BIGGEST BRANDS: The top ten global brands come under the spotlight - PRWeek takes a closer look at the top ten global brands that have stood out this year and the part PR has played in their success

1. COCA-COLA

The most powerful and valuable brand on the planet, the Coca-Cola phenomenon is built on the remarkably simple proposition of a global distribution machine, backed by persuasive local marketing.

Realising that what seems like a good idea at HQ in the US may not translate so well across Africa, Australasia, South America or Europe, in the past year, chief executive Doug Daft's strategy to 'think local' has taken the brand that wants to 'refresh the world', to new heights.

For example, Coke's current UK TV ad push is recognisably British, featuring an ice-cream van and a 'mower man', who drives off to the beach with his Coca-Cola and girlfriend, to the sounds of Fatboy Slim.

In addition, having been beleaguered by bottler complaints and roughed-up by European regulators since 1998, the appointment of Clyde Tuggle as V-P and director of worldwide PA and comms in 2001, has seen the brand boost its relationship management act and improve its dealings with the press.

However, Coke has also held its brand position steady through extensions. In May, it looked to emulate the success of PepsiCo's Code Red beverage in the US, by launching its own spin-off, Vanilla Coke. Likewise this summer, the UK was introduced to Diet Coke with Lemon, via a major ad and promotions strategy.

Global sponsorships, in the shape of a $160m multi-year deal to be sole the marketing partner of Warner Brothers' recent Harry Potter film and this summer's official backing of the FIFA World Cup 2002, ensures that Coke maintains its superbrand status.

In addition, the brand has gone some way to demonstrate that its promise of greater transparency is not an idle one. Last month, Coca-Cola was among the first US corporations to announce that it had decided to place a value on the stock options that it gives to its executives and to show that value in its accounts.

2. MICROSOFT

It is a tribute to the strength of the Microsoft brand, that despite the global tech slump, the world's leading software provider has lost only two per cent off its brand valuation and retained its number two slot.

Critics point out that this is largely because of the brand's dominant position in the market, which over the past three years has had the competition authorities crawling all over its back. In December 2001, the company reached a settlement with the US Government, but its anti-trust troubles still rumble on in Europe.

However, Microsoft remains a global giant, generating revenue of more than $28bn in the fiscal year ending June 30 2002 and supporting a portfolio ofmore than 250 products and services, with subsidiaries in 74 countries.

The brand is also a marketing marvel, achieving sales of one million units in four days for the launch of its Windows 95.

Industry analysts are concerned that Microsoft's quest to conquer cable TV has stalled, with its set-top-box software failing to make significant in-roads into the European pay-TV market. Also, despite the relative success of X-box, the latest upgrade Windows XP, has struggled to hit targets.

However, Microsoft is looking to reposition its brand away from its image as a greedy corporate megalith, to embrace softer values. 'Our communications used to be all about product shots and individual features but, even as recently as the launch of Windows XP, we've been talking about addressing customer needs and empowering people to realise their potential,' says Microsoft brand comms group manager Charles Eales.

This vision comes from the very top. In June, CEO Steve Ballmer told 50,000 employees in an internal memo that its mission was not just about great technology: 'It's also about who we are as a company and as individuals, how we manage our business internally, and how we think about and work with partners and customers.'

3. IBM

As the world's largest information tech company, IBM must be quietly satisfied with how it has weathered its sector's recent storms. Albeit that Interbrand indicates a drop in brand value by three per cent on 2001, to $51,188m, but compared to the performance of brands such as Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq, Big Blue is laughing.

Much of this stability, comes from the IBM business mix, which former CEO Lou Gerstner spent nine years reinvigorating, before handing over to deputy Sam Palmisano in March.

Sensing that corporate clients were drowning in a sea of unconnected software applications, systems and suppliers, Gerstner repositioned IBM as a one-stop shop, introducing a new service-based culture into an essentially piece-meal, product-driven business.

