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Industry Reputations Take a Beating


The reputations of several industries—car manufacturers and banks prominent among them—plummeted in the last year, according to a recent Harris Poll.

A consumer panel was asked whether 20 leading industries did a good or bad job serving customers. Compared with last year's results, the reputation of car manufacturers dropped the most (31 points), followed by investment and brokerage firms (down 27 points) and banks (down 24 points).

In light of the current debate about healthcare reform, said Harris, it's noteworthy that health insurance companies are down 10 points and pharmaceutical companies are down 6.

Best Rep, Worst Rep

Supermarkets, hospitals, online search engines, packaged food companies, and computer companies have the best reputation for serving consumers well, according to the research.

The most unpopular industries are tobacco, oil, managed care, and health insurance—the only industries that more than half of adults pointed to as doing a bad job of serving their customers.


Key findings:

  • 92% of adults surveyed say supermarkets serve their customers well.
  • 78% say the same for hospitals.
  • 76% say online search engines do a good job serving customers.
  • The highest negative ratings are those for tobacco companies (63% doing a bad job), oil companies (60%), health insurance (58%) and managed care (54%).
  • Other industries with relatively high negative ratings include investment and brokerage firms (46%), car manufacturers (45%), pharmaceuticals (45%), banks (38%), and cable companies (37%).

Changes This Year

Airlines show a bigger improvement this year in reputation than any other industry. Tobacco (while still at the bottom of the list), life insurance, and computer hardware companies have also improved.

The formula used to measure changes in reputation over time (since 1997, the first time Harris asked these questions) is the number of adults saying "good job" for an industry minus those saying "bad job."

According to that measure, airlines are up 16 points, from 18 to 34 (which is still far lower than their score of 66 in 1998); life insurance is up 12 points, from 26 to 38; and tobacco companies are up 11 points, from minus 43 to minus 32.


The biggest declines using the same measure (those saying "good job" minus those saying "bad job"):

  • Car manufacturers' score dropped 31 points, from 37 to 6.
  • Banks are down 24 points, from 46 to 22.
  • Investment and brokerage firms are down 27 points, from 24 to minus 3.

What Shapes Reputation

According to Harris's analysis:

  • The collapse of General Motors and Chrysler has battered the reputation of car manufacturers.
  • The economic crisis, the collapse of the housing and stock markets, and the rise of unemployment have had a dramatic impact on the reputation of banks and investment and brokerage firms.
  • The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries have probably suffered because of the criticisms directed at them in the healthcare-reform debate.
  • Airlines, the biggest winner this year after huge declines in 2007 and 2008, may have benefited from reduced traffic and less crowded airports.
  • Why tobacco companies should have gained is more difficult to explain. Maybe they just haven't been in the news much—and for them no news is almost always good news.

About the data: This Harris Poll was conducted by telephone within the United States between July 8 and 13, 2009, among a nationwide cross-section of 1,010 adults (18+).

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