Annual rankings of businesses shows Google dropping out of top 10 amid anger over tax-saving measures
Starbucks, Amazon and Google are among the most damaged brands of 2012 after months countering accusations of tax avoidance, according to pollsters.
All three have failed to recover as the year draws to a close, with an unsuccessful attempt by Starbucks to stem the flow of damaging headlines by offering to pay £20m to the taxman.
The annual rankings of businesses with the biggest “buzz”, compiled by YouGov’s BrandIndex, showed Amazon lost the top spot it held in 2011 and Google dropped out of the top 10 altogether.
Pollsters questioned a different set of 2,000 people every day, asking whether they had heard anything positive or negative through advertising, the media or word of mouth about a whole host of brands, to calculate a daily score – based on the percentage balance of people reporting hearing good v bad news.
Topping the poll for 2012 was the BBC iPlayer with a score of 30, followed by John Lewis at 24.6 and Amazon in third with 24.1. However, the BrandIndex director Sarah Murphy said: “Amazon had a score of 32.1 last year, so a fall of eight points is a statistically significant drop for them. What we’d attribute that drop to would be the recent tax avoidance debate.”
She said despite Amazon and Google also being accused of using offshore tactics to cut their tax bill, initially only Starbucks had suffered from the revelation that it had paid just £8.6m in corporation tax in 14 years. “Google up until last week were not as badly impacted because it’s not something you overtly purchase, unlike Starbucks, but clearly they have suffered. Until now, Google have always been one of the strongest brands we track.”
Apple’s reputation also took a hit, with anger over its new mapping software, an underwhelming iPhone 5 launch and protracted legal battles with rival Samsung. It had been sixth in the 2011 list with a score of 24.6, but it fell to 15 points in 2012. However, its iPad did well individually, with a score of 20.2 thanks to the popular launch of the iPad mini.
Elsewhere, the BBC suffered from the Jimmy Savile scandal, although individual parts of the corporation maintained a strong score. Murphy said: “With all the dreadful things that have happened, the BBC brand is still very strong. While the BBC umbrella brand is definitely being hit and is at the lowest levels ever seen, there has been no knock-on effect for products like the iPlayer and its .co.uk website.”
The Olympics played a part in boosting the BBC’s ranking: a dip after the diamond jubilee coverage, which attracted almost 5,000 complaints, was followed by its highest ever ratings during the Games. London Underground also benefited from the Olympics, with its first ever positive score as it coped with extra passengers.
Some of the biggest risers were energy companies, including British Gas, up 8.1 points; Scottish Power, up 7.1 and EDF Energy, up 4.9. However, they had started at a low base in 2011 after increasing prices while raking in record profits.
BP also improved its score by 7.6 points but, again, this was due to the very low position it had occupied since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Among supermarkets, Tesco performed the worst, suffering from a run of bad news that began with its first profit warning for 20 years. In December it admitted defeat in the US and prepared to pull out of its Fresh & Easy venture.
Murphy said: “Tesco’s scores throughout the year have been negative, while its rivals have seen some positive buzz. Marks and Spencer also suffered, steadily declining throughout the year, which shows you don’t need a major event to see a fall.”
The retailer’s chief executive, Marc Bolland, was forced to admit to an own goal when the company didn’t buy enough stock of its most popular lines last winter, leading to a boardroom shakeup and the departure of the head of general merchandising, Kate Bostock.
Overall, M&S dropped 10 points and two places in the rankings to joint fourth with a buzz score of 21.4.
The top 10
1. BBC iPlayer
6. Apple iPad
2. John Lewis
4. Money Saving Expert
5. Marks & Spencer
10. Cathedral City