Sep 11 2019
Fame has never been more fragmented—or more fluid. Young TikTok stars are earning mainstream cred and fans in the wake of their viral notoriety. YouTube star Lilly Singh is getting her own NBC late show. Last month, Vice reported that A-list celebrities are now vlogging on YouTube to connect with young fans who grew up watching online content more than traditional content. Major musicians comment on online celebrity antics, while those online stars rack up millions upon millions of views and likes. Figuring out who is really popular among young consumers has gotten trickier than ever before.
To see how every kind of famous figure stacks up against one another in the minds of Gen Z and Millennials, our most recent celebrity and influencer survey asked 13-37-year-olds, “Who is your favorite famous person? A famous person could be a movie star, YouTuber, athlete, musician, Instagrammer, TV star, etc.” With this broad definition in mind, they told us their favorite celebrities—and over 500 individuals were named. The sheer number of responses, and the most popular celeb ranking, reveal some major differences between Gen Z and Millennials. But before we dive into those, here are the 17 celebrities who received the most mentions overall:
Their Top Favorite Celebrities
*This was an open-end response question to allow us to capture the full range of famous people that Millennials and Gen Z say are their favorites—without our preconceived ideas shaping their responses. As with any qualitative question, the responses include those that are top of mind and those that are most popular. The lists are ordered according to number of responses received, and alphabetically when ties occurred.
Looking at the overall ranking of 13-37-year-olds’ favorite famous people, musician Taylor Swift tops the list, with Hollywood powerhouses Dwayne Johnson and Will Smith second and third in line. The top 17 ranking is heavy on Hollywood celebs and music stars, with just one online star (Shane Dawson) in the mix—but there’s more to the list than meets the eye. Overall, the responses to this question were incredibly fragmented. As mentioned, over 500 individual famous people were named by respondents, and while traditional famous people were named most often, the full list included over a hundred online celebrities named by young fans. Millennials were most likely to name Hollywood celebrities, but when we look at the most-mentioned type of famous person by age, a clear generation gap appears:
The youngest Gen Z consumers were most likely to name an online celebrity as their favorite famous person, while older Millennials were most likely to name a Hollywood celebrity. Because Hollywood celebrities and musicians receive more widespread notoriety, they rise to the top of a most popular list that counts the number of responses each individual receives. Online fame is far more fragmented, with so many YouTubers, Instagrammers, and bloggers receiving only one or two mentions each, so their true popularity is less obvious.
When we ask young consumers what public figures they trust most, 31% say YouTubers—making them the most trusted type of celebrity, over musicians, athletes, movie stars, news anchors, and TV stars. Gen Z is more likely than Millennials to say they trust YouTubers, and to say they care about online celebrities more than any other kind. When we ask if they would rather spend an afternoon with their favorite Hollywood/music celebrity or their favorite online celebrity, 57% of Gen Z say online celebrity—while 68% of Millennials say Hollywood celebrity. But significantly, half of both groups say they are more likely to consider buying a product if their favorite online celebrity recommends it.
Brands need to be prepared for the massive shift that Gen Z is bringing to fame. They’ve been raised on YouTube, and they’re more interested in online celebrities than Hollywood, and more likely to listen to them. As they age up, they’re bringing these preferences with them, and fame will only continue to fragment.
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