When it comes to globally known super-brands, Americans could be forgiven for thinking the U.S. of A. has a lock on all the most valuable names. Brand valuation studies consistently report that the ones sitting atop the list were created here.
Go just a little further down their pages, though, and you'll discover that some of the world's most valuable brands are not only owned by foreign companies, they are names many Americans probably have never even heard of.
And once you get outside our borders, even the types of companies that make the list will surprise you. The top U.S.-based brands tend to fall into two categories: technology and consumer products: Think Apple, Google, Microsoft, Marlboro, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and IBM.
Overseas, two other categories dominate the brand horizon: cell phone companies and banks.
So which are these mystery companies that are household names elsewhere? Click through our slideshow of the 11 most famous brands Americans don't know, and find out.
11 Famous Brands That Most Americans Don't Know
The 11 Most World-Famous Brands That Most Americans Don't Know
Movistar is the mobile phone operation of Spain's primary telecom company, Telefónica S.A. Its parent company currently has nearly 314 million customers. In keeping with it's home country's history of Latin American involvement, Movistar also operates in many South American nations.
Beyond its mobile and landline phone businesses, Movistar has units that market wireless broadband, satellite TV, and Internet TV (which includes the new Google TV product).
RBC, originally called the Royal Bank of Canada, has been in business since 1864, and Forbes lists it as the largest company in the Canada. Like most major Western financial services firms, RBC provides services ranging from consumer savings to underwriting for public companies.
Based on market cap, RBC falls not far behind U.S.-based majors Citigroup and Bank of America on the list of the world's big banks. In the quarter that ended July 31, RBC had record net income of $2.2 billion (Canadian), up from $1.7 billion the year before.
Brand value: $12.7 billion Country: India National GDP: $1.8 trillion Industry: Financial services
ICICI is the second-largest financial services firm in the world's second-most populous country (behind only the State Bank of India). It had consolidated total assets of more than $91 billion as of March 31.
Like J.P. Morgan or Citigroup, ICICI has large consumer banking, business banking, investment bank, wealth management, and underwriting operations. And ICICI has been growing through joint ventures with companies based outside India, such as U.K. insurance giant Prudential (ICICI Prudential Life Insurance) and Canada-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited (ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company).
Brand value: $10.6 billion Country: Russia National GDP: $1.8 trillion Industry: Financial services
Sberbank was founded in 1841 in Russia. As of 2010, more than 60% of its shares were owned by The Central Bank of the Russian Federation, which makes the government the controlling shareholder. Sberbank serves virtually every corner of Russia through its network of roughly 19,000 branches. It's in the midst of a transforming itself into a state of the art bank with a much larger presence overseas, and what it calls a "client-oriented model to service individual and corporate clients."
Telecom Italia traces its roots back to the original Italian national telephone service, which was launched in the 1920s. Today, it has expanded from land line into mobile service and has moved into television and broadband as well. In addition to its domestic operations, the company has large operations in Latin America, where it operates in the two largest countries by population, Brazil and Argentina. The region now provides more than a third of the corporation's revenue. Based on a Forbes analysis, Telecom Italia is the sixth-largest company in Italy. In the first nine months of 2012, it had revenue of more than 22 billion euros.
Brand value: $43 billion Country: United Kingdom National GDP: $2.4 trillion Industry: Telecom
Vodafone Group was founded in 1985 as a small mobile operator in Newbury, U.K. Since then, it has expanded well beyond its home market. One of its largest assets is a 45% share in Verizon Wireless. Vodafone and co-owner Verizon Communications recently received a huge financial return on their positions in Verizon Wireless, when it issued an $8.5 billion dividend to the partners.
Vodafone reports that it has more than 407 million customers around the world in more than 30 countries, and ventures with networks in another 50. Its Asian operations include businesses in India, Malaysia and the Philippines. In Europe, Vodafone has operations in Germany and Hungary. In its 2011 fiscal year, Vodafone had revenue of over 45.8 billion pounds.
Brand value: $10.6 billion Country: Brazil National GDP: $2.5 trillion Industry: Oil and gas
Petrobras says that it is the fifth-largest energy company in the world, making it similar in size to Chevron and BP. It was founded in 1953 by the Brazilian government (which still owns 50% of the total shares), and is the largest company in the country. Outside the traditional oil and gas productive industries, Petrobras also operates in the biofuels and alternative energy sectors. According to the Financial Times, Petrobras has the largest capital spending budget of any corporation in the world at $236.5 billion. Petrobras needs the money. It is the largest deep-water oil producer in the world with huge reserves off the Brazilian coast, miles beneath the Atlantic.
Brand value: $19.2 billion Country: France National GDP: $2.7 trillion Industry: Fashion
Founded by Thierry Hermes in the 1830s, the company currently makes and markets a large line of luxury fashion goods, accessories, watches and purses. Hermes has stores throughout the world, and has aggressively moved into emerging markets such as China, where it has stores in 17 cities; India, where it has locations in three cities; and Indonesia, where it has locations in two. Its reputation helped drive extraordinary growth in the first half of 2012, during which revenue rose 21.9% to 1.6 billion euros, according to the company's financial statements. Watch sales were a significant part of the improvement, with a 31% rise in revenue for the period.
Deutsche Telekom has a broader worldwide base than most other major telecom companies. While U.S.-based AT&T and Verizon do not have huge operations overseas, Germany's Deutsche Telekom owns T-Mobile, the No. 4 wireless provider in the U.S. And T-Mobile will soon merge with MetroPCS, pending regulatory approval. Deutsche Telekom also owns T-Mobile Netherlands, and has operations in Hungary, Greece, Austria, and much of Eastern Europe. According to the company, it had 236,000 employees at the end of 2011 and operated in 50 countries. Revenue in 2011 was approximately 58 billion euros. As cellular penetration in nations such as Germany and the U.S. reaches saturation point, large telecom providers such as Deutsche Telekom have to find new avenues to increase sales. Like many of its global peers, Deutsche Telekom has pressed into 4G technology to find new sources of revenue.
Brand value: $16 billion Country: Japan National GDP: $5.8 trillion Industry: Telecom
NTT DoCoMo was spun out of Japan telecommunications company NTT in 1992. The offshoot company was created to hold the mobile assets of the former parent company, which once had a market monopoly similar to the one AT&T used to have in the U.S. DoCoMo launched its first digital network in 1993 and has added 60 million customers since. It claims it controls about half of the wireless market in Japan. Two companies have emerged as major competitors: KDDI and Softbank. Softbank recently said it would buy a majority interest in Sprint-Nextel, making it the first of the Japanese wireless companies to make a substantial move into the American market.
Brand value: $47 billion Country: China National GDP: $7.2 trillion Industry: Telecom
China Mobile is the leading wireless services provider in the People's Republic. The company says it has both the world's largest wireless network and the world's largest wireless customer base. That's because China Mobile has roughly 700 million customers, which is well over twice the number of people who live in the U.S. China Mobile is a relatively young company, but so is the wireless industry. First incorporated in 1997, China Mobile has plans to shepherd its customer base to 4G ultra-fast broadband systems just as Verizon Wireless and AT&T are doing in the U.S.
Methodology: To pick the most valuable brands that Americans have not heard of, 24/7 Wall St. relied on the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2012. We ranked the brands that made the list based on gross domestic product of country of origin, and then picked the most valuable brands from the eleven largest countries based on that GDP measurement. In order to exclude well-known brands in America, those with very large market share in the U.S were excluded. That meant Toyota, BMW and Louis Vuitton did not make the cut.