WE RECEIVED a press release the other...


WE RECEIVED a press release the other day from America Demographics magazine on a survey about the strength of brand loyalty among U.S. consumers.

One fact box listed the nation's top brands: Campbell Soup ranked highest with 98 percent of respondents having familiarity with the product. Hallmark Cards came next with 97 percent, followed by such pillars of American life as Hershey's, McDonald's, Sears and Coca-Cola, all at 95 percent or above. Which led to an obvious question:

Who are the 2 to 5 percent who've never heard of Campbell soup, a Hershey bar, a Big Mac or a Coke?

Before setting out for the the nearest cave or Himalayan monastery, we decided to put a call through to Total Research Corp. of Princeton, N.J., which conducted the survey.

Senior Vice President John Morton explained that the 98 percent who responded to the Campbell Soup question, for instance, had some opinion -- good, bad or indifferent -- about the product. The remaining 2 percent might be non-soup eaters who, while having heard of Campbell Soup, didn't feel qualified to cast judgment on the product. Same goes for Hershey's, McDonald's, Sears and the others. Mr. Morton said, on average, 75 percent of respondents feel qualified to judge most well-known products, so goods and services that coax reactions from 95 percent or more have immense recognizability.

Mr. Morton said among the most interesting trends in the survey, which his firm has conducted for several years, is how Americans are becoming more pragmatic and "value-oriented" in their buying, which doesn't bode well for products that have aligned themselves with luxury, such as American Express, Mercedes-Benz and Estee Lauder.

Japan-bashing also has worn down appeal for products made in that country in recent surveys, although Mr. Morton said that the continued quality of those goods appear to be successfully neutralizing jingoistic attacks.

Could it be that those 2 to 3 percent who felt unfamiliar with Campbell's or Hershey's would have a ready response about Sony, Honda or Fuji film?

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