Established blue-chip brands are benefiting from a "flight to quality" in rocky economic times, according to a survey of 1,700 business people.
At the top of the 500-strong league, compiled from the results of the Business Superbrands poll, the fight between Microsoft and Google took another twist as the software group knocked Google down after two years at No 1 and the increasingly battered internet search engine dropped to fifth.
Rolls-Royce held on to second place for the second year running, followed by BlackBerry and Virgin Atlantic. The rest of the Top 10 were made up of the London Stock Exchange, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), British Airways (BA), Visa and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Out of the whole list of the business community's Top 500 brands, it was those that were strongest to start with that ultimately performed best. "There is relative calm in the Top 50," said Stephen Cheliotis, the chief executive of the Centre for Brand Analysis, which conducts the research. "The market leaders in specific categories are extending their leads in the flight-to-quality response in the economic downturn. Whether that is Goldman Sachs in banking, or Eddie Stobart in transportation, the top brands are extending their leads over their competitors."
Trusted British stalwarts also did particularly well, with BP, Shell and BT joining Rolls-Royce, GSK and BA in the Top 20. "People are showing trust in a number of the big British corporations," Mr Cheliotis said. "There is a sense that they will be reliable in difficult times."
The worst performer was Moody's, the credit-rating agency, which dropped 168 places to 471. The Carbon Trust did badly too, dropping 167 places to 474th.
Unsurprisingly, four banks feature in the league's Top 10 fallers – JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, UBS and Dresdner Kleinwort. And Royal Bank of Scotland crashed out of the Top 500 altogether for the first time. But not all were equally hard hit. HSBC and Barclays – which may have benefited from government intervention in the sector, but avoided direct support – both rose in the rankings, to 41st and 73rd respectively. The Co-operative Bank also saw a major gain, rising from 320th to 229th. "Clearly the financial sector has been hit hard," Mr Cheliotis said. "But not all are tarred with the same brush."
Other poor performers this year were chip-maker AMD, Canary Wharf Group, CNBC and Pickfords. The biggest risers include Premier Inn, the pub group, which shot up by 197 places to 240th position. Aviva – the rebranded Norwich Union – also did well, as did trade publication Management Today, Bombardier and DHL.
One firm that will be happy with the results is BA. The airline is a long-standing member of the Top 10 in both the business and consumer versions of the Superbrand survey. But it dropped out of the business ranking for the first time last year after the disastrous opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 in 2008.
This year, BA is back in the Top 10, despite industrial relations troubles and forecasts of a second year of unprecedented losses. But relief at surmounting the Terminal 5 fiasco will be tempered by the presence of arch-rival Virgin Atlantic four places ahead.
"The question mark now is whether the current problems will put a quick end to the bounce-back or BA can hang on to its Top 10 status next year," Mr Cheliotis said. "People do tend to forgive really strong brands, and trust them to sort out their troubles, but there is a tipping point."