Al Murphy

Popularity is not a state of grace. In business, it is treasure hard-won on the battlefields of product development and marketing, then leveraged or squandered or stolen back. Most of the products and ideas showcased here—the stuff we buy, sell, and otherwise consume the most—owe their status in part to aggressive sales tactics, from knocking on doors to strong-arming grocers to gain the best shelf space. In its most potent and permanent form, however, popularity transcends sales pitches, advertising, fads, and maybe even conscious choice. One rarely reads or talks or thinks about peanut butter, yet Jif has eaten Skippy's lunch for 20 years, a sustained level of popularity that the iPhone can only dream about. While Jif rolls on, the iPhone—the most buzzworthy product of the last decade—will probably take its place amid the Palm and the Walkman in the great closeout bin in the sky. In short, if we have to think about a purchase, it's in a precarious position. The things we rarely pause to consider are the ones that stay on top.

In the following slides, you'll read about the churches we visit and the junk food we eat, the sneakers we wear, the Web videos we e-mail to each other, and the prescription drugs we take. Some is stuff we legitimately adore, such as Nike Air Force 1s or cuddly Labrador retrievers. Some make us scratch our heads—who buys a white car? Oh, you did? Sorry. See, that's another thing about popularity. Everybody has an opinion, and to some degree everybody defines himself against the mainstream. A few of the things we use the most are the ones we love the least, like Facebook, which according to ForeSee Results holds an approval rating close to that of the IRS. Our mission here is not to judge but to use the best available methodology—it varies widely from item to item—to determine the winners of the never-ending popularity contest that is the American economy. Your taste may differ. In fact, we're sure it does.