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Apple cracks top 20 global brands in survey

A new study shows that Apple significantly improved the value of its name brand in the last year, catapulting the brand to No. 20, ahead of companies like American Express, Pepsi and Nike.

The 2009 "Best Global Brands" study from BusinessWeek and Interbrand ranked the top 100 companies for the year. Apple's 2009 brand value was estimated at $15.4 billion, a 12 percent improvement over 2008 when the company took in spot No. 24. Apple's value has risen while other companies have struggled in the face of a global recession.

"The recession won’t take a bite out of this Apple," the study said. "Declining Mac sales and fears for the company’s future without brand visionary Steve Jobs, were outweighed by record high iPod sales, doubling sales for the iPod Touch, and all-time high market share for Mac OS software. Price might be a barrier for cost-conscious consumers, but Apple responded quickly with high margin, low-priced products like the US $99 iPhone and a new, voice-activated iPod Shuffle. The Apple brand is the most supported within its industry, and among the most iconic of relatively young brands in the world."

Like Apple, most of the top global brands are based in the U.S. Coca-Cola took top honors with a $68.7 billion value, followed by IBM ($60.2 billion), Microsoft ($56.6 billion), GE ($47.7 billion) and Finland-based Nokia ($34.8 billion). The Windows software maker dropped 4 percent from last year, but retained its No. 3 position. Coca-Cola has been the No. 1 brand for nine straight years.

Other noteworthy technology companies on the list include Google (7), Intel (9), Hewlett-Packard (11), Cisco (14), Samsung (19), Oracle (24), Sony (29), Canon (33), Dell (35) and Amazon (43).

The top gainers on the list were Google, Amazon and Zara. Falling the most was UBS, from 41 to 72. Banks and auto brands fared the worst, as Merrill Lynch and AIG both fell off the top 100 list.

"The recession has presented brand stewards with the most severe test of their careers," the study said. "Companies have had to adjust rapidly as consumers reexamine their purchases and rethink brand loyalties. Marketing executives are balancing the temptation to chase short-term gains with discounts and promotions against the risk of cheapening their brands over the long haul. Meanwhile, most have considerably smaller budgets with which to reach their customers."

Apple's branding often ranks high in similar surveys. Earlier this month, a report said that the Cupertino, Calif., company is the most admired in all of Asia.