Our Favorite Brands of 2012
It’s been an interesting year. One characterized by drawn-out struggle and sudden change. From the Arab Spring to the London Olympics to the U.S. Presidential Election to the thousands of Gangnam Style parodies on YouTube, it’s clear that whatever happens around the globe affects all of us. And as we grow closer to each other through social media and ubiquitous digital technology, change happens faster than ever before.
Brands that want to survive in the 21st century must adapt. It’s a volatile global consumer environment out there, and today’s winning brands are those that are already evolving to meet tomorrow’s demands.
Our favorite brands of 2012 span diverse industries, from apparel to travel to banking, but they all share a singular trait: courage. More than innovation, capital or expertise, courage defined a lot of success in 2012: the courage to try something new, to reach out, to follow one’s passions, to say no. Our favorite brands of the year exemplified that courage, and each, in its own way, reflects the state of today’s consumer world.
Favorite Newcomer Brand
Simple is an online bank – nothing more, nothing less. That means the bank operates solely online and through its app, without any physical storefronts or branches. We’re recognizing Simple for staying true to its name and delivering a new (and sorely needed), streamlined banking experience. The world needs more of the reasoned approach, personality, and outlook Simple has to offer.
Favorite Social Media Branding
GE is the third largest company in the world. When a brand is that big, its identity can start to crumble under its own weight: What’s the mission, the core values? And who are the people behind the company’s image? GE answered both of those questions this year through social media, transforming an omnipresent conglomerate into an interesting, story-driven force for good in the world. The company’s Facebook and Instagram pages present an inspiring, candid, and human-centered voice that – most importantly – engages with fans, asking them questions and responding to their posts immediately.
Priceline brought William Shatner back from the dead. Or is it the other way around? After he had supposedly perished in a fiery bus crash, the popular Priceline Negotiator returned last August on a far-off beach in an ad strangely evokes (and predates) the beginning of Skyfall. We admire the spot’s humor, of course, but also the brand’s deep commitment to storytelling and valuable content. Bonus points: Priceline stays in character in its YouTube comments.
Maybe it’s the logo, but we can’t help but feel that Chrome Bags were made with us in mind. Functional, strong, and sophisticated, Chrome’s offerings are the standard in messenger bags, and with good reason. By bucking trends, Chrome has been able to focus on design iteration so that each successive product generation is better than the last. It’s a simple idea, but it takes a brave company to always put design first.
Favorite Customer Experience
Alaska Airlines doesn’t own the largest or the sleekest fleet, but no other mid-size airline makes better use of its resources. Each of Alaska’s planes features eye-catching decorations that communicate its namesake’s history and the brand’s dedication to the happiness of each consumer. The company currently ranks number one in customer satisfaction and arrival time, in no small part because it treats its customers in a way unfamiliar to most airlines: like human beings. (Okay, and there’s complimentary wine on almost every flight.)
It was inevitable. It was necessary. And it went down much better than anyone could have expected. The Nets moved to Brooklyn last year, leaving their worn-out uniforms and outdated image in New Jersey. The team picked up a classy new logo and stark black and white uniforms that look like throwbacks to a time that never existed. Fans can thank team minority owner Jay-Z for much of the reinvention, including the in-depth documentary “The Road to Brooklyn” and the team’s new mascot, co-designed by Jay-Z and Marvel. As a whole, the Brooklyn Nets look fresh, hip, and ready for the playoffs – which is amazing given their 25th place finish last season.
It probably goes without saying, but Red Bull pulled the stunt of the year when it dropped Felix Baumgartner from the Red Bull Stratos at the edge of space-- a record-breaking mission that garnered over 40 million views on YouTube. It's a huge testament to the fact that it's less about telling your story and more about creating stories worth telling. Red Bull proved that brands have an opportunity to do bigger, more authentic things... and that's incredible. Those are just a few of our favorite brands of 2012. Special recognition goes to...
- Apple for continuing to revolutionize our relationship with technology through human-centered design
- LEGO for remembering that play is essential for people of all ages
- Vans for never losing sight of its core audience
- Outlier, Aether, Mission Workshop, Tellason, and other apparel brands behind the industry’s upheaval in 2012. With so many well-designed products, stories, and philosophies, it’s impossible to pick a clear favorite among the bunch.
Which are your brand winners and losers for 2012? Share your thoughts about our picks, and tell which brand got you most excited.