Brand addiction is a subject that can generate tons of debate, because brand loyalty is personal and your list can reflect your preferences and be influenced by where you live. This makes the level of addiction highly subjective and difficult to measure. With those qualifiers in mind, here are four brands that have crossed the threshold into iconic brand-land. Let the debate begin. (For more, read The Power Of Branding.)
By almost any measure, this carbonated beverage is king of the hill of brand loyalty. What separates Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) from most other companies is that it has proven its durability through the passage of time. It was 125 years ago, when pharmacist John Pemberton mixed his syrup with carbonated water at Jacob's pharmacy in Atlanta, Ga. That original concoction sold for a nickel a glass, and sales averaged nine per day for the first year.
The company now sells over 500 brands in more than 200 countries, making it the first truly global brand. It's now the most recognized trademark in the world and the flagship product is still based off the same carbonated drink created in Atlanta, Ga. While the company did experiment in 1985 with a formulation known as "New Coke," it turned out to be a marketing disaster. Within a few months, company management reversed course and reintroduced "Classic Coke," made from the original secret formula. They've never looked back.
Daily sales volume now numbers 1.7 billion, and the brand has evolved into a generic name, used around the world. When many people order a cola drink, they simply ask for Coke, whether it's available or not. Coke is a cultural phenomenon that has spawned hit songs and a treasure trove of old signs, coolers and other marketing items hunted by avid collectors.
The reach of Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) may now surpass even that of Coke, but who knows what this company will look like in over a hundred years. In the meantime, Google has become synonymous with internet search engines, gobbling up 65.6% of the U.S. search market, based on comScore rankings for Oct. 2011. It's clearly the gorilla in the room, leaving second-place Yahoo far behind at 15.2%.
During the month, Google accounted for 11.9 billion of the roughly 18 billion searches that were conducted. Again, it crushed the competition, with Yahoo and Bing logging 2.7 billion searches each.
When the first plain paper photocopier was introduced by Xerox in 1959, the xerographic process invented by Chester Carlson became the standard of a dynamic new industry. "Xerox" became a verb, even if you were making a copy with another company's machine. Google now finds itself in the same position, as "Google it" has become the go-to method for searching the internet. Xerox lost its luster, so it remains to be seen how long Google can maintain its current dominance. (For more on Google's dominance, check out Competitive Advantage Counts.)
It's hard to imagine a world without Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, Tinker Bell, Bambi, Winnie the Pooh and hundreds of other memorable characters. What started as a small cartoon studio in the 1920s, has grown into a sprawling entertainment and merchandising empire that circles the globe. Disney (NYSE:DIS) now has a giant presence in film making, television, hotel resorts, vacation clubs and cruise ships. Besides its two major theme parks in California and Florida, it has opened parks in Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong.
Disney is a classic American brand, recognized and admired almost everywhere on the planet. The vision of founder Walt Disney permeates the company and everything it produces. No child will ever forget their first visit to Disneyland or Disney World; mere mention of the name will bring a smile to the face of a child touched by a Disney experience. With annual revenues of $40 billion and net income of almost $5 billion, no other company in this industry even comes close.
It's not an overstatement to say that owners of Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) products are passionate and can be borderline obsessive. Many of them won't even consider buying an electronic device that doesn't have the famous bitten apple logo, and they don't seem to mind that Apple products usually cost more than the competition. This is just the way Steve Jobs wanted it, and it's no accident. Subscribing to the "less is more" theory of product marketing, he created and designed products that people wanted, before they knew they needed them. His products defined the consumer, not the other way around.
All you have to do is review the statistics to see how powerful this brand is. In the company's last quarter, according to the Guardian, Apple sold 17.1 million iPhones, 11.1 million iPads and 4.9 million Macintosh computers. That was the best quarter ever for the venerable Mac. The new iPhone 4S sold more than 4 million units during the first weekend on the market, the most ever for any phone. Those are impressive statistics, for a company that was given up for dead just 15 years ago, and ample proof that design purity and magic can work wonders in the marketplace.
The Bottom Line
There are many other companies that could easily make this list. Coffee drinkers love their Starbucks (Nasdaq:SBUX), a company that started a coffeehouse revolution and made the beverage a branded fashion statement. The Nike (NYSE:NKE) swoosh seems to appear on sportswear everywhere, and you don't need to see the name of the company to know who made it. Then there are the Bimmer (or Beemer) devotees, who wouldn't own another car under any circumstances. Why should they settle for anything less than the performance and aggressive styling of the "ultimate driving machine?"
Addictive brands are more than just wildly popular; they turn industries and traditions on their heads. They innovate and reinvent the wheel. They don't react to cultural shifts; they cause them. Among their competitors, they stand out in a crowd and make us gasp at their creative spirit. Anyone care for a grande, extra-hot, triple nonfat, decaf, two-pump vanilla, no-foam latte, with cinnamon and chocolate sprinkles in a double cup? (For other brands see Well-Established Brands Worth Billions.)