10 Surprising Brands That We're Starting to Love Again

The company that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, killing oil rig workers, and devastating marine and wildlife habitats -- not to mention the Gulf of Mexico's fishing and tourism industries --- has won a popularity contest, of sorts.

BP (BP) topped a list of brands that have most improved their images in the eyes of U.S. consumers, according to the YouGov BrandIndex.

YouGov, which bills itself as the only daily consumer perception research firm, ranked the brands that made the biggest consumer-perception gains during the first half of 2012. The scores reflect interviews with 5,000 people each weekday from a representative U.S. population.

And BP isn't the only company on its list of U.S. Top Buzz Improvers that will raise eyebrows. Take a look.

10 Suprising Brands That Are Making Comebacks
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10 Surprising Brands That We're Starting to Love Again

Aflac's brand took a hit when comedian Gilbert Gottfried, the insurance company's former spokesman, fired off a series of tweets that joked about Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Aflac dumped Gottfried, who had long provided the familiar voice of the Aflac duck. The company then rejiggered its ads, playing down the humor, "while being much more direct about the benefits of Aflac," Kerr says.

The change appears to have paid off: Aflac earned the second highest buzz score on the list behind Allstate.

Buzz score: 22.5, up from 17.5 last year.  (+5)

The fast-food chain's mash up with Pepsi's brand Doritos to create the Doritos Locos Taco this year was a hit with consumers. In fact, it's not the chains most popular menu item ever, and has helped rehabilitate Taco Bell's image.

That image got a tad more tarnished last year when a California woman filed a lawsuit alleging that the meat in the chain's tacos contained less than 50% beef.

The allegations turned out to be false, and the lawsuit was later dropped.

Buzz score: 14.6, up from 9.3 last year. (+5.3)

One could argue that the preppie clothing brand had somewhat fallen off consumers' radar. But a $3.6 million advertising push this year has helped bring it back into the spotlight.

This spring, Dockers signed Bear Grylls, Star of Discovery Channel's Man vs. Wild, to be the face of its 2012 ad push. The campaign includes outdoor images of Grylls in Central Park with ads that feature its tagline, "Wear the Pants.".

Buzz score: 15.0, up from 9.6 in 2011. (+5.4)

The once ubiquitous video-rental chain was rendered virtually obsolete by the advent of Netflix, which introduced flat-fee, unlimited rentals with no due dates or late fees.

But Blockbuster's purchase by DISH Networks last year, combined with the "marketing muscle" the company has put behind the brand -- as well as its transformation into a mostly online video rental company -- appears to have improved its image, Drew Kerr, a YouGov spokesman, tells DailyFinance.

However, consumer perception of the brand is still largely negative.

Buzz score: -3.0, up from -8.5 last year. (+5.5)

The public broadcasting network has undergone a programming revival of sorts, churning out hit shows like Downton Abbey, which has won a  cult following, and Sherlock. As a result, its perception among consumers is the highest in the broadcast and cable sector, according to YouGov's BrandIndex.

Buzz score: 16.1, up from 10.4 in 2011. (+5.7)

The political and judicial battles over the Affordable Care Act have kept health care in the headlines of late, and on the minds of many Americans. Insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield seems to have benefited from this attention.

Buzz score: 10.4, up from 4.5 in 2011. (+5.9)

Allstate, the fourth-biggest buzz improver, has been getting an image boost from sports tie-ins and some clever ads.

The insurance company was the title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl and sponsors collegiate football.

And on the marketing front, Allstate's image has also benefited from its cheeky, award-winning Mayhem ad campaign.

Buzz score: 23.5, up from 17.4 last year. (+6.1)

Apparently, people still want their MTV, in no small part thanks to Snooki.

The network, which was a cultural touchstone in the 1980s, ushering in the era of the music video, lost much of its edge -- and audience -- in the decades that followed.

But reality shows are helping to reverse its fortunes. The channel ranked third on the list of Top Buzz Improvers, due to the popularity of  programs such as mega-hit Jersey Shore, Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant.

Nonetheless, MTV's brand-perception is still in negative territory among consumers.

Buzz score: -10.3, up from -17.8 in 2011. (+7.5)

Toyota has been battling image problems after it had to recall tens of millions of vehicles from 2009 to 2011 for a host of issues.

But some high-profile marketing has revved up the car company's brand. Toyota sponsored the NCAA March Madness tournament, which earned it a branding boost with college basketball fans.

It has also eclipsed many of its competitors in the hybrid vehicle movement, selling more of the eco-friendly cars in the U.S. than any other manufacturer. The result: Toyota is the second-biggest brand improver on the list.

Buzz score: 21.5, up from 9.9 last year. (+11.6)

In early 2010, BP enjoyed the highest positive brand perception of its oil-industry peers, according to the BrandIndex, and -- believe it or not -- was considered one of the more environmentally responsible petro-giants.

Of course, the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill of April 2010 changed all that, sinking BP's brand perception to the bottom of YouGov's BrandIndex.

But while BP's image has in no way recovered to its pre-oil spill levels, the billions the company spent to aid the recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast have been a balm for its still badly damaged brand.

As a result, BP ranks as YouGov's top buzz improver this year.

Still, it's important to note that the brand still generates more negative perception among consumers than positive, according to the BrandIndex.

Buzz score: -5.9, up from -21.4 in 2011. (+15.5)

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