What is cross-generational connection and what does it mean for brands?

Which brands are meeting the moment, and which brands have uncertain futures? Strategic insight agency Opinium’s Most Connected Brands study shows which brands are winning over the hearts and minds of young consumers, and which may be past their prime.

A look at the top 10 Most Connected Brands by age group (18-29, 30-49, 50+), is a reminder that there is no guarantee the brands that dominate today will continue to do so for generations to come.

Brands on the rise with young consumers

For 18-29 year-olds, it’s Chick-fil-A over McDonald’s, and TikTok and Instagram over Facebook. Gen Z and young millennials were the only age group to rank Chick-fil-A (7th), Instagram (8th), Netflix (9th), and TikTok (10th) as top 10 brands.

Although fast food is nothing new, Chick-fil-A ranked in the 98th percentile for distinction among 18-29 year-olds. In comparison, McDonald’s ranked in the 64th percentile for distinction among this age group. Chick-fil-A’s high-quality ingredients, creative marketing, and customer service strike a chord with young consumers.  

TikTok – a platform that sets trends, nurtures creativity, and sparks movements – ranked in the 98th percentile for dynamism and the 100th percentile for buzz among 18-29 year-olds. The nascent social media platform has quickly soared in popularity, supercharged by younger audiences increasingly using the app to be entertained, learn, and connect.

Among 18-29 year-olds, TikTok’s success is juxtaposed by Facebook’s decline. Gen Z and young millennials ranked Facebook 68th on this year’s MCB Index, and it ranks in the 39th percentile in terms of dynamism.

The future of ‘legacy’ brands is called into question

While some brands are thriving among young consumers, others have struggled to find a home. Consumers aged 50 years or older were the only ones to rank Hershey’s (2nd), Kraft (3rd), Tide (5th), Microsoft (6th), Dawn (8th), Lay’s (9th), and Heinz (10th) as top ten brands.

This forces us to question whether ‘legacy’ food and beverage brands such as Hershey’s, Kraft, and Heinz, will enjoy this status for generations to come.

Among consumers 50+, Hershey’s ranks in the 100th percentile, Kraft in the 99th, and Heinz in the 96th in terms of connection, but this connection has not transcended generations. Among consumers ages 18-29, Hershey’s ranks in the 69th percentile, Heinz in the 52nd, and Kraft in the 37th when it comes to connection. Lay’s is the only brand that performed comparably among younger audiences, ranking in the 94th percentile for connection.

While these brands are certainly iconic, they are not invincible. If the current trend continues, Hershey’s and Lay’s will lose their spot among the top ten Most Connected Brands, and Kraft and Heinz will continue to drop in the rankings. These brands need to answer a key question, ‘how do we remain relevant?’

Finding common ground  

Only two brands ranked in the top ten across all age groups: Amazon and Google. Everyone, from Gen Z to Boomers, relies on Amazon for a quick purchase or Google to learn something new. In an Index where different generations connect with different brands, the ubiquity of Amazon and Google is impressive. Although, as we have learned, these brands should not take their connection with consumers for granted.

The bottom line: connection needs to be continuously earned

Opinium’s Most Connected Brands index is a snapshot of the changing wants and needs of consumers, illustrated by the differences between the top ten brands among older and younger generations. Brands that adapt and innovate will be favoured over ones that idle – a reminder that a connection is never guaranteed and needs to be continuously earned.

Written by Grace Miller, Senior Research Analyst of Opinium US