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Who cracked the top 10 best-perceived brands?

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Brands are serious business for America's largest corporations.

Companies spend billions each year on advertising, seeking to implant warm, fuzzy feelings within the hearts and pocketbooks of American consumers.

While a brand is rather ethereal -- it's not something corporations can list as an asset on their balance sheets -- it's nevertheless incredibly important, influencing consumers' decisions on what to buy and from which company. Yet to some extent, how consumers view a brand isn't entirely within a company's control. That's something Target (TGT) discovered in 2013, when criminals engineered a massive hack and stole millions of credit cards, tarnishing how some consumers viewed its brand.

Gaining positive perception "is a great advantage for a brand," said Ted Marzilli, the chief executive of YouGov's BrandIndex, which tracks the perception levels of brands. "For a consumer to use your brand, they have to be aware of you, and have a good impression of you."

In other words, brands with positive perception have "buzz," and that makes it more likely consumers will choose them instead of rivals.

The country's best perceived brand has now has two years under its belt as America's winner, according to YouGov, which just released its list of top 10 brands by perception. The index asked 1.2 million people last year to note whether they had heard anything positive or negative about a particular brand within the previous two weeks.

So, which brands dropped off the top 10 list last year? The History Channel. Walgreen's (WAG), V8, and Kindle.

Read on to find out which brands made the top 10 list this year.

1. Amazon

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Online retailer Amazon (AMZN) held onto its spot as the country's best perceived brand in 2014, thanks to its push into new services such as video streaming and its Fire tablet. The brand kept its No. 1 spot despite some well publicized misfires last year, including a battle with book publisher Hachette and its authors, and its poorly received entry into the smartphone arena with the Fire phone.

But consumers overlooked those missteps partly because of Amazon's Prime membership, which guarantees two-day shipping and a library of streaming media for $99 a year.

Amazon "has been at or near the top of the list for the last four or five years," Marzilli noted. "The way consumers consume media is really shifting," a change that's benefiting Amazon.

2. YouTube

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This Google-owned video site jumped four spots from 2013, thanks to its popular lineup of content creators and Web-based shows. Like Amazon, it's benefiting from consumers' desire to watch more content online.

Some of YouTube's top channels include the Swedish gamer PewDiePie, who's reportedly earning $4 million per year, as well as musicians such as Rihanna and One Direction.

3. Netflix

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Netflix jumped to third place in the most recent ranking from No. 12 in 2013, underscoring the importance of streaming media to American consumers.

Helping its buzz this past year were well received streaming productions such as "Orange Is the New Black" and "House of Cards," while it also won over consumers with its lineup of movies and TV series from other networks and studios.

4. Subway

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The sandwich chain ranks as the only restaurant business to break the top 10. Subway introduced new products such as the Prime Rib Melt and teamed with Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) to bring fresh-brewed single-serve cups of coffee to patrons.

But more than that, Subway is viewed as a healthy alternative to fast food, Marzilli noted.

"When you think of fast food, it gets a little bit of a halo effect because it's perceived as being more healthy," he said. "It also spends on athletes to promote the brand."

5. Samsung

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The electronics conglomerate jumped from the No. 11 spot in 2013, helped by its innovative products and aggressive marketing. While the Korean company is struggling with some financial issues, such as its first full-year profit decline since 2011, consumers continue view its products in a positive light, Marzilli noted.

"It's the only other player out there that challenges Apple in this space," he said. "It's their combination of clever advertising, good products and wide acceptance that puts them on the list."

6. Apple

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Apple (AAPL) has rejoined the top 10 after slipping off the list for the previous two years. Despite some negatives this past year -- such as the automatic U2 downloads that no one seemed to want -- the tech company rebounded with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay. It's also gaining interest for its wearable Apple Watch, which will be rolled out later this year.

Last year "was really a kind of game changer for Apple because they came out with a phone with a bigger screen, which was largely in response to Samsung," Marzilli said. "That played a bigger part in Apple coming back to the list this year."

7. Google

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To think about how important Google (GOOG) has become to Americans' lives, one only has to realize that the corporation is also a verb, Marzilli noted.

"You google things," he said. "It's just part of our lives. It's always coming up in conversation," and the company is creating new products such as Google Glass, Marzilli said. Google has "great positioning in a market that's still growing."

8. Lowe's

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Lowe's is another brand that often makes the list, thanks to its strong financial performance and quirky Vine videos that show homeowners how to fix common problems such as a stripped screw. It also uses the short-form Vine platform to advertise sales, such as one for a Troy-Bilt Jet Gas Blower that featured a stop-action wolf using it to blow down the three pigs' house.

9. Ford

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The automaker has had a resurgence in the past few years, thanks to strong financial performance and well received new models.

"Ford really came to life about four years ago, right around the financial crisis," Marzilli noted. "They didn't take the loan money from the government, and they improved the product line. Ford hasn't stumbled since."

10. Cheerios

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The General Mills (GIS) cereal brand is one that everyone seems to like. That positive feeling was helped last year by its first-ever Super Bowl ad, which showcased an interracial family. That commercial helped boost positive buzz for the company, Marzilli noted.

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