Examining the News

The most talked-about brands of 2017

Carlos Folgar and Wouter van Amstel

12.22.2017

How people think about a brand can largely be shaped by what is written about that company across mainstream news and blogs. We looked at coverage across tens of thousands of sources to discover which brands were written most. The list for sheer volume of coverage is not surprising - it’s many of the largest companies in the world. Many of them are in tech along with a few car companies and an entertainment behemoth. We also looked at companies that received a significant spike in coverage this year vs 2016.


There are three main factors that appeared to drive coverage for these brands:

  1. Product introductions and improvements.  Companies of this size are especially able to command attention for their new offerings.

  2. Scandals and controversies. Large companies also often have targets on their backs and gain plenty of coverage when things go wrong.

  3. Association with current events. Brands have been pulled into broader societal debates in the past but the trend was amplified this year. Some brands willingly engaged when they disagreed with policies being set in Washington while other brands got dragged into the discussion whether they wanted to or not. This looks to be a new normal at least while both a presidential administration and partisan voter base seem willing to push brands to take a side.


Below are both lists as well as the key events identified by Quid that drove the bulk of coverage of each brand.

TOP 10 BRANDS BY VOLUME

1. Facebook

2017 was a year in which the phrase “fake news” remained in the spotlight and Facebook was the company associated most often with the term. In the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election and the numerous terrorist attacks around the globe, the social media giant received criticism for hosting fake news and advertisements, as well as extremist content on its platform. We identified they were stuck with this issue right after the election. In the middle of the year, the company reached a new milestone of 2 billion monthly active users.


2. Alphabet

Alphabet started the year making headlines when hundreds of its employees walked out of their offices to rally in protest of President Trump’s immigration ban in January. In March, the company came under fire after major brands pulled ads from its services because they appeared alongside offensive content, such as YouTube videos promoting terrorism. In June they were fined $3.6 billion by the European Antitrust regulator for favoring its own Google Shopping service in its search results. In August, the company received heavy attention when an employee wrote an explosive public memo on diversity and days after was fired by the company.


3. Apple

Apple’s year was mainly about the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone and launch of the iPhone X. Earlier in the year, the company was caught off guard when WikiLeaks published a set of documents revealing how the CIA has been developing tools for hacking into Apple products, including MacBooks and early versions of the iPhone. Apple said that its preliminary assessment of the WikiLeaks documents show that the "alleged iPhone vulnerability affected iPhone 3G only and was fixed in 2009 when iPhone 3GS was released." and that the alleged Mac exploits were fixed in all Macs launched after 2013.


4. Amazon

Out of all the press covering Amazon’s vast empire, its Echo family of smart speakers powered by intelligent personal assistant Alexa received massive coverage for the firm. Over 2300 mainstream media articles mentioned Alexa. More recently, the tech giant made plenty of headlines after announcing its acquisition of natural and organic grocery chain Whole Foods.


5. Netflix

2017 was a year of maturity for the streaming media company. In May, the Cannes Film Festival banned streaming-only movies, a direct blow to Netflix. But throughout the year, Netflix showed its strength with heavy investment in original content and multiple star signings, and surpassing subscription expectations to nearly 110 million. In October the company made a big announcement that it will be increasing its prices, and in November they made headlines after cutting ties with Kevin Spacey and Danny Masterson, stars of their popular shows House of Cards and The Ranch, respectively, after they received accusations of sexual misconduct.


6. Microsoft

Throughout 2017, the Seattle-based software king received plenty of press tied to its launch of Xbox One X, and its Surface line of laptops and tablets. But much of the news was also about a few tussles with the government over the course of the year. Alongside other large technology companies, Microsoft publicly opposed President Trump’s immigration ban, even making headlines asking for an exception program. In April the company made headlines when a hacking group named Shadow Brokers published documents revealing Windows hacking tools belonging to the NSA. Microsoft promptly responded that they had already patched the flaws, but one month later news broke that many organizations still running on its older Windows XP operating system, which was not included in the security updates, received a cyber attack dubbed WannaCry. Lastly, the company had a dispute with the Justice Department over the privacy of emails stored on company servers overseas.


7. Samsung

The South Korea-based consumer electronics giant had a challenging year for PR dominated by two stories. First, the de-facto chief of the company Jay Y. Lee was charged and found guilty of paying bribes to gain government favors for the conglomerate, as well as embezzlement, hiding assets overseas, and perjury. Second, many stories around the globe reported cases of the popular Galaxy Note 7 smartphone bursting into flames due to battery and design flaws. The silver lining of the year for Samsung was obtaining record-high profits led by huge global sales of the Galaxy S8 smartphone.


8. Ford

The highest-selling automaker in America started the year off with two big stories in January: canceling plans to build a plant in Mexico and a lawsuit in South Africa for incidents where its Kuga line of SUVs burst into flames. During the remainder of 2017 they received heavy press for multiple high-profile business moves, including the decisions to invest in three plants in Michigan, cut over a thousand jobs in North America, import the popular Focus line of cars from China, and make significant investment in artificial intelligence and electric vehicles.


9. Walt Disney

The Walt Disney Co. closes out 2017 with one of the most talked-about acquisitions of the year -- that of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion in a deal that could reshape the media industry. In addition to 21st Century Fox's movie studio and regional sports networks, Disney is buying cable channels FX and National Geographic, as well as Fox's stakes in Hulu and European pay-TV provider Sky. Earlier in the year, Walt Disney received heavy coverage due its announcements of the Avatar theme park, a Star Wars-themed hotel, and damage received from Hurricane Irma.


