BrandIndex's ranking of 2008's healthiest brands appears in Brandweek and Mediapost

Study: Consumers Clinging To Old Favorite Brands

Brands like Craftsman, Sony, Rubbermaid and Clorox are ranked among the most healthy of 2008, according to consumers who participated in a BrandIndex poll.

There is something comforting about a Craftsman wrench, Sony TV and Clorox bleach, according to the 1.2 million consumer interviews conducted in 2008 via the online BrandIndex poll.

When asked to rate the health of top consumer brands, mostly tried-and-true names rose to the top. Rubbermaid, Whirlpool and M&M's, for example, all fell within the top 10.

Craftsman scored well because "there is a feeling out there like the world may be screwed up out there, but I can depend on my tools," said Michael Margolis, president of marketing consultancy Thirsty-Fish. It is "an issue of confidence. People are wondering, 'What brands can I really trust?'"

Ted Marzilli, general manager of the BrandIndex, agreed. Craftsman is "not showy or flashy. But it is well-known, reasonably priced and good quality." The BrandIndex, conducted by the YouGovPolimetrix research company, polls 5,000 consumers over the age of 18 weekly. They are asked to rate six brand health indicators: quality, satisfaction, willingness to recommend, value, image and reputation.

While consumers love their Sony TVs, they apparently like their Discovery Channel even more. The same holds true for the History Channel as the two networks ranked first and second, respectively. "Our shows are either about blowing something up or watching someone get bit by something," said James Hitchcock, svp, marketing and branding for the Discovery Channel. "We do it in such a high quality way, at the depths of the ocean floor or at the highest peaks, that no one can touch us on that. The consumer acknowledges that."

The BrandIndex also broke out which brands' ratings improved the most during the second half of the year compared to the first. Wal-Mart saw the biggest jump, as did other frugal-friendly brands like Southwest and Craigslist. "In a challenging economy, value is something consumers focus on," said Marzilli. "In a down economy, people are more concerned about price than whether or not all Wal-Mart employees receive health care benefits."

Facebook, MySpace and YouTube also saw the boost in brand ratings during the second half of the year. "When my 55-year-old aunt is trying to make friends with me on my Facebook page, you realize you have reached a tipping point," said Margolis.

The companies with the biggest ratings drop off: AIG, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. "When you see these companies dropping like flies, it hits home," said Margolis.



Consumers' images of financial service brands sank in the second half of 2008, while those of brands that offered value pricing, social networking and gasoline rose.

YouGovPolimetrix's BrandIndex, which tracks consumer perception of some 1,000 brands via daily polls, will report on Wednesday that 21 of the bottom 25 decliners during the second half of the year were financial service firms--all victims in one way or another of the year's financial crisis, with AIG, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley filling the bottom five spots.

Yet two financial institutions--Bank of America, which acquired Merrill Lynch, and Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia--actually saw their consumer health increase. "They both came to the rescue of some other brands that were not doing well," says Ted Marzilli, senior vice president and general manager of BrandIndex. And a network that covers finance, Fox Business Channel, zoomed up the list to become the 15th-largest gainer of all brands.

As for the other four in the bottom 25 decliners, two of them--Linens 'n' Things and Circuit City--filed for bankruptcy during the second half of 2008. Another--The New Yorker--still has not been forgiven by consumers for its parody July cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as terrorists. And The History Channel's slide into the top decliners can only be speculated upon, according to Marzilli--but based on average daily scores for the entire year, the brand still ranked as the second-most-healthy overall, right behind cable network Discovery and ahead of Google, Craftsman and Sony in the top 5.

Wal-Mart did not make the top 50 list for 2008 overall, but showed the biggest improvement over the second half of the year, with Southwest Airlines (#7) and Craigslist (#9) also coming in among the top 10 gainers--the kinds of brands "you would expect to see improving during a challenging economy," Marzilli says.

Facebook and MySpace came in at second and third place, improvement-wise, with YouTube at #6. The social networks, "perhaps helped by the presidential campaign, were legitimized" and introduced to more consumers, Marzilli says.

With the exception of AT&T at #8, the rest of the top 10 improvers consisted of oil companies, with ExxonMobil at #4, Shell at #5 and Chevron at #10, followed by Citgo at #11 and BP at #12. Marzilli attributed the strong showings to those companies' scores "plummeting in the first half of the year" due to soaring gas prices followed by dropping gas prices during the second half.

In addition to Fox Business Channel, four other TV networks were among the top 25 gainers--MTV, Fox, Showtime and CNN.

BrandIndex interviews a sample of 5,000 U.S. consumers--18+ every day--with respondents drawn from an online panel of 1.4 million people.