In compiling this list, I found myself marveling that—despite two serious economic downturns— so many major brands were founded, or came to prominence, during the '00s. My list is slightly skewed toward my personal interests—technology and retail—but I think it's a fair reflection of the decade. My criteria for selection:
- Founded during the first decade of the 21st century or shortly before or
- Had a significant impact on the way we do business or live our lives during this decade or
- Consistently made headlines during the decade (for better or worse).
Missing from the list: Amazon and eBay, which were founded in 1994 and 1995, respectively, and had already made a significant impact in the 1990s. And I've placed some other familiar brands in my Brands of the Year list, here. coming next week.
As they say, your mileage may vary. If your choices are different from mine, I invite you to leave a comment and share them.
In alphabetical order:
CraigsList. Founded in 1995 as a private e-mail service, CraigsList was incorporated in 1999 and first expanded beyond its home city, San Francisco, in 2000. At last count, it operated in 700 cities in 70 countries—and still has a staff of only 28. It revolutionized the world of classified advertising and, according to some observers, dealt a mortal blow to daily newspapers that had previously sustained themselves on classified revenue.
Cruggs. My shorthand for Crocs and UGG, the unrelated shoe brands that together summed up a comfort-is-king, fashion-be-damned consumer mood. (The alternative, at least for women, was the killer stiletto or the dominatrix boot.) The aggressively ugly foam Crocs, introduced in 2002, racked up baffling numbers of sales before falling victim to oversupply and rampant imitation. Or maybe it was that photo of President Bush wearing them with dark socks. (Read my post about how Crocs got its name.) UGG was founded in 1978 but caught on slowly outside Australia until 2003, when the international A-list discovered the brand. Now it's threatened by genericide.
Facebook. In the six years since Mark Zuckerberg launched the website in his college dorm room, Facebook has been embraced by politicians, studied by academics, and sued for violating users' privacy. In September 2009 it even started making money. For about 300 million people it defined the new and growing phenomenon of social media.
Google. Internet search had existed before Google incorporated in 1998 (it went public in 2004), but only Google became a verb.
Halliburton. The energy-services company was founded in 1919 but merits inclusion on this list because of its close ties to former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as the company's CEO from 1995 to 2000 and who, according to some reports, maintained a relationship with it throughout the Bush presidency. Halliburton was the only company mentioned by Osama bin Laden in an April 2004 tape in which he claimed that "this is a war [in Afghanistan] that is benefiting major companies with billions of dollars." And it's a rare example of a business-to-business company (or business-to-government-to-business) whose name is familiar to the public at large.
iApple. Apple had, of course, been famous for years for its computers. Beginning in 2001, with the introduction of the iPod device and iTunes software, it became famous as an entertainment company. And with the 2007 launch of the iPhone, it became a category-defining communications company as well.
JetBlue. Founded in 1998, the airline went public in 2002 and changed the rules for domestic air travel. Instead of focusing on price, it touted amenities such as satellite radio and TV in every seat; it also humanized flying by assigning a whimsical name to every plane. JetBlue was one of very few U.S. airlines that made a profit after 9/11.
Prius. There are other hybrid cars, but none as recognizable a brand as the Toyota Prius, launched worldwide in 2001. The 2010 models represent the brand's third generation.
Sephora. In the bad old days, you could buy cosmetics in one of two ways: in drugstores, where products were sealed in plastic and sampling was out of the question; and in department stores, where commission-driven saleswomen guarded single-brand citadels. French beauty retailer Sephora, which opened its first U.S. store in 1997 and launched its website in 1999, changed all the rules. Counters were eliminated; salespeople (male and female) offered generous samples; prices were prominently displayed; there were none of the gift-with-purchase brand promotions common in department stores. Department stores, in turn, were forced to adapt by "liberating" their own product selections.
Skype. Not the only VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) provider, just the best known and the one that defined the category and opened up international phone communications to ordinary folks. Founded in 2003 by three Estonian programmers; acquired by eBay for $2.6 billion in 2005. Like Google and CraigsList, "Skype" is often followed by "Effect," a sure sign of an influential brand.
Viagra. Before "the little blue pill" went on sale in the United States, in late 1998, it's doubtful many average citizens had heard of Erectile Dysfunction. By 2000, thanks to former U.S. Senator Bob Dole's ad pitches, it was impossible not to know about ED. Competition from brands such as Cialis and Levitor pushed Viagra's market share down to 50 percent by 2007, but the Viagra name still defines the category. Pfizer's worldwide patents on the drug begin expiring in 2011; it'll be interesting to see what new names emerge in this category.
Wikipedia. How did we do research before 2001, when the free, collaboratively compiled online encyclopedia first went live? We must have gone to the, um—what's it called?—oh yeah, the library. In 2009, the Webby Awards called the Wikipedia launch one of the most influential Internet events of the decade. (Also on the Webby list: CraigsList, Google, Facebook, and iPhone.)
YouTube. Hard as it is to fathom, before November 2005, when three former PayPal employees launched the DIY video site, the vast majority of us had no easy way to watch toilet-flushing cats, singers on treadmills, and a baby biting his brother's finger.
Zappos. Shoes have traditionally been among the most difficult products to stock (all those sizes, widths, colors) and to sell sight unseen (will they fit?). Zappos, founded in 1999, made it all seem easy. It was one of the first retailers to acquire customers through search-engine marketing and to invite online customer reviews; few online retailers fail to invest in both practices now. By focusing on extraordinary customer service (overnight delivery; no-questions-asked returns for 365 days after purchase), Zappos persuaded customers to ignore its slightly higher prices; indeed, it inspired near-fanatical loyalty. The company now sells handbags, clothing, watches, and eyewear as well as shoes.
Many thanks to everyone who contributed suggestions for this list, and special thanks to Alton Wright, former naming director at Landor and current principal at WrightBrands, with whom I had a lively and enlightening Twitter exchange about brands and brand history.