America's top 500 brands could lose up to $400 billion from COVID-19 pandemic

But some, like Amazon, are bucking the trend and seizing opportunities for growth, according to Brand Finance.

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The top US 500 most valuable brands stand to lose up to $400 billion from COVID-19 pandemic, according to Brand Finance, an independent brand valuation consultancy.

However, even in the midst of the pandemic, "Amazon has managed to make history by breaking the $200 billion brand value mark as America's top brand," the firm said in a statement. "While most brands are experiencing or expecting a slump in revenue during the pandemic, Amazon is still set for continued growth."

"America's top 500 most valuable brands could lose up to 10% of brand value cumulatively, a drop of a staggering US$393 billion compared to the original valuation date of 1st Jan. 2020," prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest Brand Finance US 500 2020 report.

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Looking beyond the US, the value of the 500 most valuable brands in the world, ranked in the Brand Finance Global 500 2020 league table, could fall by an estimated $1 trillion as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, it said.

The report estimated the pandemic's likely impact on brand value on industries it classified into three categories: 

  1. limited impact (minimal brand value loss or potential brand value growth)

  2. moderate impact (up to 10% brand value loss)

  3. heavy impact (up to 20% brand value loss), based on the level of brand value loss observed for each sector in the first quarter of 2020.

Findings by sector

The report found that Facebook is the highest ranked media brand and the fifth most valuable US brand overall, while Disney comes out as the nation's strongest brand, "thanks to perfectly timed Disney+."

With a combined brand value of $364.5 billion, media is the third most valuable sector in the ranking behind tech and retail.

AT&T is the fastest-falling large telecom brand this year, down 32% to $59.1 billion.

Meanwhile, in this is "make it or break it for the banking sector as COVID-19 puts up to 20% of brand value at risk," the consultancy said.

Not surprisingly, US brands leading airline and apparel sectors globally are now under serious threat from COVID-19, Brand Finance said.

Findings by company

Amazon "remains a cut above the rest" in the Brand Finance US 500 2020 ranking, experiencing 18% growth from last year, the report found. Amazon's brand value has now reached $220.8 billion, substantially ahead of second-placed, Google, with a brand value of $159.7 billion.

"Amazon's sheer dominance in the e-commerce space should stand them in good stead in the coming months as the world tackles the far-reaching repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Laurence Newell, managing director of Brand Finance Americas, in a statement.

The consultancy has calculated that Amazon's brand value could grow a further $4 billion due to the spike in demand.

Facebook (brand value down 4% to $79.8 billion), "has negotiated several high-profile reputational issues, most notoriously, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which resulted in a $5 billion fine last year," Brand Finance said. "The pandemic could, however, turn the tide on the tarnished brand, as people are forced to keep in touch with friends through social media."

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Facebook has also been developing a symptom survey, and the hope is it will reveal a lot about COVID-19 and contribute to research, Brand Finance said.

Meanwhile, Facebook-owned Instagram "has enjoyed an explosion of growth, securing the fifth highest brand value increase among all US brands this year, up 58% to $26.4 billion, and jumping up to 29th spot," it said.

With more than one billion active monthly users and a focus on new technology, like its latest Checkout feature: "Instagram is catering to demand and staying relevant. The platform is successfully leveraging its position in the market as a genuine business tool–beyond its traditional influencer market–as more businesses move online during lockdown."

YouTube "has also enjoyed a steady growth over the course of last year (up 17% to $44.5 billion), climbing to 11th place from 13th." 

"With 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and five billion videos watched every day, the platform has only increased in popularity during COVID-19, becoming both an outlet for coronavirus-related news, as well as a source of entertainment as people around the world spend more time indoors," the report found.

In line with positive trends in brand value among other video streaming services, last year also saw Netflix enjoy an 8% boost in brand value to $22.9 billion.

"Netflix has been a pioneering force in changing consumers' viewing habits, taking over traditional television by providing a more appealing, flexible option in line with the modern fast-paced lifestyle," the consultancy said.

Network television continues to lag behind online competitors, best exemplified by Fox being the fastest falling US brand this year, with a 47% decrease in brand value to $8.4 billion, and dropping 39 positions on the ranking to 88th place.

"Around the country, similar challenges are faced by competitors who suffer at the hands of increasing demand for streaming services, for instance Discovery (down 32% to $3.4 billion) and TBS (down 20% to $2.3 billion)," according to the report.

"Consumers' viewing habits have been transformed with the rise of streaming services," Newell said. "Under the current COVID-19 lockdown, it remains to be seen whether traditional television will be better positioned to compete with streaming services, or whether their brand values will continue on a downward trend for the rest of the year."

Telecom giant AT&T is the fastest-falling large telecoms brand this year, down 32% to $59.1 billion. For the first time since 2016, Verizon has overtaken AT&T as the nation's and world's most valuable telecom brand, with a brand value of $63.7 billion.

The country's most valuable banking brand, Wells Fargo, "has had its share of reputational issues in recent years, and according to Brand Finance's customer research, out of the 34 financial institutions covered in the US, Wells Fargo is ranked last in reputation," the consultancy noted.

"Despite this, Wells Fargo saw a moderate increase in brand value of 2%, with its rivals in retail banking such as Bank of America (down 4% to $35.4 billion), Citi (down 9% to $33 billion), and Chase (down 14% to $31.3 billion) all declining in value year on year," it said.

The most valuable new entrant from the banking sector is Truist, which was formed after the acquisition of SunTrust Bank by BB&T, becoming the eighth-largest bank in the US.

Another new entrant from the banking sector, Ally Financial's brand value has more than tripled in four years.

In the airline sector, before the coronavirus outbreak, Delta (down 9% to $9.2 billion) held on to its position as the most valuable airlines brand in the world, with its drop in brand value attributed to scoring lower for customer familiarity, satisfaction, and preference than in previous years, Brand Finance said.

All US airline brands, including American Airlines (down 7% to $8.9 billion) and United Airlines (down 3% to $8.2 billion), have dropped in brand value following lower market research ratings.

"Predicted to drop by a further 20% in line with industry trends, aviation is an illustrative example of the effect COVID-19 can have on brand value," Brand Finance said.

For the sixth consecutive year Nike has claimed the title of the world's most valuable apparel brand and continues to lead in the US, recording a 7% increase in brand value to $34.8 billion, as of Jan. 1, 2020.

"Nike will have to rely on its dominant position in the coming months as Brand Finance's analysis has shown the brand is likely to be one of the most affected by COVID-19 with up to $7 billion worth of brand value of stake."

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Image: Brand Finance