Five Favorite Brand Winners... and Losers in 2009

Top Five Brand Winners of 2009

1. Lady Gaga 

She may not be the best singer in the world, but she has built herself into a world-class brand by being an excellent marketer. She has discovered the demand of music consumers and delivered again and again over the past year and her profile has grown enormously.

2. Apple 

What can I say? This company and its head, Steve Jobs, embody everything right about marketing. They build products that everyone wants. They get the advertising right because they know their Target Market and respect it. They get the distribution right so that they can keep up with demand and adjust. They deserve their growth and should see more of it in 2010.

3.  Hollywood 

Despite the struggling economy, fierce competition from the Internet and video games, Hollywood has managed to put in one of its strongest years ever and with "Avatar" ushering in a new movie-going trend, the future looks bright. Hollywood is a brand that has re-invented itself from the start and met demand. It is a first-rate marketer and brand.

4. David Letterman 

Despite the kind of scandal that would have destroyed another brand, Letterman emerges from 2009 as strong as ever. He proved that his brand is one for the ages and while apologizing for his mistakes, didn’t make the mistake of forgetting who he was as a brand. He isn’t an icon of morality and his audience didn’t expect him to be so his apology reflected this. I admit I was initially wrong on this one and thought he’d be more damaged. Hats of to the king of late night television.

5.Sarah Palin 

Sarah Palin exits 2009 with a stronger brand than she entered the year with. Even though her book was a sales success, I believe it won’t help her brand very much. Nevertheless, she has shown that she is more than a fad, has cultivated readily identifiable brand traits and positions that are consistent and has loyal support among many voters. If 2010 sees her expanding beyond her base through sophisticated political commentary or a visiting professorship, her brand will grow.

Top Five Brand Losers in 2009

1. Citigroup

This was the biggest and most powerful bank in the world and now its stock is trading for under $4. What happened? The bank –like many others— forgot that it was in the service of preserving and growing capital. It forgot that its brand is a bank. A little more stodginess, conservatism and care for its customers’ savings and financial future is needed fast.

2. American Politics 

Both the Democrats and the Republicans are struggling. The Democrats are struggling because they are quickly becoming the brand that does not listen to the people. This will hurt them at the polls. The Republicans have not broken out as anything but rejectionist and the party of “no.” Until they become the party of “yes” and offer a different way forward for the country, they will remain in the wilderness.

3. Microsoft 

The software behemoth continues to forget the marketing concept and rely on a build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy that puts their product first and customer needs second. Until this turns around, they will continue to lose market share to others especially 2009’s brand winner Apple. The Bing search engine is a positive, but may be a case of a little to little and too late.

4. Newspapers 

It is sad to see traditions die, but when the market changes, the market changes and so must one’s marketing. Unfortunately, newspapers didn’t see the writing on the wall and now are facing an increasingly unworkable business model. Advertising has slumped, classifieds (the traditional backbone of the balance sheet) have migrated to the Web, and readership is dropping off. The papers that will survive will be those who meet demands on the local level and make themselves indispensable and the few majors who remain will be papers of record, continue to have a strong subscription base and manage to make the Web work for them.

5. The Nobel Prize 

The Nobel Prize did great brand damage to itself this year in awarding the prize to Barack Obama, a winner who admitted that he was chosen prematurely. The decision looked political and underscored the flawed process that chooses winners. It diminished the prize and will effect the perception of it for years to come.

Honorable Mention

Michael Jackson 

His death and the subsequent worldwide reaction reminded us that when a brand is built on a strong foundation, it can endure a lot of damage and still remain powerful. Jackson is the definition of brand equity.

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.

John Tantillo is branding editor for Fridge Magazine, the magazine for small business owners and entrepreneurs. He is the author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."