Top Brands of 2004

Despite a much-hyped initial public offering, Apple has ousted Google as the world's most influential brand, according to a poll of branding professionals.

In the survey of almost 2,000 ad executives, brand managers and academics by online magazine Brandchannel, Apple ousted search engine Google from last year's top spot, but the surprise to many will be Al Jazeera's entry into the top five.

"With all the news from Iraq and Afghanistan and the 'war on terror', a lot of people are really tuned into the news, and the major news sources have a western bias," Brandchannel Editor Robin Rusch said.

"I think people are tuning in to Al Jazeera and looking at its Web site because it does offer another viewpoint. For the global community, it's one of the few points of access we have to news from the region with a different perspective."

The annual survey asks respondents to rate the impact of a particular brand on people's lives, and does not attempt to quantify its financial value.

Coca-Cola, the U.S. soft drinks behemoth that regularly tops polls of brand equity value, is nowhere to be found in this year's global or regional top five lists.

Rusch recognizes the professional nature of the magazine's sample can affect the results of the survey, but nonetheless the Al Jazeera brand now ranks in terms of impact alongside giants such as Nokia and Starbucks.

Apple, whose iPod has replaced Sony's Walkman as the personal media player to be seen with, topped both the global and North American rankings in the poll, displacing Google despite the splash caused by the search engine's $1.7 billion auction-style initial public offering last year.

Apple, which launched the iPod three years ago, has sold 10 million of them, but the fact that almost half of these were moved in the final quarter of 2004 suggests an avalanche in demand.

"Apple's just done an extraordinary job with innovation, technology and design. The iPod is what has put Apple in the lead this year," Rusch said.

"Sony has had less luck tying together its products as a lifestyle. From a branding perspective, they haven't caught up with Apple's design and ability to capture the imagination."

Swedish furniture chain Ikea, whose global network now extends to 35 countries, takes third place in the global ranking, while ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks just shades Al Jazeera in the brand-impact stakes.

Ikea's high ranking reflects its gradual global expansion -- people who have in the past only been able to read about the flat-pack furnisher can now experience the joy of cheap home-assembled wardrobes for themselves.

An interesting entry into the Asia-Pacific regional list is Australian guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, which comes in at number five. But Rusch said it could have a trying time this year as it scrambles to rewrite the Asian regional and country guides on which it built its reputation.