Gen Z has a unique preference for brands in comparison to previous generations. Their eyes and ears are not drawn by brand image or snappy jingles, but rather by relevant and consistent brands involved in their everyday lives.
This is the surface-level picture. When we look a little closer, we can see that there are many brands with good branding that are preferred by Gen Z, but some of Gen Z’s favorite brands are struggling in this department. In our latest issue of sonic branding magazine, amplify, we analyzed the sonic branding strategy of Gen Z’s favorite 74 brands according to Morning Consult, ranking them by effectiveness. Our amplify ranking is not a measure of brand favorability, but rather a pulse check on brands’ growth in the sonic equity department.
Interestingly enough, YouTube, Google, and Netflix are Gen Z’s top 3 favorite brands, however, these brands performed rather averagely in our amplify sonic strategy rankings, placing at #33, #32, and #8 respectively. These brands are almost omnipresent in Gen Z’s daily lives, and at one point laid claim to strong sonic assets, despite their recent lapse in sonic performance. The reality is that branding, especially sonic branding, is a marathon, not a sprint.
One-off campaigns do not build sonic brand equity in the way that long-standing, consistent projects do. This can be seen through the example of Subway, the owner of the iconic decade-long $5 Footlong campaign. Subway is Gen Z’s favorite restaurant brand, despite its recent sonic struggles. If our amplify ranking had been compiled in 2010, they would have appeared near the top of the list.
How does our ranking system work, and what defines the best sonic brands? Sonic strategies can take on many forms, for example, brands with unique sonic identities built from owned and identifiable music elements tend to perform well. “$5 Footlong” is such an element, sung in an owned track for Subway. These elements also must be used regularly in branded content to drive memorability and recall. Another example can be seen in the various sonic elements of the Nintendo Switch and other first-party game brands such as Super Mario and Legend of Zelda.
Nintendo has the best-performing sonic strategy out of the 74 Gen Z brands we analyzed, despite having to juggle advertising for many other third-party games for their platform. They have accomplished this feat by using their signature Switch “Click” sonic logo at the beginning or end of their videos, extending their branding into otherwise unbranded content.
While very few of Gen Z’s favorite brands currently have ownable sonic elements, many brands can improve their strategy by focusing on higher-quality custom music and avoiding cheap-sounding generic stock music. Stock tracks provide zero brand differentiation, add to brand confusion across industries (especially if brands use the same stock track in marketing materials), and make it impossible for brands to develop favorably among any generational cohort.
Ownable sonic elements are even more important for brands looking to advertise to Gen Z. As brands move away from classical touchpoints like TV advertisements and towards social media touchpoints like YouTube Shorts, TikTok, and Instagram, brands will need to utilize flexible and ownable soundscapes designed for a variety of digital channels to effectively market to younger generations.
These brands and rankings can be viewed in the latest amplify issue, The Sound of Gen Z.