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Brand Finance US 500 2021 - Apple Reclaims Position as World’s Most Valuable Brand while US Airlines lose US$12 bn in Brand Value

26 January 2021
This article is more than 3 years old.
  • Five years since it last held top spot, Apple is named world’s most valuable brand in Brand Finance US 500 2021 ranking and Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking, brand value US$263.4 billion
  • As new technologies drive brand value across industries, Tesla leaves traditional automakers behind with fastest brand value growth in ranking, up 158%
  • AMD is fastest growing tech brand, 89% value growth fuels meteoric ranking rise of 186 spots to 287th
  • Nvidia reaps rewards fromArm acquisition as 73% brand value growth recorded
  • COVID cripples air and sea travel, all brands lose value
  • Coca-Cola is strongest brand in US with Brand Strength Index (BSI) score 91.7 out of 100 and AAA+ brand strength rating
  • Mastercard’s Ajay Banga best among top 100 CEOs in Brand Finance Brand Guardianship Index 2021, as commitment to technological innovation pays off

View the full Brand Finance US 500 2021 report here

View the full Brand Finance Global 500 2021 report here

Apple has overtaken Amazon and Googleto reclaim the title of the world’s most valuable brand for the first time since 2016, according to the latest report by Brand Finance – the world’s leading brand valuation consultancy. Apple has the success of its diversification strategy to thank for an impressive 87% brand value increase to US$263.4 billion and its position at the top of the Brand Finance US 500 2021 ranking and Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking.

Under Tim Cook’s leadership, especially over the past five years, Apple began to focus on developing its growth strategies above and beyond the iPhone – which in 2020 accounted for half of sales versus two-thirds in 2015. The diversification policy has seen the brand expand into digital and subscription services, including the App Store, iCloud, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music, Apple TV, and Apple Arcade. On New Year’s Day alone, App Store customers spent US$540 million on digital goods and services.

Apple’s transformation and ability to reinvent itself time and time again is setting it apart from other hardware makers and has contributed to the brand becoming the first US company to reach a US$2 trillion market cap in August 2020. With rumors resurfacing that Apple’s hotly anticipated Titan electric vehicle foray is underway again, it seems that there is no limit to what the brand can turn its hand to.

Laurence Newell, Managing Director, Brand Finance Americas, commented:

“Steve Jobs’ legacy continues to flow through Apple, with innovation built into the brand’s DNA. As Apple reclaims the title of the world’s most valuable brand from Amazon five years since it last held the top spot, we are witnessing it Think Different once again. From Mac to iPod, to iPhone, to iPad, to Apple Watch, to subscription services, to infinity and beyond.”  

Tesla races up ranking

The importance of technological innovation as a driving force behind brand value is best exemplified by Tesla (up 158% to US$32 billion), the fastest-growing brand in the Brand Finance US 500 2021 and Brand Finance Global 500 2021 ranking. Emerging unscathed from the various controversies surrounding CEO, Elon Musk, Tesla’s market capitalization has grown by an eyewatering US$500 billion over the last year, making it worth as much as the next nine largest automobile manufacturers in the world combined.

The California-headquartered auto brand has also celebrated record numbers of sales this year, ramping up production of its Model Y car and expanding into new markets by opening a plant in Shanghai. As the world’s best-selling plug-in and battery electric passenger car manufacturer – as well as a pioneer in using artificial intelligence in the automobile industry – Tesla has continued to strive for innovation and sustainability, developing more efficient battery cells.

AMD leapfrogs ahead

AMD (up 89% to US$2.7 billion) is the fastest growing tech brand, the second-fastest growing brand in the US overall and the biggest mover in the ranking this year, jumping up 186 spots from 473rd to 287th.

Laurence Newell, Managing Director, Brand Finance Americas, commented:

“As artificial intelligence, data centers, 5G technology, IoT, and autonomous vehicles are rapidly growing, semiconductor brands are perfectly positioned to match this growth as demand requires a new era of sensors, memory and chips.”

The impressive growth of the AMD brand can be attributed to the highly anticipated upcoming launch of its Ryzen 5000 Mobile series, which promises a decent advantage over the Intel Core i7-1165G7 and previous Ryzen 4000 mobile processors thanks to a longer battery life, 7nm processor and 8-core x86 CPU for ultrathin laptops. Additionally, Samsung has confirmed that its next chipset will feature AMD RDNA 2-based graphics – the same technology in some of the best graphics cards available, as well as the PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Nvidia (up 73% to US$8.1 billion) is the fifth-fastest growing brand in the Brand Finance US 500 2021 ranking, an upward trajectory it plans on continuing through its US$40 billion deal to acquire British chip designer Arm. The announcement caused quite the stir among industry players as Nvidia sets its sights on becoming top contender for next generation processing and AI.

From product setbacks and sales delays, to COVID-19 and Apple making its own computer chips, Intel has negotiated a turbulent year. Despite this, the California-based tech multinational has managed to increase its brand value by 16% to US$31.8 billion, placing 18th overall in the US. In a move to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market, Intel has also undergone a rebranding to better reflect its future goals.

