* Apple, Google, Coke have best reputations in annual poll
* Steve Jobs' death, popular products lift Apple's score
* AIG, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America rank near bottom
* Banks have mishandled reputations: Harris Interactive
By Nick Zieminski
Feb 13 Apple Inc has the best
image of any American company, scoring a record high in a new
reputation study, while financial institutions filled the ranks
of the worst.
Apple, co-founded by Steve Jobs in 1976, vaulted to No. 1 in
Harris Interactive's annual public opinion poll on
corporate brands. The Cupertino, California company raced passed
last year's brand champ in the poll, Google Inc.
Banks and other Wall Street institutions, meanwhile,
plummeted to alarmingly low levels in the survey released on
Monday. Some of the nation's financial firms have images that
now U.S. history, such as Enron Corp.
AIG ranks last in the research company's survey,
falling behind Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.
Apple and Google have emerged as top American brands as the
technology sector is distinguishing itself as the only industry
with a mostly positive reputation. Harris, which has been
tracking brand reputation since 1999, has found that tech
companies have been consistently associated with strong vision,
innovation and leadership over the past five years.
Tech is shining as the broader reputation of U.S companies
is sinking. Sixty percent of those polled say Corporate
America's image got worse over the past year, while
only 9 percent thought it improved.
Coca-Cola Co, Amazon.com Inc and Kraft Foods
Inc rounded out the top five slots in the survey, which
relied on responses from 12,961 people surveyed online in
December. Respondents evaluated companies on six qualities:
leadership, financial performance, workplace environment, social
responsibility, emotional appeal and the quality of products and
Walt Disney Co, Johnson & Johnson, Whole
Foods Market, Microsoft Corp and United Parcel
Service Inc fill out the 2012 top 10.
APPLE THRIVES, FACEBOOK A NON-FACTOR
Apple earned a record high score of 85.62 on a scale of 100,
helping the company rise from No. 5 a year ago. In addition to
riding Jobs' legacy, Apple's gains were driven by product
quality to profitability and environmental record.
"The timing of Jobs' death certainly played a role in
bringing out an emotional attachment to the company and
reinforced the elements of reputation that he brought (to Apple
products)," said Harris Executive Vice President Robert Fronk,
who leads the company's analysis of corporate reputations.
Apple, which was floundering a decade ago, is "the
pre-eminent American corporation right now," Fronk said.
One of the biggest blemishes on Apple in recent years has
been reports of harsh - some say inhumane - working conditions
at manufacturing partners abroad, including in China.
In 2010, reports surfaced of a rash of worker suicides at
Foxconn, which puts together the iPhone and iPad at its
factories in southern China. Apple faced accusations of making
migrant laborers lave long hours for paltry wages.
Apple responded rapidly, initiating a probe into those
incidents. In January, it published a massive report detailing
audits of working conditions along its entire supply chain.
One of the hottest names in the sector, Facebook, did not
rank despite being familiar to billions of people.
"People don't currently think of Facebook as a company,"
Fronk said. Instead, the brand is looked at as a channel or a
service than a corporation, something that will likely change
after it goes public.
Harris Interactive annual ranking covers what are considered
to be the 60 most visible companies. It includes household names
ranging from Netflix Inc, Verizon Communications
and Wal-Mart Stores Inc to Southwest Airlines
and some overseas brands, like Hyundai Corp.
Companies with the lowest reputation rankings are all
financial service providers:
AIG, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America each garnered fewer
than 50 points, a level that signifies the companies "risk
remaining viable," according to Harris. Enron, WorldCom, Global
Crossing and Adelphia Communications - all extinct - were
companies that once populated the sub-50-point group.
Harris said it is not predicting the demise of AIG or
Goldman, just drawing parallels and highlighting how consumers'
opinions have shifted. For example, the Occupy Wall Street
movement, by drawing attention to bank practices, caused 5
percent of consumers to switch banks, Harris found.
"Financial services companies and banks have been
mishandling their corporate reputations even pre-Occupy Wall
Street," Fronk said.
Rather than acknowledging the last decade's credit boom was
an anomaly, banks have conveyed a desire to return to the way
things were, he said.
"A large swathe of the population says, the way things were
is not what we want. We want a different paradigm for this