Apple returned to the top 10 in the 2014 ranking of YouGov BrandIndex, a brand quality measurement firm that polled more than 1.5 million U.S. adults last year.
Apple placed sixth, behind other technology-related companies like Amazon, which was first, YouTube (No. 2) and smartphone rival Samsung (No. 5), but slightly ahead of Android maker Google (No. 7.).
The Cupertino, Calif. company had been absent from BrandIndex's top 10 list for the previous two years, and had been No. 10 in 2011, said Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov BrandIndex, in an interview today.
"Apple's a well-known brand that people have strong opinions about, which works both ways," said Marzilli. "The benefit is that Apple gets very positive [ratings] from some ... there is a 'Cult of Apple' ... more than any other brand in the top 10, I think. But there's also a visceral negative response from a minority that drags their score down a bit."
To measure brand perception, BrandIndex asks, "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?" BrandIndex then subtracts the negative feedback from the positive feedback to come up with a score.
Apple's score for 2014 was 22.6, while Google's was slightly lower, although it appeared identical because of rounding. No. 1 Amazon's score was 29.7, YouTube's was 26.3 and Samsung -- Apple's biggest rival in the U.S. smartphone market -- scored 24.6.
"From a purely statistical standpoint, a difference of even one percent is meaningful," said Marzilli. "But we track 1,500 brands, so it's also important to remember that [the top 10] is the cream of the crop."
Apple's 2014 certainly had some highs -- the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have sold extremely well by all indications -- but it also stumbled at times, including a botched iOS 8.01 update and criticism about pushing a free U2 album to every iCloud account owner.
Google, said Marzilli, was another brand with polarized poll results, although he put it behind Apple in the love-or-hate category. "I think the love for Google is more widespread [than for Apple], and the negative more limited," Marzilli said. "People like Google because its services are free and ubiquitous and work really well, but some are uncomfortable that Google knows too much about us and wonder what happens to the information it collects."
That negative perception of Google is weaker in the U.S. than it is in Europe, Marzilli said. But news of the search giant's disputes with European privacy organizations and the EU's antitrust agency reach American ears, and may affect its BrandIndex score.
While Microsoft did not make the firm's top 10 list, Marzilli said its score did improve in 2014. "Microsoft was No. 121 in 2014," Marzilli said in a follow-up email. "That is in the top 10%, but not the top 10. They were at No. 142 in 2013, so they did move up a bit."