COVID docks cruises

The ongoing global pandemic has strongly impacted the travel and tourism industries, with cruises being at the helm. Cruises disappear from the Brand Finance US 500 2021 ranking for the first time ever, with Royal Caribbean International (down 90% to US$494 million) dropping 631 spots from 169th to 800th, and Norwegian Cruise Line (down 98% to US$49 million) dropping 1,159 spots to 1,439th overall.

In addition to ships being docked, the industry has received widespread criticism since February after the virus was discovered onboard the Grand Princess vessel. Although each cruise liner has taken innovative steps towards promoting a safer environment onboard, it is unsure how long it will take for the industry to recover, and whether travelers will be willing to sail again.

Long haul problems for aviation

A clear impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, US-based airlines have decreased in brand value across the board, with Boeing (down 40% to US$13.6 billion) among the top ten fastest falling brands for 2021. Following suit, American Airlines (down 40% to US$5.3 billion), United Airlines (down 39% to US$5 billion) and Delta (down 38% to US$5.8 billion) each experienced significant losses in brand value.

Boeing’s woes continue after hitting headlines at the beginning of this year when its 737-500 passenger plane crashed in Indonesia, its reputation taking yet another battering. The brand has spent much of the last two years in a state of crisis following the two fatal crashes that grounded its 737 Max in March 2019 and its problems have compounded further throughout the pandemic. With the partial return of the plane to operations in December 2020, the brand was hoping for a turbulence-free future to counter its significant losses and job cuts. However, as the brand hit the headlines once again, its brand value records yet another dent.

Bucking the sector trend is Raytheon Technologies, which saw a 19% increase in brand value to US$6.2 billion. Raytheon has undergone several structural changes over the previous 12 months, including merging with United Technologies, as well as divesting other arms of the business.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“Few sectors have been as deeply affected by the pandemic as the aviation industries. These brands are no stranger to rough patches, from the 2001 terror attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, to more recently the growing spotlight on their contribution to the climate crisis. The road to recovery and hopes are pinned on the speedy and successful roll out of the vaccines to open borders and kick-start the global economy once again.”

Coca-Cola claims podium spot

In addition to measuring overall brand value, Brand Finance also evaluates the relative strength of brands, based on factors such as marketing investment, customer familiarity, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation. According to these criteria, Coca-Cola (down 13% to US$33.2 billion) has overtaken Disney (down 9% to US$51.2 billion)as the US’ strongest brand, and 4th globally, with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 91.7 out of 100. The soft drinks giant was not immune from the impact of COVID-19, however, with the multinational forced to restructure, which has seen over 2000 jobs cut and the brand lose over a tenth of its value this year.

Coca-Cola’s biggest soft-drink rival, Pepsi (down 3% to 18.4 billion), is also one of this year’s strongest performing brands, ranking ninth overall in the US with a BSI score of 88.4 out of 100 and a AAA rating.

While the decades-long rivalry between these two soda giants is often brought to the fore through Super Bowl commercials, both brands have decided against advertising their trademark soft drinks this year. CBS is seeking a staggering US$5.5 million for 2021 Super Bowl advertising packages, with last year’s game generating a record-breaking US$435 million in ad spending.

In December, Coca-Cola announced that it was laying-off 17% of its global workforce – like many industries, soda streams have run flat with large parties, live sporting events and in-theatre movies getting the axe.

With Pepsi opting to replace its traditional Super Bowl ad slot with a new campaign lead for its halftime show, and Coca-Cola toasting other brands in its pre-game message – citing the need to invest in the right resources during unprecedented times – these beverage giants will lay down arms and take battle elsewhere.

The move towards other forms of advertising means each brand will still have a presence around the game, but without the pressure of paying the exuberant prices required for Super Bowl entry. While it’s clear that the primary reason for bowing out of in-game commercials for this year’s much anticipated sporting event is to save money, neither brand will experience long-term damage by doing so and still remain two of America’s strongest brands.

Meet the world’s top Brand Guardians

This year’s top CEO in the Brand Finance Brand Guardianship Index is Mastercard’s Ajay Banga. Mr Banga announced his transition from CEO to executive chairman in 2020, rounding off a successful and decorated 10 years as CEO. Since taking the helm of Mastercard, Mr Banga has embraced technological innovation, ensuring the brand remained relevant despite a period of rapid change in financial services. Mr Banga also champions the idea of financial inclusion, and has leveraged his influence to build strategic partnerships with financial institutions worldwide to help fight poverty.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“COVID-19 has presented perhaps the greatest challenge to all CEOs this year. Leaders have had to both protect the financial interests of shareholders and protect their people from the very real threat to health and life posed by the pandemic. It has required resolve and vision to safeguard - and in some cases grow - one of these leaders’ most important assets, their company’s brand.”

View the full Brand Finance US 500 2021 report here

View the full Brand Finance Global 500 2021 report here


Note to Editors

Every year, Brand Finance puts 5,000 of the biggest brands to the test, evaluating their strength and quantifying their value, and publishes nearly 100 reports, ranking brands across all sectors and countries. The world’s 500 most valuable US brands are included in the Brand Finance US 500 2021 report, while the world’s 500 most valuable brands are included in the Brand Finance Global 500 2021 report.

