A cyclist wearing a mask passes a Nike store in Manila, the Philippines. Picture: GERIC CRUZ/BLOOMBERG
A cyclist wearing a mask passes a Nike store in Manila, the Philippines. Picture: GERIC CRUZ/BLOOMBERG

The winner of the Coolest Brand Overall category in the 2020 Sunday Times Gen Next Awards is Nike, for the sixth consecutive year, followed by Apple and then Samsung. In addition, Nike also won the Coolest Shoe/Footwear Brand and Coolest Brand Slogan categories.

The Sunday Times Gen Next study, established in 2004, is SA’s leading annual youth brand preference and consumer behaviour survey, which polled over 6,000 young people, aged eight to 23.

Many of the brands that did well in this year’s Gen Next survey have a strong brand purpose. Nike has ensured that its purpose is a profitable one. The brand added about $6bn to its share price after it came out in support of controversial American football player Colin Kaepernick. The multinational company recently received plaudits for its “Play for the World” campaign, created by Portland-based advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, which reinforces the idea that we need to play – and exercise – inside. But even Nike does not get it right all the time when it comes to brand purpose, and critics are quick to point out instances when the brand fails to live its values.

The youth market wants to hear what brands are doing, in the process watching carefully to see whether they are “walking the walk”, says Sarah Deeb, an account executive at advertising agency MetropolitanRepublic, adding that if the brand does not do this, the youth will find another brand to align to.

Purpose, Deeb explains, is becoming particularly important for customer retention, with the majority of the youth market more loyal to purpose-driven brands. “When loyal consumers make return purchases, they drive sustainable growth and create organic brand awareness simply from sharing their love with their tribes on social media,” says Deeb. “Interestingly, purpose may not be the primary reason why the youth support a brand, but the lack of a social conscience will be the first reason they ‘cancel’ a brand, demonstrating the momentum behind ‘cancel culture’.” 

In addition to appreciating brands with a strong purpose, the youth market also appreciates socially conscious brands. Category winner Dove (winner of the Coolest Soap Bars award) has for several years been a shining example in the cause of women’s empowerment. Nick Terry, CEO of TMARC, explains that former Unilever CEO Paul Polman introduced the purpose of sustainable living, which has been felt at every brand level. The company’s sustainable living brands grew 46% faster than the rest of its portfolio and are delivering in excess of 75% of its overall growth. “The key is not just to take a stand but to take action, and that’s where a lot of brands are slipping up – they are failing to get a sustained and real action plan together. Brands need to be action orientated,” says Terry.

Successful brands, he says, shift and reinvent their positioning over time, all the while remaining true to their core, fundamental values and purpose – irrespective of whether they are faced with a pandemic or another catastrophe. The most successful brands, he adds, are those that evolve and, to some extent, reinvent themselves over time.

“The brand champions are the ones that can deal with shift because they have strong institutional value built into their culture and their brands, and are always at the front end of trend spotting.”

Brands that have an authentic brand purpose appeal more to the youth market than those that don’t.

Below are the rankings in the 2020 Sunday Times Gen Next survey.

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