These Are the Brands Gen Z Favors Most — Here’s What They Have in Common

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What does it take for a brand to win over Gen Z‘s heart? This question is heavy on the minds of many C-suite executives as Gen Z quickly moves up the ladder in buying power. Now, thanks to a new report from CivicScience, we may have some solid clues.

According to the new research, between 2017 and 2022 the following brands saw a boost in Gen Z favorability

  • McDonald’s: 62% in 2022 versus 45% in 2017
  • Whole Foods: 28% in 2022 versus 13% in 2017  
  • Walmart: 64% in 2022 versus 52% in 2017 
  • Gap: 43% in 2022 versus 33% in 2017 
  • American Apparel: 40% in 2022 versus 24% in 2017 
  • Subaru: 44% in 2022 versus 43% in 2017 
  • MLS: 27% in 2020 versus 8% in 2017 
  • NFL: 34% in 2022 versus 31% in 2017

Target remained the same at 66% in 2017 and in 2022.

These brands saw a decline in favorability: 

  • Chick-fil-A: 66% in 2022 versus 69% in 2017 
  • Dunkin’ Donuts: 33% in 2022 versus 37% in 2017 
  • Amazon: 53% in 2022 versus 65% in 2017 
  • Toyota: 54% in 2022 versus 56% in 2017 

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McDonald’s Is Lovin’ It — and So Is Gen Z 

If brands want to smash it in the new year, they should consider looking at McDonald’s for inspiration. 

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“It appears from the data that McDonald’s has had the greatest increase in favorability over the past several years,” said Mark Beal, assistant professor of professional practice, communication, at Rutgers University School of Communication & Information.

“During that time, McDonald’s has launched signature meal partnerships with culturally relevant celebrities who Gen Z admires starting with Travis Scott and continuing with BTS and Saweetie. More recently, the brand offered an adult version of its popular Happy Meal via a partnership with Cactus Plant, a fashion brand. These partnerships are timely and relevant and effectively engage Gen Z.”

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Walmart and Whole Foods: Affordability vs. Nutrition

“In regards to grocery shopping, studies show that Gen Z rates price as the most important contributor to their decision and nutrition second,” said LeeNor Dikel, ACC, business coach, social media marketer and author.

“This can explain the popularity of Walmart, an affordable option [for] a generation who is struggling financially compared to previous generations (with 38% still living with at least one parent or guardian). On the other hand, Whole Foods’ popularity is derived from its nutritional value. We see a trend toward ‘healthy living’ rising on social channels such as TikTok and Instagram, driving these purchasing decisions. This growth in popularity can also be explained by the rise in members of this generation who are now working adults who can afford Whole Foods, versus in 2017, when the majority of this generation was still under 18.”

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What Changed Between 2017 and 2022 

“The two main drivers of change in brand favorability between 2017 and now are brand action and financial resources,” said Sarah Walsh, brand strategist at Branch & Bramble. “Brands who take the time to understand Gen Z customers, listen to their feedback and actually implement it are seeing increases in favorability, while those who ignore the feedback have seen a decrease in positive sentiment.” 

Another key factor that Gen Z has had to contend with in the past five years is financial practicality. 

“While brands may be aligned with their values, the individual Gen Z person may not be at a point in their lives where they can afford to invest in these brands yet,” Walsh said. “Instead, frugal Gen Zers will support brands that are connecting with them meaningfully and have an accessible price point.” 

What Brands Can Do To Attract Gen Z Shoppers 

Shana Digital, CEO of Bold Creative Brand, shared what brands in general do to attract Gen Z consumers. 

  • Community: Brands can create a sense of community and belonging. By using the same brands as their peers, individuals in Gen Z may feel connected to a larger group of likeminded people.
  • Quality: Gen Z may be drawn to brands that they perceive as offering high-quality products or services. They may also be more likely to do research and compare brands before making a purchase, and may be more likely to prioritize sustainability and ethical practices
  • Experience: Many brands today offer experiences in addition to products, and Gen Z may be attracted to the social and cultural experiences that these brands provide.
  • Marketing: Finally, it’s worth noting that brands often use marketing and advertising to appeal to different generations, and Gen Z is no exception. Brands may use social media, influencer marketing and other tactics to try to reach and engage this demographic.”
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Diversity Makes a Big Impact Too 

Another major factor driving these brands’ success (that cannot be overstated) is diversity. 

“From the data, it’s clear that brands committed to inclusiveness in diversity experienced an increase over brands that did not,” said Gabriel Lalonde, CEO, MDL Financial Group Ltd. “The most successful brands are those that took a stand for societal change. Target, for example, has been at the forefront and has a longstanding policy of inclusiveness by designating gender-neutral sections of stores.”  

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.
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