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10 Brands Closing Out the Year on Top With Gen Z & Millennials

YPulse’s brand tracker data shows which brands are ending 2021 on top with young consumers…

2020 was a tumultuous year for both young consumers and brands, and while many began to adjust to the pandemic in 2021, the year brought plenty of new challenges. It was also a year of more behavioral shifts, as Gen Z and Millennials began to be more comfortable with some elements of in-person experiences, but fears around COVID continued to dominate their worlds in many ways.

YPulse’s Biggest YScore+ Rises and Falls of 2021 Special Report takes an in-depth look at the ways this year has impacted brand affinity, analyzing the brands that saw the biggest rises and falls in YScore+ this year—and why. Putting their brand affinity in context, we dig deep to uncover the influence behind how brands are winning and losing ground with Gen Z and Millennials. Today, we’re sharing the 10 brands that are ending in 2021 with the top YScore+ among Gen Z and Millennials across all industries. Here are the highest ranking brands at the end of the year:

YouTube is the top YScore+ brand among Gen Z leaving 2021, and for a generation who grew up on the platform, it continues to serve as not only a source of entertainment, but a place to learn and find community; especially nearly two years into the pandemic. Our recent Self-Taught trend research found that it is a top resource they go to when they want to learn something new. While YouTube is in the top 10 among Millennials as well, it consistently scores higher among the younger generation, proving the essential role the platform plays for Gen Z, and in reaching them. Quizlet is number two on their ranking. While YPulse did see a drop in scores for this brand in 2021, it is still one of the top among Gen Z as the year comes to a close. Ed tech plays an essential role for Gen Z (the majority of whom are still in school), and they instinctively use digital platforms to support their learning, which earns some of these brands high affinity scores among this group.

Meanwhile, PayPal is the brand with the top YScore+ for Millennials leaving in 2021. While peer-to-peer payment services were already popular with young shoppers before the pandemic, they skyrocketed during lockdowns especially as young people shifted to more ecommerce shopping and looked for dependable ways to pay for their purchases. YPulse’s fintech report found that the majority of Millennials use PayPal, while our shopping and retail report found that more than half of Millennials prefer to shop online. Convenience, time-saving, and ease-of-use are clearly major drivers for winning with Millennials, with PayPal, Amazon, and Netflix in their top 5 brands finishing 2021 on top. This generation has been aging up, is more likely to have families of their own, and also have a far stronger spending power than Gen Z currently as they’re more established in their careers.

But Nike is third for both Gen Z and Millennials. The brand has been a top scorer for years, and is also a top brand for winning BIPOC young consumers’ affinity, so we’ve told you many times why they’ve been able to maintain relevance with young consumers. There’s of course the continued popularity of athleisure and streetwear, their ability to partner with some of young people’s favorite athletes, and their support for important issues including mental health and the Black Lives Matter movement. The brand has been a consistent example of how to win affinity among Gen Z and Millennials, and their position leaving 2021 shows that their ability to capture these generations is still going strong.

Netflix is another brand closing out the year with a top YScore+ among Gen Z and Millennials. While lower among Gen Z, it’s notable that the platform is in the top 10 for both generations. Of course, they’ve been consistent in showing their support for diverse and inclusive causes. But our TV and Entertainment and media consumption reports have shown that it has consistently been a top streaming platform that young audiences watch content on—and it houses some of their favorite shows including Squid Game, which has become such a massive global success. Other Netflix originals, including On My Block also made their list of favorite shows. TV series like Lucifer, You, and Cobra Kai, which were previously cancelled by other cable networks before being picked up by the streamer also made their list of favorite shows—all thanks to “The Netflix Effect.” Beyond just video content, the streaming service also took a dive into the world of gaming by launching their own video games for subscribers, proving that they’re able to stay relevant to young people’s interests.

Of course, we also have to point out that TikTok is in the top five ranking among Gen Z, after yet another year of earning more young users. Gen Z is still much more likely than Millennials to be using the app, which solidified itself as a hub for trends and culture-influencing this year. YPulse’s last social media monitor report of the year found that 64% of Gen Z are currently using TikTok, compared to 48% of Millennials. While Millennial use of the app also grew this year, their affinity for TikTok clearly still hasn’t caught up with Gen Z’s.

While some brands are ending the year with top affinity scores among both of  these generations, their top rankings also reveal some of the big differences we continue to see between Gen Z and Millennials, as well as how their current life stage impacts their top brands. But a year can shift brand perceptions considerably, and our ongoing youth brand tracker will continue to monitor the performance of these and over 400 other brands in North America in 2022.

YPulse Business users can access the full Biggest YScore+ Rises and Falls of 2021 Special Report and data here.

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.