But what should be even more eye-opening to the companies rounding out the top 10 -- which include Johnson & Johnson and General Mills -- and the rest of the list is that Google's victory shows that a company that spends nothing on advertising can still be the most positively perceived by consumers.
|Source: Harris Interactive|
That's not to say big business in general came out well in the study: 71% of consumers said the reputation of corporate America is either "not good" or "terrible."
The Harris study, intended to measure the reputations of the most visible companies in the U.S., was conducted in two phases. The first involved phone and online interviews of more than 7,000 people to identify the 60 most visible companies. The second phase, conducted six months later, included 20,000 online interviews with U.S. consumers asking them to rate those companies' reputations on 20 attributes in six categories: emotional appeal, products and services, social responsibility, vision and leadership, workplace environment, and financial performance.
Google, which wasn't even on the list four years ago, came in first, with a score of 81.85. Rounding out the top five were Johnson & Johnson (81.28), Intel (80.38), General Mills (80.30) and Kraft Foods (80.29). Microsoft, which topped the list last year, fell to 10th, with a score of 78.80.
Another example of the benefits of positive perception and good media coverage was Berkshire Hathaway, which came in sixth. "It's an anomaly to the list because no one buys anything from them," Mr. Fronk said. "So you're seeing the effects of them being the safe financial port in the storm and [CEO Warren] Buffett's reputation play out through the company itself."
Several industries also took a beating in consumer perception. Positive perceptions of the airline industry fell five percentage points from the last survey, and insurance and financial services were down four percentage points. Technology ranked first in terms of an overall positive rating among consumers, followed by travel and tourism, retail, consumer products, telecom and -- perhaps surprisingly, given high gas prices -- automotive.
Marcos Frommer, manager-corporate affairs and communications at American Honda, which held the No. 9 spot in the 2007 study, up from 14 in 2006, said a company's reputation is now more closely tied to its success than ever before. "We know that consumer purchase decisions are influenced by it, and the younger generation is making employment decisions based on corporate reputation."
Detroit's Big Three
Toyota was No. 15 on the list, while Detroit's Big Three -- Chrysler (No. 51), GM (No. 52) and Ford (No. 54) -- limped toward the very bottom.
"The American car companies continue to suffer from a fundamental tenet of reputation: If you don't produce a good product, you won't get credit for any of the other things you are doing," Mr. Fronk said. "So their investments in social responsibility and campaigns they're doing in those areas become white noise."
HP made not only the biggest jump from 2006 to 2007 -- 21 spots, from No. 38 to No. 17 -- but also the biggest jump in the history of the study. Bank of America suffered the biggest year-over-year reputation-quotient rating decline, falling to No. 49 from No. 43 in 2006.