Join our virtual launch event The Role of Tech Brands in Driving Economic Growth, featuring the CEO of Deloitte, Punit Renjen, at 1400–1600 GMT on 26th January to learn more about the results of this year’s study.

The full Brand Finance Global 500 2021 and Brand Guardianship Index 2021 rankings, additional insights, charts, more information about the methodology, as well as definitions of key terms are available in the Brand Finance US 500 2021 report and Brand Finance Global 500 2021 report.

Brand value is understood as the net economic benefit that a brand owner would achieve by licensing the brand in the open market. Brand strength is the efficacy of a brand’s performance on intangible measures relative to its competitors. Please see below for a full explanation of our methodology.

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Brand Finance

About Brand Finance          

Brand Finance is the world’s leading brand valuation consultancy. Bridging the gap between marketing and finance, Brand Finance evaluates the strength of brands and quantifies their financial value to help organisations of all kinds make strategic decisions.

Headquartered in London, Brand Finance has offices in over 20 countries, offering services on all continents. Every year, Brand Finance conducts more than 5,000 brand valuations, supported by original market research, and publishes nearly 100 reports which rank brands across all sectors and countries.

Brand Finance is a regulated accountancy firm, leading the standardisation of the brand valuation industry. Brand Finance was the first to be certified by independent auditors as compliant with both ISO 10668 and ISO 20671, and has received the official endorsement of the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) in the United States.


Definition of Brand

Brand is defined as a marketing-related intangible asset including, but not limited to, names, terms, signs, symbols, logos, and designs, intended to identify goods, services, or entities, creating distinctive images and associations in the minds of stakeholders, thereby generating economic benefits.

Brand Value

Brand value refers to the present value of earnings specifically related to brand reputation. Organisations own and control these earnings by owning trademark rights.

All brand valuation methodologies are essentially trying to identify this, although the approach and assumptions differ. As a result, published brand values can be different.

These differences are similar to the way equity analysts provide business valuations that are different to one another. The only way you find out the “real” value is by looking at what people really pay.

As a result, Brand Finance always incorporates a review of what users of brands actually pay for the use of brands in the form of brand royalty agreements, which are found in more or less every sector in the world.

This is known as the “Royalty Relief” methodology and is by far the most widely used approach for brand valuations since it is grounded in reality.

It is the basis for our public rankings but we always augment it with a real understanding of people’s perceptions and their effects on demand – from our database of market research on over 3000 brands in over 30 markets.

Brand Valuation Methodology

For our rankings, Brand Finance uses the simplest method possible to help readers understand, gain trust in, and actively use brand valuations.

Brand Finance calculates the values of brands in its rankings using the Royalty Relief approach – a brand valuation method compliant with the industry standards set in ISO 10668.

Our Brand Strength Index assessment, a balanced scorecard of brand-related measures, is also compliant with international standards (ISO 20671) and operates as a predictive tool of future brand value changes and a control panel to help business improving marketing.

We do this in the following four steps:

1. Brand Impact

We review what brands already pay in royalty agreements. This is augmented by an analysis of how brands impact profitability in the sector versus generic brands.

This results in a range of possible royalties that could be charged in the sector for brands (for example a range of 0% to 2% of revenue).

2. Brand Strength

We adjust the rate higher or lower for brands by analysing Brand Strength. We analyse brand strength by looking at three core pillars: “Investment” which are activities supporting the future strength of the brand; “Equity” which are real perceptions sourced from our original market research and other data partners; “Performance” which are brand-related measures of business results, such as market share.

Each brand is assigned a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score out of 100, which feeds into the brand value calculation. Based on the score, each brand is assigned a corresponding Brand Rating up to AAA+, in a format similar to a credit rating.

3. Brand Impact x Brand Strength

The BSI score is applied to the royalty range to arrive at a royalty rate. For example, if the royalty range in a sector is 0-5% and a brand has a BSI score of 80 out of 100, then an appropriate royalty rate for the use of this brand in the given sector will be 4%.

4. Brand Value Calculation

We determine brand-specific revenues as a proportion of parent company revenues attributable to the brand in question and forecast those revenues by analysing historic revenues, equity analyst forecasts, and economic growth rates.

We then apply the royalty rate to the forecast revenues to derive brand revenues and apply the relevant valuation assumptions to arrive at a discounted, post-tax present value which equals the brand value.


Brand Finance has produced this study with an independent and unbiased analysis. The values derived and opinions presented in this study are based on publicly available information and certain assumptions that Brand Finance used where such data was deficient or unclear. Brand Finance accepts no responsibility and will not be liable in the event that the publicly available information relied upon is subsequently found to be inaccurate. The opinions and financial analysis expressed in the study are not to be construed as providing investment or business advice. Brand Finance does not intend the study to be relied upon for any reason and excludes all liability to any body, government, or organisation.

The data presented in this study form part of Brand Finance's proprietary database, are provided for the benefit of the media, and are not to be used in part or in full for any commercial or technical purpose without written permission from Brand Finance.

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