NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- One thing this recession hasn't knocked out is the power of brands.
Despite the pounding global business is taking, the $2 trillion value of the top 100 brands has held steady, according to Millward Brown's annual BrandZ report. "Consumers are blaming companies and leaders for the current troubles, not the brands," said Joanna Seddon, exec VP at Millward Brown, the WPP-owned research company. "Brands are emotional bonds created with consumers, and overall, brands have sustained value."
All told, the value of the top 100 brands, which ranges from the ubiquitous search engine at the top to Lowes at the bottom, was about $2 trillion and didn't suffer the decline one might expect in a recessionary environment.
There was, however, more volatility in the top 100 this year than in the past, with 15 brands dropping out. They were mostly car brands, such as Chevrolet, Ford and Volkswagen, and financial ones such as AXA, AIG and, of course, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia. They were replaced by brands such as Nintendo and Pampers.
Pampers gets serious
Pampers made its debut as the 31st-most-powerful brand by taking up a higher-minded positioning with its consumers. Once merely associated with stopping leaks, it's evolved into a brand that helps mothers. Nintendo, which came in at 32, has been associated with taking video games from teenage boys' bedrooms and making them a living-room fixture that can be enjoyed by a broader segment of consumers.
Brand value was determined by a set of calculations that includes a distillation of the earnings represented by that bond with consumers, as opposed to those created by price or other functional considerations.
One important trend this year is that both luxury brands and value brands performed well. The top 15 as ranked by brand contribution is a mix of luxury products, thanks in part to successes in Asia, and relatively inexpensive consumer goods. The list is topped by Moet, Porsche and Hennessy, but that upmarket trio gives way to Douwe Egberts, Tide, Gillette, Wrigley, Pampers and Skol.
But the squeeze was put on the brands that don't fall into either category, Ms. Seddon said, including mass-luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren, whose value plunged 20%, or Starbucks, whose storefront brand lost 43% of its value. (Its supermarket brand grew 2%, however.)
The categories that suffered most were insurance companies and automakers -- all brands in each category declined. The financial-institution category avoided that fate thanks to a few success stories, including China Merchant Bank, the top riser in this year's study. Bank of America and Citi dropped from the top of the financial list, now dominated by banks that are either headquartered in or have strong presences in emerging markets.
In the soft-drink category, Coke dominated Pepsi. Coke's brand value grew 16%, while Diet Coke grew 12%. Meanwhile, both Pepsi and Diet Pepsi declined in value. The beer category was dominated by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Bud Light was the largest brand, followed by Budweiser, and Stella Artois came in fourth behind Heineken. Miller Lite came in seventh, growing only 2% compared with double-digit growth for the A-B InBev brands.