Meet the World's Most Meaningful Brands -- and a Surprising Also-Ran

French media and marketing giant Havas Media just released its list of the world's most meaningful brands. The study was based on surveys to 50,000 consumers in 14 countries, asking for opinions on 300 global brand names. Some of the top names will seem obvious to American consumers, while other top brands are not so familiar on our Western shores.

Let's have a closer look.

The top 3
At the very top of the list, you'll find Swedish furniture giant IKEA. The company ranks high thanks to a commitment to responsible use of materials and humane manufacturing practices. Havas ranks companies based on how they "systematically improve our personal and collective wellbeing," and IKEA scores strongly on the "collective" side of that equation. The "personal" ranking benefits from IKEA's unique combination of low cost and fashion-forward style.

IKEA is unlikely to go public anytime soon, but investors would do well to seek out companies with similar ideals.

In second place, you'll find all-American information organizer Google . Big G's official mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Do that with a heavy focus on an excellent user experience, and good things will follow -- including Google's internal sales targets and bottom line profits.

Google isn't out to make a mint above all else -- the company wants to change the world for the better. Havas rewards such thinking, and investors will do the same in the long run.

Thirdly, there's Swiss food giant Nestle. The company owns 8,000 food brands, including some of the world's most cherished food brands such as Stouffer's frozen dinners, Nescafe instant coffee, Toll House cookies, and Gerber infant foods. You saw the uproar that resulted when Hostess went under, leaving Twinkies and Wonder Bread without a parent. Imagine the furor you'd find if Nestle's massive portfolio followed suit. These are brands that billions of people can't imagine losing.

What's missing?
American readers might wonder whatever happened to Apple . The consumer electronics leader embodies the very concept of brand presence on U.S. shores, after all. A global survey like the Havas report slants a bit differently.

Why is this fruit missing from the absolute top of the Havas list?

Apple does rank near the top of this essential-brands list. Havas says that the top 60 or so would be sorely missed if they were gone, and Apple certainly qualifies with a 13th-place finish.

But the result must sting in Cupertino anyhow. Arch-rival Samsung is the most-loved electronics firm, in sixth place. Japanese veteran Sony lands a solid eighth spot. Even South Korean conglomerate LG and Dutch graybeard Philips outrank Apple here.

That outcome underscores Apple's position as a relative newcomer on the global consumer stage. Sony and Philips built their reputations over decades of operational excellence and heavy marketing, often appealing to a very wide customer base. By contrast, Apple's iPhone and iPad cash machines have only a few years under their belts, and Apple likes to target them at upscale or downright luxury segments to protect those juicy profit margins.

As it turns out, that's not how you build the world's most respected consumer brand -- just the most profitable one.

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