Brand experts have declared The iPod and iTunes Music Store the "brand hits of 2003", and say Apple "has done a stellar job of expanding its brand into the digital-music arena".

Prophet, a brand and marketing consultantcy, shortlisted Apple's MP3 player and music library in its annual review of brand hits. Other hits included Puma and Mini.

Prophet chief executive Michael Dunn said: "Apple provides a very succinct lesson in the importance of understanding brand's value to customers, how well the organization delivers on what the brand stands for, and how to make it stretch, or not, into new space to help the business grow.

"Playing off the anti-establishment roots shared by Apple and the digital-music scene, the company has underscored its difference as a brand through packaging. The iPod's signature white serves as a visual differentiator from other MP3 players. It has also supported it through advertising.

"But Apple is also using its digital-music package as a vehicle to extend its brand into previously unoccupied space. Having first taken care of its own community of Mac users in April, in October it launched the Windows version of the iTunes Music Store."

Dunn aded: "We're betting the Music Store's simplicity and ease of use will fuel substantial growth for Apple, and may even increase the chances of PC users considering Apple for their next purchase."