Ugg, the footwear maker known for its cold-weather boots, is hot with Gen Z. The brand tops the latest Ad Age-Harris Poll Gen Z brand tracker, which ranked brands that made significant progress in gaining attention from Gen Z in the fourth quarter of 2023. The poll also shows that Bud Light saw some momentum among Gen Z, a glimmer of hope for the beer brand that is still dealing with a sales backlash after its 2023 promotion with transgender Dylan Mulvaney drew complaints from conservatives.
20 brands catching Gen Z’s attention right now
Ugg is known for its fleece-lined boots, but the brand’s latest Extreme line seems to have turned heads. The new boots are made for harsher, colder conditions, with waterproofing, a Gore-Tex interior and a more rugged outsole for traction. They come in brown, black and bright pink. To get the word out, the brand flew several influencers to Iceland, and Nicole Kidman has been spotted wearing Uggs on several recent occasions.
The brand also got a boost from social media, where the origins of the company name became a popular discussion on TikTok. Many Ugg owners thought they were wearing the Australian version, but that often isn’t the case. Ugg is an American brand owned by Deckers Brands, which makes a very similar shoe to those made by the Australia-based company called Ugg Since 1974. Ugg’s sales rose 28% to $610.5 million in the fiscal second quarter ended Sept. 30, reported Deckers Brands, which also owns Hoka, Teva and Sanuk.
Conducted quarterly, the Ad Age-Harris Poll ranks brands by how much their equity has changed with Gen Z—that is, how much the generation’s perception of these brands is changing from quarter to quarter. It surveys U.S. consumers ages 18-24; younger members of Gen Z are unable to answer without adult supervision, so are excluded from the analysis.
Other brands in the top five in the fourth quarter include Dollar Shave Club, the Conmebol Copa America, grocery chain Aldi and the NFL.
Below, a closer look at some of the trends in the fourth-quarter poll.
It was a good quarter for media and sports brands, with the NFL, Disney+, YouTube and Conmebol Copa America all making the list.
The Copa America hasn’t even happened yet, but soccer mania is fueling Gen Z’s interest in the tournament run by Conmebol, the South American soccer federation, which is bringing Copa America to the U.S. for the first time since 2016. Play starts in June.
Michelob Ultra has already partnered with Lionel Messi to sponsor the tournament. The Anheuser-Busch InBev brand also revealed last week that Messi would star in its Super Bowl ad. The star’s move to Inter Miami CF last year has helped supercharge U.S. interest in soccer, along with popular TV shows “Ted Lasso” with Jason Sudeikis, and “Welcome to Wrexham” featuring Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny.
The NFL has also gained traction from Gen Z thanks to Taylor Swift. The middle of the season coincided with fan excitement over Swift dating Travis Kelce, increasing engagement from female fans. NFL games accounted for 93 of the year’s 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in 2023, per Nielsen.
Consumers were drawn to new Disney+ (10th) content throughout the fourth quarter, including Halloween and holiday movies, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” The streaming service also has been pushing its bundle with Hulu, which allows some Hulu content to show up in Disney+. YouTube (12th) is still popular with very young consumers, and YouTube Shorts ads are cheaper and result in longer views. Speaking of younger consumers, “Sesame Street” (20th) saw a resurgence after successful TikTok posts. The videos range from nostalgic clips from the show to characters’ takes on TikTok or cultural trends, such as (cookie) hauls.
Food and beverages
Consumers of course wanted some snacks and beverages to go with all that viewing.
Bud Light (16th) showed signs of regaining affinity with Gen Z. Last summer, conservatives lambasted the brand for sending Mulvaney a Bud Light can with her face on it. The brand tried to walk back the partnership, sparking outrage from LGBTQ+ customers.
Since then, Bud Light has leaned heavily into athletes and Americana, enlisting NFL legends Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith in an ad and partnering with country musician Zach Bryan. The beer brand also focused on the NCAA football season with limited-edition team cans and hosting college-town concerts before games. Bud Light also announced a multi-year partnership with UFC. Kid Rock, who kicked up the initial blowback against Bud Light, lifted his boycott of the brand in December. Still, sales for Bud Light have not recovered—the brand finished the year with in-store dollar sales down 20%, according to NielsenIQ data cited by Beer Marketer’s Insights.
Coca-Cola (6th) was the other beverage brand to make the list. The brand went viral during the holiday season when consumers came across a popular myth that Coca-Cola was responsible for the image of Santa Claus as a jolly man in a red suit. Although Coca-Cola did feature St. Nick in red to align with Coca-Cola’s brand colors in campaigns during the 1930s, even the brand acknowledges that “before Coca-Cola was invented, Santa Claus (St Nick) had appeared in numerous illustrations and books wearing a scarlet coat.” Coca-Cola also launched a website allowing consumers to make their own soda-themed holiday cards using AI. Separately, the brand also renewed its sponsorship of the International Cricket Council.
Aldi stood out for its Christmas campaigns, which included creating a rooftop parking spot for Santa Claus in the U.K. and an ad that showed Santa delivering presents a day early so he could go to Aldi to make Christmas dinner. In general, the grocer has grown popular with younger consumers pinched by inflation and student loan repayments. In the U.K. it ran a series of price cuts, making groceries more affordable over the holidays.
Kinder Bueno (11th) and Blue Bell ice cream (13th) represented the sweets category. Kinder Chocolate officially expanded into the U.S. in October. U.K. fans saw the launch of limited-edition chocolate-filled eggs, but were disappointed that they were smaller than anticipated. In the U.S., Ferrero rolled out a slew of seasonal holiday items, including a Kinder Advent calendar. Blue Bell launched a limited-edition Dr Pepper-float flavor, and the brand has been expanding into more states.
Here is quick a look at some of the other brands that made the list.
Unilever sold a majority stake in Dollar Shave Club (2nd) late last year. The brand began as a DTC razor subscription for men but has expanded into other grooming categories and is sold in select retailers.
Nordstrom (9th) ran its Half-Yearly sale in December and continued to woo consumers with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.
Southwest Airlines (15th) settled a federal investigation for $140 million following the airline’s holiday travel meltdown in 2022. It also changed its loyalty program in October, lowering the requirements needed to reach elite status. Southwest also garnered attention for its new “passenger of size policy,” which states that heavier passengers can be accommodated with up to two complementary seats at the gate if needed.
Toyota (17th) became an NFL sponsor in 2023. The automaker also announced a Sport Crossover electric vehicle, and plans to make the 2025 Camry a fully hybrid line. Toyota also plans on running a Super Bowl ad after initially saying it would sit the game out.
Online therapy platform BetterHelp (18th) invested heavily in podcast advertising, a good way to get into the ears of Gen Z. According to a report by Spotify, Gen Z podcast streams were up 48% in the first half of 2023 compared to the same time in 2022.
Tylenol (19th) drew headlines from renewed attention on the 1982 Tylenol murders documentary on Paramount+, which reexamined the unsolved murder of at least seven people in Chicago after taking Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide.