AlyssaS - 3:28 am on Sep 7, 2011 (gmt 0)
walkman - do a search for "wedding rings" on Bing - ads at the top, ads at the bottom and ads on teh side - and for the record I don't believe Bing is manipulating their results to "force" people to buy these ads either. Business is buying ads on every single search engine they can because their offline sales have fallen off a cliff and they are hoping to recoup and shift stock online.
Regarding brands - you are assuming that brands are ranking well because G is favoring them - but has it occurred to you they are ranking well in spite of G, because they are doing astonishing amounts of work (and spending huge amounts of money) to make sure they rank well?
Here's a small anecdote - a friend of mine has been writing paranormal fiction for years, and finally finished his magnum opus and decided to self-publish online. He uploaded to Smashwords and to Kindle, and then asked me for some help to get him to rank in the search engines (while he did the social promotion).
I assumed that the Amazon listing would do better as they are a huge branded site, etc etc, but no, the Smashwords listing ranked out of the box and only needed a little work to get it to page 1 for the title. The Amazon listing was nowhere, despite similar promotion. This makes me think that G is actually "helping" the smaller player. But when my friend starts accruing sales (via his social promotions), Amazon will suddenly send a ton of internal links to his book which will propel it up, despite G.
It amazes me when people assume that Amazon, Walmart and other brands are absolutely passive and that G has to actively help them! If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you. Nah, these guys are ranking despite G, because they are targeting big guns at the SERPs. G can only correct to a certain extent - as with my smashwords example - but after a bit they can't because the Serps would look weird.
This brand thing will only get worse - I agree with everyone about that. But it's because business has finally realised that ranking well can potentially protect them from loss in sales in their offline businesses and are pouring in money and effort with a view to dominating the SERPs.