In 2001, this renaissance saw IBM services revenue - across networking, e-business hosting, wireless, application management, security, privacy and finance - surpass its hardware revenue for the first time, generating around $35bn.

This customer focus is also reflected in IBM's marketing, which positions it as a problem-solver for business, with its most recent ad campaign highlighting how 'cool' ideas, translated into 'cool' technology, save 'cool' money.

In 2001, the tech giant consolidated its outsourced comms, scaling down its roster of 50 agencies to just three, to manage its $40m global PR operations. Last August, product work went to Text 100; fledgling US firm Magnet Communications won the tech innovation and reputation management brief and customer contact was awarded to the IBM-exclusive Omnicom network One Blue, headed by Ketchum partner Rob Flaherty.

At the same time, IBM remodelled its in-house PR operation, creating three boards, each made up of senior comms executives, to collaborate with each other and agency representatives. A fourth internal corporate comms board was also established to handle IC, finances and public policy.

4. GE

Established 124 years ago, General Electric is the diversified conglomerate that sells and services everything from jet engines and power turbines, to plastics, TV programmes, medical imaging equipment and finance.

Last September, GE's illustrious CEO Jack Welch stepped down to be replaced by Jeff Immelt, since when the company has had a tough time. With GE's stock already falling, the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center cost GE two employees' lives and a reported $400m in insurance losses.

In addition, there has been disquiet about the behemoth's disclosure practices, which in March caused GE stock to tumble by six per cent.

More recently, there have been rumours that there may be problems ahead for GE's power systems division, its biggest industrial unit and a star earner since the late 1990s, which is expecting a downturn in demand for its electricity-producing gas turbines.

However, following its failed takeover bid for Honeywell - the $43bn deal was blocked by the European Commission last year - GE has established a regional head office in Brussels and undertaken its first-ever corporate image campaign in Europe.

In April, GE hired M&C Saatchi to convince opinion-formers of its European credentials through TV and newspaper ads. And in May, the group, which employs 70,000 staff in Europe, handed Weber Shandwick its pan-European corporate PR business. GE Europe media and public affairs manager Louise Binns says: 'This is the first time we have had GE Europe as a separate company with its own CEO, and the appointment of WS is in support of that change and our growth plans.'

Further regional PR re-organisation may be ahead, with the recent announcement that GE is splitting its financial services arm into four operating units, as part of an effort to make the business easier to understand for investors.

5. INTEL

With an 11 per cent slide in brand value, it is clear that Intel is feeling the brunt of the tech slump. As global sales of PCs have slowed down, the world's pre-eminent microchip supplier has had to slash the price of its Pentium 4 chips in a bid to stimulate demand.

Over recent years, Intel has recognised the danger of only making chips for PCs and has branched out into other areas of technology and communications such as networking equipment, handheld devices and mobile phones.

However, the fact that the world's largest manufacturer of microprocessors is a household name is no mean feat in itself. Chosen by IBM in 1981 to power the first-ever PC, 12 years later, Intel introduced its first Pentium processor. The company began driving brand recognition in the early 1990s and, by 1995, the slogan 'Intel Inside' ensured that 94 per cent of European PC buyers knew what was driving most of the planet's PCs.

By the end of 2000, when Intel launched its latest upgrade, the Pentium 4, marketing efforts were still focused on the product. But of late, Intel's marketing strategy has shifted back to embrace its corporate identity.

A major new 'yes' ad campaign is in the works, the consumer version of which is set to kick off in the autumn and in PR terms the company is also looking to tell its own story.

'Increasingly in PR, we've started talking about research and development, our manufacturing process and our management structure,' says Arnold Vlas, EMEA director of PR and industry analyst relations.

This has included inviting the media to its half-yearly Intel Developers Forum and its various laboratories to meet its technicians. 'As we take a very decentralised approach compared to firms like IBM, that means we can invite journalists to meet our wireless comms engineers in Stockholm, for example, and say we are not just a US firm but also a local firm,' says Vlas.

By continuing to push its own brand, while running co-operative marketing programmes with manufacturers licensed to use its products, Intel's brand looks secure.

