While we in the finance world tend to focus on revenues, earnings and the like, we often forget that consumers — through their shopping choices, casual chatter and overall spending habits — are the driving force behind such numbers.
So, we took a look at YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score, which rates consumer feedback on countless popular brands. The survey asks respondents, “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?”
While such a methodology is far from perfect, it can shed some light onto the general perception of brands we encounter every day. Positive buzz doesn’t always help stock performance, but it sure can’t hurt.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), for one, fell out of the top 10 in U.S. last year — just as its stock has taken a beating of late. But the company made the top 10 for six of 11 countries in which the survey was conducted … and its iPad and iPhone were counted separately. Each product, along with the parent company, made the top 25 in the U.S. That’s still solid. The strongest international performer of 2012 was Samsung (PINK:SSNLF). The company made the top 10 for eight of the 11 countries monitored … but didn’t make the cut here in the states.
With that in mind, let’s take a look the top 10 brands that did perform well in the U.S. for 2012:
Search giant Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) slid significantly in 2012, going from No. 4 to No. 10 … but that’s still not too bad if you consider that its video site YouTube was broken out separately.
YouGov described some of Google’s highlights over the year, saying:
“The company completed its deal with Motorola and strengthened links to Samsung with more than 50 million Android tablets and smartphones activated to date. They launched Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) and a host of iOS apps including Google Maps for iOS, which saw 10 million downloads in 48 hours. And headliner of the year was Google Glasses, reinforcing the brand’s status as tech pioneers. “
Google’s stock also managed double-digit gains over the year, despite privacy issues for the company, increasing competition from all directions and its now-infamous PENDING LARRY QUOTE earnings release mishap.
Individual YouTube videos aren’t the only thing people are talking about these days — they are talking about the site itself as well. YouTube — owned by No. 10 Google, of course — made the top 10 in 2012 for the first time.
YouGov credited “Gangnam Style” — the dance video fad — for part of the site’s popularity. It was YouTube’s first video to pass 1 billion views, and it led to countless spin-offs.
The site’s popularity is evident on social media as well; YouTube was the fourth-most-liked page overall at the end of last year.
Amazon‘s (NASDAQ:AMZN) tablet broke into top 10 for the first time last year thanks to countless updates. The company released the latest version of the e-reader (called the Kindle Paperwhite) in early October to glowing reviews.
New versions of the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD also were revealed in 2012 — tablets that compete with the iPad, the new Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface and Google’s Nexus tablet. One year after the Kindle Fire’s release, Amazon claims it grabbed 22% of U.S. tablet sales.
At the end of the year, the company also announced plans to roll out a new service for its Kindle to make the product more kid-friendly.
Target (NYSE:TGT) moved up two spots year-over-year, coming in at No. 7. The big-box retailer generally has a better reputation than rival Walmart (NYSE:WMT), which is often criticized for labor practices and faced a bribery investigation last year.
YouGov talked about several of Target’s big moves in 2012:
“In the third year of its remodel program and 2-years into the nationwide launch of 5% Rewards, Target worked hard to secure loyalty. The design-savvy discounter also committed to offering signature ‘exclusives’ year round not just as an occasional headliner.”
The stock — which offers investors a solid 2.4% dividend yield — just barely lagged behind the market in 2013 with a steady 13% climb.
Toyota (NYSE:TM) might have re-claimed the title of biggest seller of vehicles in the world last year, but U.S.-based Ford (NYSE:F) was the only automaker to make this top 10 list. It moved up one spot from the year before, while the stock beat the market in 2012 with nearly 18% gains.
Investors have had different reasons to buzz about the company than consumers, though.
Ford kicked off the new year by doubling its dividend, for example, boosting the yield to a heft 3.1%. Plus, from a labor point of view, Ford had been adding lots of jobs here in the states. It struck a four-year labor agreement at the start of 2012 that added 12,000 new U.S. manufacturing jobs — many of which were brought back home from Mexico, China and Japan. Plus, it kicked of 2013 by announcing plans to add more than 2,000 positions in Michigan.
Toss in the fact that its 2013 Ford Fusion was named “Green Car of the Year” and there’s plenty of reason to buzz about this automaker.
Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW) sure knows how to please both its customers and its shareholders. In 2012, it moved up one spot to become the fifth-most buzzed about company, while shares climbed an eye-popping 43% — more than double the S&P 500 … although not as much as larger rival Home Depot‘s (NYSE:HD) gains.
If the housing market’s recovery continues, more people could flock to Lowe’s for building and repair materials. Plus, the company has been working to improve its customers service with new technology and a new website.
The company has begun looking north for expansion in an attempt to dodge HD’s shadow as well, just like Target and Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) have similarly done. Its also been increasing its U.S. store count, while aggressively purchasing back shares.
#4: History Channel
As Discovery Channel (NASDAQ:DISCA) dropped out of top 10, History Channel maintained its usual spot on the elite list. Its standout program was Hatfields & McCoys, a three-part mini-series broadcast that brought in a huge audience and countless award nominations. Kevin Costner, for example, recently took home a Golden Globe for his role in the series.
A new series called Vikings has also been generated buzz for the channel. It is slated to start running this year.
Investors can’t put their money directly into History Channel, though, as it is part of A+E Networks, owned by The Hearst Corporation and Disney (NYSE:DIS).
Personally, I’m not sure what there is to say about Cheerios at all … maybe whether or not you prefer the Honey Nut flavor? But, then again, that also means there probably isn’t anything bad to say, either.
That’s promising news for the “heart-healthy” consumer staple made by General Mills (NYSE:GIS). The parent company was relatively flat in 2012 — but its plethora of food offerings make the impact of Cheerios as small as the cereal pieces themselves.
Other food brands in the top 25 included V8, owned by The Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE:CPB), and M&M’s, made by privately held Mars Inc.
On the consumer staples end, Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) also has been getting some solid buzz thanks to its apparently popular Tide detergent and Dawn dish soap. I’d say the positive chatter about the latter would come thanks to the adorable commercials showing people using Dawn to clean ducks affected by BP‘s (NYSE:BP) oil spill. (No surprise, BP didn’t make the cut.)
For the silver medal, we’re back to Amazon. The company’s e-reader took the No. 8 spot on the list, while its giant e-commerce, streaming and shipping business helped the parent company perform even better.
Buzz is a great word when it comes to the stock too … just ask InvestorPlace‘s Kyle Woodley. In 2012 alone, the stock climbed more than 40%, despite the fact that its earnings have been moving steadily in the opposite direction.
As Woodley put it in a recent article: “Amazon is being ginned up because people are looking forward and seeing potential.” The problem, though, is that “too often, we put hype and potential ahead of substance and results.”
I’m sure Amazon isn’t complaining about all the hype, though. It might not be translating into good numbers for earnings, but it has helped the stock more than double since 2010.
And the top-ranked brand of all? None other than privately held and relatively healthy fast-food chain Subway, which stole the honor for the third year in a row … despite negative publicity about its apparently only 11-inch “footlong” sandwich.
Not only that, but Subway was the only restaurant chain that managed to make the top 10. Wendy’s (NASDAQ:WEN) came in at No. 19 … although that didn’t really help the stock in 2012 (it shed 12%).
Darden Restaurants‘ (NYSE:DRI) Red Lobster and Olive Garden each made the top 25, but the parent company has fared even worse, losing 20% since a high in September.
YouGov pointed to Subway’s recent ad campaigns as part of the reason for the positive chatter. Its commercials featured stars like Apolo Ohno and Robert Griffin III, as well as Michael Phelps and his mom. Looks like some struggling restaurant stocks should take some notes from the sandwich king.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.