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Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Rank High on Brand Respect, but Delta Lags

When it comes to the best-known brands, two big cola sellers garner the most respect in the business world, while an airline and a cigarette maker fare the worst.

Those findings headline a new survey from CoreBrand, a firm that researches branding and its impact on businesses. By examining companies with which we're all familiar, and asking business people their opinions on how favorably they viewed the firms, CoreBrand created two lists, one identifying corporations that get the most respect and another for those earning the least.

Leading the way in terms of favorable views were drinks distributors PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO), who tied as the most-respected corporate brands. That is, they combined high recognition with very favorable views.

Most Respected Brands
Most Respected Brands

As for the well-known laggards, Delta Air Lines (DAL) was the bottom-dweller, followed in the next-to-last spot by Altria Group's (MO) Philip Morris, the owner of Marlboro cigarettes. Though widely understood businesses, they were seen in a much less favorable light.

Least Respected Brands
Least Respected Brands

Winners and losers

The survey was about corporate brands specifically, not individual products, and to be considered, a company had to be publicly traded for at least five years and tracked by CoreBrand for a minimum of five years. After determining the 100 brands with the highest familiarity, those with the top and bottom favorable ratings were named. The results tell the story from a business perspective, and weren't meant to capture consumer attitudes, says CoreBrand CEO James Gregory.

"Familiarity has been maintained at a very high level," Gregory says. "But there's been significant pressure on the favorability of these companies, and that's something that comes and goes."

With regard to PepsiCo, he said he was surprised at how well the company's perception has held up, "even when they've had a lot of folks questioning their strategy about building a product line of better-for-you type of foods and snacks. [In addition to sodas, PepsiCo also owns Frito-Lay, a $13 billion snack business.] The one huge advantage that the Coca-Cola Co. has over PepsiCo is the much higher familiarity — significantly higher."

How favorable a firm rated was derived from remarks on a company's reputation, how its management is perceived and its investment potential.

On the other end of the spectrum was Delta. Of all the companies CoreBrand follows, there are those that do have lower favorable scores, but what put Delta and the others on the least-respected list was the sizable gap between how well it's known and how it's perceived.

"You can't get much higher than the familiarity that they have, but those who know the company don't have very high favorability attributes associated with the company," Gregory says. While he sees signs of life at the air carrier, "there's no message coming across that is really taking hold."

Other notes from the survey:

  • Several of the less-respected companies are seeing their perceptions rise, an increase CoreBrand attributed to the firms having greater success with their branding plans. Generally speaking, the companies with lower scores are "making strong moves to change the sentiment toward their brands" and have seen a much smaller drop-off in favorable ratings than the top-rated firms.

  • As Gregory noted, the overall favorable ratings of even the most highly respected names are decreasing, which CoreBrand believes is tied to lingering worries about the health of the U.S. economy.

  • Among the most-respected brands, Harley-Davidson (HOG) "excels with a strong vision, impeccable consistency" and, for the most part, smart use of its brand on other products, CoreBrand said. Even so, it has seen its favorable score slip."We think this is due to economic pressure coupled with the position of the firm as an entertainment/lifestyle brand," CoreBrand said.

  • Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), another of the most-respected, is in just about everyone's home thanks to products such as Tylenol and Band-Aids. "However, J&J is in danger of losing its most-respected status. While their strong heritage has buoyed them through recalls and management issues, ultimately their favorability is reflecting the tough media coverage," the firm said.

  • The least-respected did have some surprises, namely Foot Locker. "We would have thought it a fairly favored brand," CoreBrand said.

  • Meanwhile, "little-to-no movement" on brand scores has occurred with low-rated Capital One (COF), Denny's (DENN) and JCPenney (JCP), despite the recent negative publicity surrounding the retailer. For three brands — Philip Morris, Rite Aid (RAD) and H&R Block (HRB) — respect continues to fall.