6. NOKIA

As the mobile-phone market switches from one that adds new subscribers to one that sells existing subscribers new, snazzier models, brand loyalty is a hot potato for the mobile communications specialists.

But, despite the telecoms sector's recent woes, Nokia seems better positioned to respond than most. The market leader since 1998, Nokia currently controls 37 per cent of the world's mobile-phone market.

Despite revising its industry-wide sales forecast for the year in April, by some 40 million handsets, down from an original estimate of 440 million, Nokia has big hopes for its products with the advent of third-generation (3G) technology, later this year.

As yet, consumer interest in 3G is flagging, but Nokia UK head of corporate comms (UK and Ireland) Mark Squires says: 'It reminds me of the switch from analogue to digital phones. Then people couldn't see any reason for upgrading their phones. They don't know that they will want to upgrade to 3G yet, but they will when the services come.'

In the past, Nokia has sought to communicate its brand values through an imaginative use of marketing, including product placement in films - think The Matrix and Minority Report - plus, its sponsorship of events such as London Fashion Week. This is set to continue with its new 3G devices later this year, when consumer enthusiasm is likely to be driven by word-of-mouth and peer promotion.

However, while Nokia certainly has the edge in terms of style, technology and design, according to Squires, the strength of the brand is its clarity of vision. 'We look for customer satisfaction, doing a lot of market research with test groups in different ethnic markets and we show respect and listen to the people who buy our products,' he says.

The big question is whether Nokia can push phones in less developed markets such as Russia, China and India, where fewer people can afford them, and persuade the rest of us that there's more to mobile devices than just voice and text messaging.

7. DISNEY

With a fall in brand value of ten per cent to $29,246m, even Mickey Mouse is not immune to the effects of global economic downturn and the aftermath of 11 September.

'US consumers have been less willing to fly to Disney's theme parks, which has made a big dent in performance' says Interbrand global managing director of brand valuation Jan Lindemann.

The entertainment group has also stumbled in the film arena. 'Monsters Inc was reasonably successful, but it made nothing like the impact of the Lion King,' he adds.

Another worry is Winnie the Pooh, who along with Mickey Mouse is one of the entertainment group's most lucrative characters. In May, Walt Disney admitted that it may be forced to pay 'several hundred million dollars' over a legal spat with the Slesinger family, which bought the rights to Pooh from author AA Milne in 1961.

But, the worst drag on Disney's performance has been its ABC network in the US, where a dearth of popular evening programmes has caused ratings to fall and ad revenue to plunge.

In the UK, Disney has been under attack from Dr Rowan Williams, the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

But Disney has defended its position on large scale toy and fast-food tie-ins saying that it aims to achieve 'community, decency and optimism' in everything it does.

The brand has extended its presence in Asia. Following a highly successful Tokyo Disneyland launch, and a second project on the drawing board in Hong Kong, there are rumours of a third theme park in Shanghai.

It has also consolidated its comms, handing over the company's entire PR operation to former ABC publicist Zenia Mucha in May. With a remit to promote a more unified corporate message, she says: 'I want to provide each unit with what they need to not only tell their part of the story, but the story of the company as a whole.'

8. McDONALD'S

Enjoying the dual status of both American icon and symbol of US-led globalisation, at the end of July, McDonald's reported its first quarterly earnings increase for seven quarters.

Of further comfort to chairman and chief executive Jack Greenberg, is the fact that sales in Europe increased by seven per cent, indicating that fears about BSE may finally be on the wane.

Much of McDonald's success in conquering foreign markets is its franchising policy, whereby more than 70 per cent of its restaurants are owned and run by local operators.

During the past year, however, the chain has slowed the expansion of its 30,000-strong restaurant chain and invested in new products, improved customer service and cleanliness, with innovations including a New Tastes Menu, featuring a chicken flatbread sandwich.

Renowned among both youngsters and parents for its tie-ins with Disney, the past year has also seen the brand embrace a number of new child-friendly heroes.

