recently for funding research that blames obesity on lack of exercise and not sugary soft drinks. McDonald’s has been the target of groups trying to get workers’ pay raised to $15 an hour.

While Visa, MasterCard and American Express can thrive after their missteps, J.C. Penney’s slow demise is constantly in the news. The credit card companies took their medicine and life goes on. Walgreen’s decision to continue selling tobacco may have hurt it with some people, but if the company wants to experience real backlash it should announce that it will re-domicile in Switzerland. That could send the drug store chain on the same trajectory as J.C. Penney is now on.

CoreBrand combines its Familiarity index with a Favorability index to derive a BrandPower score. In the firm’s ranking of the top 100 most powerful brands, Coca-Cola tops the list, followed by Hershey. Walgreen ranks 23rd and J.C. Penney comes in at 79th. Of the top 10 familiar brands, only Coca-Cola, Hershey, Disney, American Express and Kellogg make the top 10 most powerful brands.

Familiarity scores have recovered since the financial meltdown years of 2008 through 2010, while Favorability scores have not. We know their names, we just don’t like them as much as we did before.

ALSO READ: America’s Nine Most Damaged Brands

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