Some Awfully Good Companies Competing for ‘Worst Company in America’ Title

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Google and Apple? They’ve been squared off in an annual March Madness-style tournament in which the nation’s worst company “wins.” What complicates matters is that Apple, Google, and several other companies entered in the contest are also mainstays on lists highlighting the world’s most valuable brands, best customer service, hottest retailers, and overall “best” businesses period.

Each March, Consumerist, which is one of our favorite blogs, hosts a Worst Company in America tournament, in which readers vote for the company they hate the most in NCAA bracket fashion. After a series of head-to-head vote-offs, a dubious winner is eventually named—and awarded with the “trophy,” the Golden Poo (just what it sounds like: a golden statue of poo). Previous tourney “winners” include BP (remember the oil spill?), AIG, and Comcast.

Do Apple and Google belong in the same class as these companies? The two companies are going head to head, and at last check Apple was ahead with about 60% of the votes. This seems a bit ironic, considering that consumers just bought three million new iPads in four days.

(MORE: What’s the Worst Company in America?)

What’s more, on Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, Apple and Google are ranked #1 and #2, respectively. In another study rounding up the Most Valuable Global Brands, Apple and Google have been neck and neck for years, with Apple taking the top spot last year after Google won the crown four years in a row. The top riser in terms of most valuable brand, meanwhile, was Facebook, which is also in the Consumerist’s 2012 Worst Company tournament.

Google doesn’t have much of a retail presence, but Apple certainly does, and not only do its products sell exceptionally well, but its customer service is considered to be top-notch. Stella Service, a customer service research firm, put Apple among the top retailers in terms of handling refunds and customer support via online chat and over the phone.

A recent Hottest Retailer list, based on largest year-over-year sales, had the Apple Store and another “Worst Company” contender, Netflix, in the top ten for 2011.

(MORE: Best (and Worst) Things to Buy at Dollar Stores)

In a way, though, it’s understandable that big, enormously successful companies, which are almost unavoidable, and which play fairly large roles in consumers’ lives, are the businesses that get them the most agitated. Think: Walmart, AT&T, McDonald’s.

Netflix’s summer of price increases and PR debacles certainly did nothing for the company’s reputation among consumers. Recent privacy intrusions by Facebook and Google have soured consumer sentiment on these companies too. Despite its motto, Google seems to be growing more evil by the day.

As for Apple, the biggest gripe seems to be that its products and business model are carefully designed top-to-bottom to extract the most possible money away from customers. That makes it a highly profitable company, but also one that’s prone to getting customers up in arms.

(MORE: Survey: Costco Given Retail Crown for Best Shopping Experience)

One more quibble: The Postal Service? Why is that in a “Worst Company” contest? Granted, it’s run horribly, but it’s not really a company like Wells Fargo or Sprint or Google are companies. The Postal Service is categorized as “an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States.” Seems like it should be competing against the IRS, the Department of Education, or perhaps all of Congress, not Apple.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.