Public opinion of some of Silicon Valley's top names crumbled in the latest Harris Poll of corporate reputations. Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google division and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) suffered the most severe hits in public perception as both not only fell out of the top-10 companies but also tumbled all the way down to 28th and 29th place, respectively.
Although some top tech names moved a bit higher in the 2018 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient Rankings, most are still far down the list despite their public visibility, suggesting many Americans don't hold them in particularly high regard even though they interact and engage with them on a daily basis.
Souring on tech
Apple's fall is perhaps the most shocking. As recently as 2016, the tech giant ranked as high as second place on the list, behind perennial leader Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), which once again dominated the survey. Last year, however, Apple had slipped to fifth place, which makes its slide 24 notches down the list even more notable.
According to Harris Poll, which has measured corporate reputations every year since 1999, the consumer tech leader's fall likely has more to do with a lack of innovation in its products than any particular issue with corporate governance or other factors. It also notes that Apple stores are called "hell on earth" and often compared to visiting state motor vehicle offices.
Google plummeted in the rankings due to workplace issues causing the "erosion" of its reputation. It was hit with a lawsuit last month alleging it had "a pattern and practice of ignoring sexual harassment in the workplace" and last year it controversially, but unironically fired an engineer who alleged Google suppressed diversity of opinion in the workplace.
A search for something better
Harris Poll surveys thousands of individuals and identifies the top 100 most visible companies in the U.S. It then ranks them based on their reputation in six different categories: emotional appeal, products and services, social responsibility, vision and leadership, workplace environment, and financial performance.
Harris Poll says its reading of the survey results indicate "a new vanguard of corporate leaders taking an active role to solve societal challenges that government can't or won't," explaining why a company like outdoor clothing company Patagonia made its first appearance on the list this year, landing in ninth place.
But it's also because consumers are turning to so-called "Main Street" companies and away from traditional corporate America that underscores the majority of the listings this year. While Amazon has been the top-ranked company for four of the last five years, the appearance of four supermarket chains -- Wegman's, H-E-B Grocery, Publix Supermarkets, and Aldi -- in the top 10 shows that consumers are looking for something more basic.
Looking for comfort food
Wegman's has always been a highly respected company, and it placed second on the list behind Amazon, just as it did last year, while Publix was also a top-10 company. H-E-B made its first appearance this year, but Aldi soared from 38th place all the way up to No. 10, coinciding with its aggressive expansion plans to bring its deep discount grocery store to more people.
Rounding out the leading contenders were familiar names like Disney (No. 5) and UPS (No. 7), but also Tesla Motors landing at No. 3, which Harris Poll pegs to its publicity stunt of launching Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster into space. Still, for all his bluster, Musk exudes hope and inspiration in that there's always something more and better to aspire to.
In fourth place was chicken sandwich joint Chick-fil-A, a restaurant that espouses traditional values, which also rocketed higher on the list, rising from 25th place.
On the outs
While Microsoft did move from 20th place up to 11th, other Silicon Valley names also didn't fare so well in the survey. Facebook, for example, moved from 66th place to 51st, but still remains a far cry from its best showing in 2014 when it ranked 38th in the Harris Poll survey. Netflix fell from 18th to 21st. Some of the biggest names didn't even make the list, like Cisco or Oracle.
Takata, the bankrupt airbag maker that has spawned the recall of tens of millions of automobiles, ended up on the bottom of the list. It ranked just below The Weinstein Company, suggesting that even if it had survived the numerous lawsuits filed against it, the impact of its flaws was so pervasive and affected so many people there may have been no salvaging its reputation.
Technology is all around us, and the top brands are pervasive throughout our daily lives. While we have embraced these companies, the latest Harris Poll survey suggests that some of us remain wary of many of them and increasingly hold them at arm's length.
From privacy invasions to data breaches, there remains a certain level of distrust of technology and how it impacts our lives.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Tesla, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.