Reporting from Washington — Toyota Motor Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. were among the biggest gainers in brand image last year after a rough 2010 that saw each of them enmeshed in controversy, according to rankings by online market research firm, YouGov.
Toyota's image had been pummeled in 2010 from more than 13 million product recalls in the U.S. related to sudden acceleration, said YouGov, a British firm that tracks brand perception daily. A Los Angeles Times series helped draw attention to Toyota's problems, which led to congressional hearings.
The car manufacturer's rating on YouGov's BrandIndex Buzz list saw the biggest year-over-year improvement of any U.S. company or product measured in 2011. However, Toyota has yet to regain its former position as leader of auto companies on the list.
BP had the best image of any oil or gas company before 2010, but its Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that year hit the company hard. BP's score began recovering in July 2010 and continued to improve through 2011, making the company third on YouGov's most-improved list.
Goldman Sachs, whose brand image dropped during the financial crisis in 2008, took another hit in 2010 after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil fraud suit against the Wall Street investment bank. The firm agreed to pay $550 million to settle the case later in 2010, and Goldman's brand image had the fifth-best improvement in 2011, YouGov said.
Two Apple Inc. products were in the top five for image improvement — not because they had a poor image in 2010, but because their already good images got better.
The iPhone — boosted by the release last year of the 4S version and the public attention to the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs — had the second-biggest Buzz score increase, YouGov said. The iPad came in at No. 4.
Among the other top improvers was NBCUniversal at No. 9. The company's image had suffered after Comcast Corp. struck a deal to acquire it.
In YouGov's list of the top Buzz ratings for 2011, Subway took the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row. Rounding out the top five were Amazon.com, the History Channel, Google and Cheerios.