In February, characters from Disney's Monsters Inc animation were emblazoned across its Happy Meals and last December, to the horror of French nationalists, the fast-food chain bought the rights to use Asterix the Gaul in its ads in France.

This summer, McDonald's invested heavily in supporting its $31m official sponsorship of the football World Cup, and last month, the burger giant signalled its move into the music business, with a record £4m deal to sponsor the next series of ITV1's Popstars.

In April, in a bid to silence its critics and anti-capitalist campaigners, McDonald's published its first worldwide social responsibility report addressing 'legitimate questions' about globalisation, nutrition and the environment.

But the fast food chain has yet to deal with the weighty issue of the seven Americans who are suing McDonald's and three of its rivals, for serving meals they allegedly know cause obesity and disease.

9. MARLBORO

At first glance, it seems incredible that a tobacco brand has scored a top ten position in Interbrand's ranking.

Operating in the most censured industry on the planet, Marlboro and its parent company Philip Morris, not only face fierce opposition from anti-tobacco forces, but a weight of compensation claims from smokers and ex-smokers around the world.

But, with a brand value of more than $24,000m - a ten per cent increase from 2001 - the brand that in the 1920s told women it was 'Mild as May', secures the number nine slot.

Impressive, considering that Phillip Morris is currently liable for half of the staggering $254bn (over 25 years) that the industry is paying out to the US states that sued Big Tobacco in the late 1990s.

But, the fact that cigarettes are addictive and smokers resolutely brand-loyal, means that Marlboro has a well-established customer base moving forward. Indeed, while the UK is not one of Marlboro's key markets, the brand has stayed ahead of the competition in places such as the US by grabbing market share.

Less comfortable for the anti-smoking lobby, however, is Marlboro's success in eastern Europe and the developing world. 'It's doing particularly well in areas such as Russia and China, and just think of the potential revenues there,' says Interbrand global MD of brand valuation Jan Lindemann.

With its distinctive red and white flip-top packaging and ongoing sponsorship of sports such as Formula 1, Marlboro remains an evocative brand and a US icon.

From 'Marlboro Man' in 1955 to Michael Schumacher in 2002, Marlboro has consistently injected its brand with images of lean, relaxed, independent heroes that youngsters find hard to resist.

And while, in the past year, Philip Morris has moved its global PR operation from New York to Lausanne, Switzerland, it seems that its most famous tobacco brand will continue to welcome smokers to that most recent of revived advertising utopias, 'Marlboro Country'.

10. MERCEDES

Smart, luxurious and quietly confident, Mercedes is more than a brand, it's a statement. The German car marque has recently been all over the press, for its innovative cinema and TV ads.

Turning product placement on its head, at the beginning of July, Mercedes-Benz trailed a fictitious movie called Lucky Star, featuring Hollywood actor Benicio del Toro driving the new Mercedes top-of-the-line SL roadster.

And just to make sure consumers were not too sucked in by this subtle approach, the car maker hired Freud Communications to support the ad campaign with a PR push.

Although the car-maker has lost three per cent off its brand valuation on last year, the SL - with a price tag starting at around $100,000 - is a timely reminder that Mercedes is a very desirable brand.

Recently, the car marque has been trying to tread the delicate line of maintaining the aspirational attributes of its brand, while flogging a lot of its A, C and E-Class models to the mass market. Mercedes' previous ad campaign 'For whoever you are', focused on its breadth of range, featuring Groove Armada's track If Everybody Looked The Same and showing people driving around different UK locations in a variety of Mercedes models.

Interbrand's valuation suggests the car-maker did not escape completely unscathed from the initially unfavourable launch of its A-Class, when its hatchback reportedly rolled over in tests.

Likewise, Mercedes is currently trailing in some of the trade media's quality ratings.

But the revived super luxury Mayback marque was well received at this year's Geneva motor show, while Mercedes' tie-in with Men in Black II, in which Agents Kay and Jay drive a space version of its E-Class, is serving the brand positioning well.

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