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In a world dominated by global megabrands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's, U.S. consumers have pledged their deepest loyalty to a marketer of baby food.

Gerber edged out Nike as the brand with the highest consumer loyalty rating in the U.S., according to an ambitious new worldwide study commissioned by WPP Group.

Conducted by Millward Brown International, WPP's London-based market research unit, the study assigned "bonding scores" based on the percentage of targeted consumers who have formed a rational and emotional bond with the brand. Gerber topped the list at 56%, with Nike close behind at 53%. Rounding out the top five were Kodak (44%), Tylenol (42%) and AT&T (41%).

70,000 CONSUMERS, 3,500 BRANDS

The $6 million "Brandz" study surveyed 70,000 consumers in seven world markets-the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Brazil, China and Japan-and covered 3,500 corporate and product brands.

"There is no other tool that not only can measure the strength of the brand . . . but can predict what will happen to market share and volume and, more importantly, profitability," said Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group.

The profit prediction comes via a "brand voltage" score that forecasts future performance; WPP would not reveal those findings. "Brandz" data will be available to clients of all WPP units, including O&M and J. Walter Thompson Co.

Curiously, all-American icon Coca-Cola ranked higher outside the U.S. than it did in its home country. While Coca-Cola didn't make the top 10 U.S. brands list, it ranked eighth in the U.K. It was second in France, bested only by France Telecom. Similarly, McDonald's came in second in the U.K., but ninth in the U.S.


Local brands scored big in overseas markets. British Telecom was the top U.K. brand, while retailer Marks & Spencer and the British Broadcasting Corp. also were top in that market. Lufthansa was the top brand in Germany, while local airline Varig was No. 1 in Brazil.

The WPP study identified eight brand types as a way to segment the groups by characteristics and strategic outlook. The types included "Olympic brands," such as Coca-Cola, whose ubiquity creates a bond with consumers; "fading stars," such as Reebok, which have widespread presence but have lost their edge; and "cult brands," such as Guinness and Clinique, which are not as well known but command loyalty from consumers familiar with them.


The study also identified "little tigers," obscure brands that have done a good job building bonds with consumers. These include Lucent, Starbucks, New Balance, Fila, Singapore Airlines and Ikea. Those brands have the potential to become Olympic brands if they can become more mainstream without alienating their core consumer base, according to the study.

Mr. Sorrell said the study's results can be used by marketers to analyze consumer loyalty and predict changes in market share and the effects of marketing efforts in different markets. The study will be expanded in the future to add more countries and brands.

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