Gen Z & Millennials Think These Are 20 of the Most Innovative Brands

With young consumers, disruptors and experimenters rise to the top. What brands do 13-36-year-olds see as the most innovative? We looked to our brand tracker to find out…

One major takeaway from our new YPulse Brand Report was that to stay on top with young consumers, constant innovation is required. It’s the big name brands that constantly offer something new that stay in young consumers’ favor—and major disruptors rise to the top. Innovation is important to Gen Z and Millennials, who are always on the lookout for something different. (Three quarters of 13-34-year-olds tell us brands should always try new things, even if they're not certain they will work, and 72% also say they’re always looking for new products to try.) Just look at the indie beauty brands winning with young consumers as one example. Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has only been around since 2017, but ranks highest as a beauty brand that young females pay attention to. That high standing is certainly related to the fact that YPulse respondents score it as the most innovative Health and Beauty brand overall. It was named among Fast Company’s “most innovative companies” for 2018 on the strength of Fenty Beauty YouTube tutorials, which earned 132 million views in a single month.

Innovation can lead to major payoff for brands—so being perceived as an innovative brand can be vital to your standing with young consumers. YPulse’s continuous brand tracking survey, which measures the perceptions of 13-39-year-old consumers across 400+ brands and 81,000 interviews annually, measures young consumers’ perceptions of brands across industries—including what brands they think are innovative. We compared their responses across industries to see who rises to the top:  

*YPulse’s youth brand tracker measures young consumers’ relationships with a brand based on a weighted 6-point scale, ranging from “Never heard of this brand” to “This brand is one of my favorites.” We also ask respondents “Which of the following are INNOVATIVE?” These are the top brands that were rated as innovative within their industries, among those who are aware of the brand. The brands on this list are among the over 400 brands included in the brand tracker as of 5/8/2019. Rankings are subject to change as more brands are added and removed.

Their Most Innovative Brands


  1. Apple
  2. Savage x Fenty
  3. Nike
  4. Amazon
  5. Google
  6. PlayStation
  7. Impossible Burger
  8. Dollar Shave Club
  9. Xbox
  10. Amazon Prime Video
  11. Hello Fresh
  12. Thinx
  13. Fenty Beauty
  14. Lush
  15. Under Armour
  16. Blue Apron
  17. Netflix
  18. Starbucks
  19. Samsung
  20. YouTube

Though its signature product isn’t selling as it once was, young consumers still see Apple as the top innovative brand. Products like the Apple Watch and Airpods have become the new symbols of high-tech status, and the brand is working to shore up their innovation reputation elsewhere as well. According to Kidscreen, big announcements from Apple could shake up both the streaming and gaming worlds this year. Apple TV+ will bundle cable and streaming subscriptions for the Post-TV Gen, while sprinkling in original programming of their own. And to take on the lucrative gaming industry, subscriptions to the new Apple Arcade will give players access to “exclusive, original games” developed by the likes of Disney and LEGO.

For those wondering how Savage x Fenty is beating out some other big names, part of the answer is just how well it’s scoring as an innovative brand within its own industry (intimates). When young consumers are asked about what brands are innovative, those brands are compared to others from within the same industry. (This creates more fair competition and accounts for any industry biases due to associations with certain attributes.) When comparing scores across industries, category leaders will appear toward the top. If an industry only has a handful of strong brands, those numbers will appear higher than brands rated in a more competitive industry—you’ll notice that only one other intimates brand, Thinx, appears on this top 20 ranking, and it’s another major disruptor. Savage x Fenty has made an impression on young consumers with a subscription model, commitment to diversity, and, of course, Rihanna at the helm.

Looking at the rest of the ranking, the number of tech brands (Google, PlayStation, Xbox) and industry challengers (Dollar Shave Club, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron) aren’t surprising. But one buzzy name stands out from the pack. While food brands are rare on the list, The Impossible Burger ranks as the number seven innovative brand. The plant-based product is turning up on more and more mainstream menus—including, most recently, Burger King’s. Vegan foods were second on the ranking of food trends that Gen Z and Millennials want to try, showing that even those who aren’t eating a meat-free diet all the time are increasingly interested in dabbling in non-meat meals. Ad Age reports that it’s flexitarians, not vegans, who are driving the fake meat trend, and they’ve helped drive fake meat sales to $1.4 billion last year. The Impossible Burger is the poster brand for this trend, and young consumers’ perception of the product as innovative is certainly helping their rise.

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The Newsfeed

Quote of the Day: “Retail should be a facilitator for experience, rather than just selling product.”—Sharmandean Reid, Founder, Wah Nails London (YPulse)

Millennials seeking portable booze are cracking open canned wine. Even though the category still only accounts for less than 1% of the Millennial-favorite alcoholic beverages’ market, Nielsen reports it spiked 69% last year and continues to gain ground. An exec at Delicato Family Wines explains, “Millennials have grown up in a world where consuming wine outdoors—or any location outside of the traditional table—is more acceptable than generations past.” (Wine Spectator)

Summer camps are cropping up to teach kids how to become YouTubers. At I-D Tech Camps, Level Up, and Star Camps, kids can learn all about how to, as the latter puts it, “Become an Internet sensation.” They offer courses in how to create and post videos, from shooting clips to editing audio, and how to build their personal brand. But don’t worry, most are framing YouTubing as a hobby, not a career, and setting kids’ expectations accordingly. (WSJ)

A new bill could change the free-to-play profit model that’s made games like Fortnite top earners. Senators have proposed the official ban of “loot boxes,” or items that players can buy (and sometimes must buy) to win a video game, often gambling on what’s inside. Senator Ed Markey explains that “Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds.” For some, this will eliminate a key revenue stream and open the door to review other in-game purchases.  (The Verge)

A social media overhaul upped Corn Nuts’ sales by 12%—with no paid support.The snack’s sales were stagnant before a new exec took over their Twitter, infusing it with the personable tone food brands have become known for (and sometimes notorious for). Since then, followers spiked from 650 to 21,000, and what they’re calling a “scrappy” strategy “absolutely translated to sales,” reporting that retail sales spiked 12% and Millennials’ repeat purchases rose the same percentage. (Marketing Dive)

The retail apocalypse continues, with 7,000 more stores closing their doors in 2019. CoStar Group estimates that the square footage of retail space closed has topped its own record each year since 2017, and this year they’re “predicting more of the same.” PayLess ShoeSource, Gymboree, Dressbarn, and Charlotte Russe lead the list of number stores planned to shutter this year, as retailers learn to scale down size and up Experiencification for young shoppers. (Business Insider

Quote of the Day: “It’s a really interesting time at the moment in catalog [music]…Sometimes, it’s a question of how we make something out of nothing.”—Tim Fraser-Harding, President, Global Catalogue, Recorded Music at Warner Music Group (Rolling Stone)

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