Nvidia remains a little-known brand despite briefly passing Apple, Microsoft in market cap


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Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang makes a speech at an event at COMPUTEX forum in Taipei, Taiwan June 4, 2024. 
Ann Wang | Reuters

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google were the four leading global brands at the end of 2023, according to consulting firm Interbrand. They’re are also four of the world’s five most valuable companies.

The other is Nvidia, which for a time this week, surpassed Microsoft to become the largest company in the world by market cap.

But despite its $3.1 trillion valuation (it reached $3.3 trillion before a two-day slide), Nvidia doesn’t even crack the top 100 most iconic names on Interbrand’s most recent list, which is populated by such companies as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Disney and Netflix.

Nvidia’s historic rise in valuation — the stock has climbed almost ninefold since the end of 2022 — has been driven almost entirely by demand for its graphics processing units (GPUs) that are at the heart of the boom in generative artificial intelligence and, more broadly, by the hype over AI. Nvidia has over 80% of the market for chips used to train and deploy AI software like ChatGPT. A handful of huge tech companies are the primary buyers of its chips.

The speed of Nvidia’s ascent and its relative lack of contact with consumers along the way combines to put the 31-year-old company’s brand recognition on Main Street far behind its allure on Wall Street. No. 100 on Interbrand’s list for 2023 is Japanese camera maker Canon, with Dutch brewer Heineken at No. 99.

“As a product company recently moving onto a global stage, Nvidia has not had time, nor has it dedicated resources, to change its role of brand and strengthen its brand to protect future revenue,” Greg Silverman, Interbrand’s global director of brand economics, said in an email. The risk for Nvidia, Silverman added, is that its “weak brand strength will limit how valuable it will be, despite its market cap heights.”

A spokesperson for Nvidia declined to comment.

Nvidia’s annual revenue growth has exceeded 200% in each of the past three quarters. For fiscal 2025, revenue is expected to almost double from a year earlier to over $120 billion, according to LSEG.

The company’s data center GPUs, which made up 85% of sales in the most recent quarter, are installed in massive facilities, and typically require a team of expensive data science and supercomputing experts to configure them to efficiently create AI software.

By contrast, Apple, ranked No. 1 by Interbrand, makes the vast majority of its money by selling iPhones and other devices to consumers across the globe. Microsoft, ranked second, is an enterprise sales giant, but is ubiquitously known for its Windows and Office software. Third-ranked Amazon strives to be consumers’ everything store, and No. 4 Google is, for many people, the front door to the internet.

Rounding out Interbrand’s top 10 are South Korean electronics giant Samsung, along with three car companies (Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and BMW), Coca-Cola and Nike.

Further down the list, at No. 24, is Nvidia rival Intel, which is best known for making the processor at the heart of laptops and PCs and for its long-running “Intel Inside” advertising campaign. Even Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a company that builds servers, made the list at No. 91.

Gamers love it

However, a competing survey shows that Nvidia’s brand value is catching up to that of its peers.

In a ranking of the 100 most valuable global brands published this month by Kantar BrandZ, Nvidia landed at No. 6, leaping 18 places from its prior survey. The brand’s overall valued jumped 178% in a year to an estimate of about $202 billion. Kantar surveys enterprise buyers to evaluate brands that primarily sell to other businesses to come up with a total estimate of brand value.

“Nvidia is pound for pound as relevant and meaningful to that B2B buyer that’s looking to make big, large purchases in-house for their company as Apple is to the consumer who’s buying an iPad or a Mac,” Marc Glovsky, senior brand strategist at Kantar, told CNBC.

And while Nvidia may not be a name known to your parents — or your kids — it does have resonance in a particular corner of the consumer world. Just ask your hard-core gaming buddy.

When Nvidia was founded in 1991, AI was a nascent field. The company’s primary focus was on designing chips that could draw digital triangles quickly, a basic capability that led to a huge expansion in 3D games.

For years, Nvidia, and its GeForce brand and green logo were well known to the type of people who tweaked their computers to run the most advanced games. Nvidia provides the chips for the Nintendo Switch console, which has shipped over 140 million units around the world.

A Nintendo Switch console.
Philip Fong | AFP | Getty Images

Unlike Intel, Nvidia never put its name in front of consumers with flashy ad campaigns. And gaming is now just a nice side business for chipmaker. In the latest quarter, it accounted for $2.6 billion of revenue, or 10% of total sales, rising 18% year over year.

When it comes to Nvidia’s most important products, companies and institutions vying for its AI chips have to go through an extensive quoting and sales process, often through a computer-equipment company, like Dell or HPE. Those vendors sell complete systems, including memory, a central processor and other parts. Even experts who want to train AI models are more likely to rent Nvidia access through a cloud provider than build their own server clusters.

Still, Nvidia’s name recognition is rapidly increasing. Among retail investors, Nvidia has emerged as the most widely held stock, according to data collected and published last month by Vanda Research.

And while the name didn’t make Interbrand’s top 100 list for 2023, the firm’s data shows its brand awareness quadrupled in the past 12 months, which will help when it’s time for the next ranking, Silverman said.

Maybe by then people will know how to say its name, a topic that’d been the source of debate on obscure gaming forums. The company pronounces it en-VID-ia.

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