10. Toyota

The Japanese automaker started off the year in headlines as yet another Trump Twitter target when at the time President-elect Trump threatened the company with import taxes for building cars in Mexico. Throughout the remainder of the year, Toyota’s biggest stories were planning a plant in the U.S. alongside Mazda, ending production in Australia, and revealing its Fine Comfort Ride concept car.

TOP 10 BRANDS BY GROWTH

We also identified the brands with the most growth in coverage, measured by percentage increase compared to 2016. Most of these brands gained stronger than usual coverage due to unfavorable events or high-profile scandals. Here are the Top 10, including their percentage growth:


1. Equifax (579%)

In September, the consumer credit reporting agency attracted the spotlight due to delayed reporting of major data breaches earlier in the year. Further criticism ensued when a help site set up by Equifax turned out to be a phishing website, and when a controversial sale of stock by executives was reported to have occurred days after Equifax discovered the breach but more than a month before the breach was made public.

The 2017 timeline of mainstream media news articles with "Equifax" in the headline shows an extreme jump in press coverage caused by their data breach.

2. Weinstein Co. (356%)

A lead storyline from 2017 has been that of numerous public reports of sexual harassment and abuse across industries and in politics. Allegations of sexual abuse by Hollywood producer and Weinstein Co. founder Harvey Weinstein first surfaced on October 5th. Subsequently, he got fired from his own company and the New York Attorney General launched a probe into the company. This incident caused a massive chain reaction; by the end of November, over 100 high-powered men had been publicly accused.


3. Eskom (180%)

The South African electricity public utility company made headlines in 2017 for its debt and a corruption scandal where executives, the Gupta family, Gupta family-owned consulting firm Trillian, and global consultancy firm McKinsey had made illegal contracts and fees worth billions of South African Rands. In September, Minister for Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown, instructed Eskom to take legal action against all the firms and individuals involved, including their executives.


4. Qatar Airways (147%)

Early on in the year Qatar Airways made waves throughout the year.  They received attention for announcing plans to start an airline in India, offering loaner laptops in wake of the U.S. laptop ban, having its operating license revoked by Saudi Arabia due to Qatar’s diplomatic crisis with its Gulf neighbors, and announcing its intention to acquire a 10% in American Airlines in June but canceling their bid just two months later. They also launched the world’s longest flight from Doha to Auckland, began plans to start an airline in India, and unveiled its swanky new QSuite business class offering.


5. Sears (97%)

The American chain of department stores received almost double the press coverage as the prior year as they try to stave off the death of their business. In January the company announced the sale of its popular Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker. In March, a plunging stock price led to immense coverage speculating the demise of the company. In July, Sears received heavy attention when it announced to sell merchandise on Amazon. Earlier in the year, they gained headlines for dropping Ivanka Trump merchandise.


6. Nvidia (93%)

Unlike most of the brands on the list that received heavier press coverage due to controversy, the chipmaker Nvidia increased its press coverage in 2017 based almost entirely on positive news. Its successful GeForce line of graphics cards and Shield TV media player made headlines throughout the year. Major consumer product launches implementing their chips such as Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Surface line provided Nvidia with praise. And the recent move to use their graphics chips for deep learning processing has paid off as this year the press was enthralled by its high-profile partnerships with the likes of Audi, Toyota, Volvo, Bosch, and Baidu for AI-powered autonomous vehicles and cloud computing.


7. OPPO (77%)

The Chinese consumer electronics maker had a big year in 2017. It started in January by winning prestigious awards at CES as a top smartphone brand. In followed up in February launching its highly-revered 5x dual camera zoom for smartphones. In March, OPPO attracted heavy attention in India for controversy and pride; first, a Chinese executive in its Noida plant tore the Indian flag leading to immediate firing from the company, and then on a lighter note, in the same month OPPO was appointed as new sponsor of the Indian national cricket team. Throughout the year its F3 and F5 phone launches gained praise and became the world’s best-selling line of Android smartphones due to massive success in China and South Asia.


8. Nordstrom (29%)

The American chain of luxury department stores had three stories attracting heavy press in 2017. First, in April it received plenty of criticism for selling a pair of mud-stained jeans for $450+. Then in June the founding family announced its intent to take the company private, but later in October they announced the sale had hit a snag. But it was earlier in the year that its press coverage skyrocketed. Shortly after President Trump was inaugurated, Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line and subsequently received controversial commentary from Trump via Twitter.


9. United Airlines (17%)

The U.S. airline had a PR nightmare in 2017. The fiasco occurred in February when a passenger was forced out of his seat and dragged off the plane. Videos of the incident went viral and the story was all everyone was talking about. The company and CEO received criticism following the incident after they continued to blame the passenger in public statements.


10. Ryanair (8%)

The Irish low-cost airline had a bombshell attracting press coverage in September when it announced that it would be cancelling between 40 and 50 flights per day. Flights were cancelled with very little notice, sometimes only hours before departure. The company had previously been through hardships with pilot unions, leading to pilots planning a strike in December; in order to avoid Christmas holiday strikes, the airline announced it recognized unions.

To see deeper analysis around this list or a look at the brand of your choice, get in touch at hi@quid.com.

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