5 Brands That Are Getting It Right With Gen Z

Members of Generation Z — those born in 1997 or later — are young, but they know what they want.

Unlike their Generation X parents — the children of the mid-1960s through about 1980 — who valued status, name brands and luxury items, Gen Z members prioritize doing business with companies that have a commitment to social justice, the environment, mental health and other causes. They also want to spend their money on goods and services that are “unique, ethical and unlimited.”

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So says a report from McKinsey & Co., which details Gen Z spending patterns. And it’s clear companies that want to earn their business must adapt to this new generation.

“The possibilities now emerging for companies are as transformational as they are challenging,” the McKinsey report said. “Businesses must rethink how they deliver value to the consumer, rebalance scale and mass production against personalization, and — more than ever — practice what they preach when they address marketing issues and work ethics.”

So just which companies are Gen Zers putting their faith — and money — in? Read on to find out.

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The Oregon-based company scores high with Generation Z because of its casual apparel and fashionable footwear. But it isn’t just sweatshirts and sneakers that are driving Gen Z to Nike products. Instead, its advertising campaigns advocating for social change are resonating with teens and young adults.

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Business Insider reported Nike’s success with the demographic, in part, is linked to high-profile marketing campaigns. One of those included an ad that featured Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who has taken a stand on racial and social justice issues. Nike ranked No. 1 in the footwear category in the Taking Stock with Teens report in Fall 2020 produced by financial services firm Piper Sandler.

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Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s launched in a renovated gas station in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont, and by 1985, it had created a foundation to fund community-oriented projects. Since then, the brand has become as well known for its call for inclusivity, social justice and protecting the environment as it is for its Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavors — causes that resonate with Gen Z. The company recently introduced Change is Brewing, a flavor it says celebrates “safety and liberation” through transforming the approach to public safety.

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Starbucks won over millennials in the 2010s with its diligence to social media and a strong rewards program. It also succeeded by providing its customers, who increasingly were communicating by digital means, with a place to meet up with others, face-to-face. It has continued its momentum in the 2020s with a strong commitment to the environment. Starbucks is a founding member of the Transform to Net Zero Coalition, which pledges a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, has a sustainability training program for employees, is growing its plant-based offerings and is investing in renewable energy. Starbucks was No. 2 in the Piper Sandler survey in the restaurant category.

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Gen Z apparently has room to love a second footwear company — Vans, which was a distant second to Nike in the Piper Sandler report. Vans, a shoe popularized by skateboarders in the 1970s, has stayed relevant through its “minimalist and genderless design,” said nss magazine, a European publication that follows the intersection of street culture and fashion. It doesn’t hurt that some of the favorites of Gen Z — from model Bella Hadid to rapper Travis Scott to basketball star Russell Westbrook — often are seen wearing Vans and the price makes them more affordable than Nike on many styles.

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Ulta Beauty

In the beauty products division of the Piper Sandler survey, Ulta was preferred by 42% of respondents. Perhaps that is because it stocks many of the products that are Gen Z favorites — products that emphasize cruelty-free manufacturing or putting an emphasis on a natural, rather than a made-up look, for example. Gen Z consumers also want their cosmetics brands to take a stand on issues such as police reform and sustainability, The New York Times reported.


Skin-care line CeraVe has taken the social media route to becoming the darling of the Gen Z set. It topped the Piper Sandler study in its division, with 28% of respondents favoring CeraVe. It has done so by reaching Gen Z directly, building a customer base via TikTok influencers, according to a June 30, 2021, report from internet marketing firm Tribe Dynamics. As of the report date, posts with the #cerave tag had received 825.1 million views.

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Last updated: Oct. 8, 2021


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