Apple reclaims top brand spot after iPhone 4S launch, Jobs' death

California company reaped $900M worth of free coverage from news media, social networks, Twitter

Apple reclaimed the top spot in a brand listing by collecting an estimated $900 million worth of traditional media, social media and Twitter coverage in the fourth quarter of 2011, a measurement company said today.

New York-based General Sentiment, which tracks the online coverage of 100 companies each quarter, said that Apple's return to the No. 1 spot was fueled by media reports and individuals' comments about the iPhone 4S and the death of former CEO Steve Jobs -- events that took place in the final three months of 2011.

Apple unseated Google as the brand that amassed the most coverage; Google had held the first position for the two quarters prior.

"Apple had the best numbers since the first quarter of 2011, when it released the iPad 2, Verizon began selling the iPhone and Jobs took a third leave of absence," said Greg Artzt, co-founder and chief strategy officer of General Sentiment.

Apple's $900 million worth of coverage was split almost evenly between news media, which accounted for $301 million, or 33% of the total; social media (34%) and Twitter (32%) sources.

Google's $772.3 million worth of coverage wasn't far behind, but it relied more on social media (45%) than either of the other two sources.

"Apple is almost always on center stage," said Artzt, "but it and Google have been trading places for some time."

While some coverage of Jobs' death was included in General Sentiment's totals -- essentially only if Apple was mentioned in the stories and comments -- if all the discussion about his passing, particularly the many accolades and condolences had been factored in, Apple would have garnered an even larger media value, said Artzt.

Two weeks after Jobs' Oct. 5, 2011, death, Apple said that it had received more than a million emails of customers' thoughts, memories and condolences. The company published a selection of those messages on a special tribute website it had created.

Artzt also cited the launch of the iPhone 4S for generating considerable noise about Apple last quarter.

Although pre-sale buzz about the iPhone 4S was largely negative -- some had expected more from Apple in the annual refresh of its smartphone -- sales have been extremely strong: Earlier this week Apple said it had sold a record 37 million iPhones, most of the new iPhone 4S, in the fourth quarter.

Microsoft placed third in the fourth-quarter ranking, with a total of $366.6 million in coverage. The majority of it (57%) came from social media.

While Microsoft placed third in all four quarters, its media coverage total has been steadily dropping all year, falling from a high of $690 million in the second quarter. Hewlett-Packard, the fourth firm in General Sentiment's recent ranking, has been gaining ground, said Artzt, and may pass the Redmond, Wash. developer this year.

Yahoo, Sony, Samsung, Disney, Intel and BlackBerry rounded out the top 10 list.

Technology companies continued to dominate the media coverage that General Sentiment tracks, but Artzt said there were signs that other firms were making up ground. Disney, for instance, placed eighth on the top 10 list.

"When we first started tracking this two years ago, we weren't surprised that technology companies were strong," said Artzt. "When you think about it, it makes sense ... the people who were on social media and twitter were the most tech savvy, and they liked to talk about the things they owned. But more companies are now more active in social media and Twitter than in the past. They're embracing social media, they're on Twitter and they're releasing mobile apps."

Artzt noted that Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee company, was No. 11 on General Sentiments' list for the fourth quarter of 2011, with 69% of its $117 million in coverage coming through Twitter.

Apple coverage chart
Apple's source of its $900 million in media coverage was almost evenly split between news media, social networks and Twitter. (Data: General Sentiments.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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