claaarky - 11:03 am on Dec 20, 2011 (gmt 0)
I don't think it matters if you're the originator of a piece of content or regurgitating it, the bit Google is interested in is whether you're doing something different with it (which it detects by looking at the content on your page, the internet noise around the page and the internet noise around your site generally).
Here's an example. I run a pandalised ecommerce site which was using the original supplier descriptions (hands up) so we now write the product descriptions ourselves and have seen ranking improvements as a result (although no Panda recovery overall).
Recently we were the first to latch onto a new product which was very different, we produced a great product page for it and very quickly ranked top (even above the supplier). Then another reseller (a newcomer to the niche) latched onto it, created a better page with video and images, wrote a review, promoted the product like crazy on well known sites and published all the customer questions (and answers) on their product page, making their page even more unique.
They now rank top and as more sites have also latched onto it we've slid down the rankings related to that product because our page was trumped by more and more resellers.
In short, we were initially seen as the authority, then other sites put more effort into their content and promotion and Google now sees them as more of an authority for that product, which makes sense when you're taking about something lots of people are selling.
I don't think rewritten content protects you from Panda, you need to add something extra to it either in terms of content or promotion. Then, to be top, you need to make sure you're always putting more effort into it than your competitors (content, promotion and use of user generated content).
Making a noise creates user interaction which produces unique content that keeps growing while you're making a noise about it, and that all produces good rankings.
To successfully make a noise you have to use well known sites (which usually equates to high ranking, trusted sites). That takes money or time or great contacts but you'll end up with a very lively site with great content and great links from trusted sites. That, I believe, is what Google sees as quality.
I doubt ad placement or visual appeal are much to do with it, they are too easy to fix.