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Millennials’ Powerful PR Influence: Gen Yers Are Increasingly Dictating the Health of Nation’s Top Brands

Millennial ,friends, couples celebrating, sparklers, autumn , vacation , festival , new's year, love , healthy , embrace , crowd , party , traveling , adventureWith Gen Y in Front, U.S. Consumers Rally Around Brands with Shared Values

With a rising disposable income, interest in new technologies, and changing life stage needs, Millennials are increasingly dictating the health of America’s top brands, according to new research from The Harris Poll, which reveals the strongest brands across the media, travel, financial, automotive, entertainment, retail, restaurant, technology, household and nonprofit industries, based on consumer response.

“More engaged with more brands than ever before, Millennials—the largest generational cohort—are reshaping the U.S. brand landscape,” said Joan Sinopoli, vice president of brand solutions at The Harris Poll, in a news release. “With prime earning years still ahead of them and a strong sense of values, they are dictating culture through the brands they buy. Millennials are using their new spending power to explore the world around them, purchase and feather their new nests and take steps to financially protect their growing families.”

Harris’ EquiTrend Brand Equity Index measures three factors—Familiarity, Quality and Purchase Consideration—that result in a brand equity rating. Brands ranking highest in equity receive the Harris Poll EquiTrend “Brand of the Year” award for their respective categories. This year, more than 100,000 U.S. consumers assessed more than 4,000 brands across more than 450 categories.

Evidence of Millennials’ impact on brand health includes:

  • Changing life needs means Millennials are demonstrating increased interest in insurance and financial services brands, boosting equity in these industries. (Insurance industry equity rating of 60 among millennials, compared to an equity rating of 55 among consumers overall; Financial services industry equity rating of 63 among millennials, compared to an equity rating of 59 among consumers overall.)
  • Millennials are behind the increased equity in cruise lines and pushed premium brand Royal Caribbean Cruises back into the top spot as Cruise Line Brand of the Year. Royal Caribbean boasts an equity score of 70 among millennials, compared to an equity rating of 63 among consumers overall.
  • Millennials aspire to luxury, and that is nowhere more evident than in the automotive industry, where they are driving Mercedes-Benz’s equity strength. Seven of the top ten millennial car brands are luxury brands, versus five each for Generation X and baby boomers.
  • Car audio brand equity is increasing due to the strength of Millennials, with Beats succeeding Bose as Car Audio Brand of the Year. Harris Poll’s research shows that 33 percent of millennials are familiar with Beats, compared to 17 percent of consumers overall.
  • CarGurus.com, the Online Auto Shopping Brand of the Year, surpassed longtime Brand of the Year KBB.com; 25 percent of Millennials are familiar with CarGurus.com, compared to 16 percent of consumers overall.
  • Millennials propelled American Airlines to its first Full Service Airline Brand of the Year honor. American Airlines has a higher equity rating among millennials than Delta and Alaska/Horizon Airlines, both former Airline Brands of the Year.
  • Millennials continue to be early technology adopters. Netflix (Video Streaming Subscription Brand of the Year) and YouTube (Social Networking Site Brand of the Year) have evolved into popular mainstream brands versus fast-rising disruptors, and Google Home (Smart Home Brand of the Year) and Google Chromecast (Media Streaming Device Brand of the year) are the new tech upstarts.

“Millennials could be considered responsibly rebellious,” said Sinopoli. “They want brands who share their values yet deliver experiences and solve solutions with technology and intuition, and demonstrate an acute understanding of how millennials think, act and solve problems.”

Right Brand, Left Brand: Beyond the Generation Gap

The research shows that generational impacts are not the only influences on consumers’ brand choice. In a country facing a “values chasm,” Americans are rallying around brands aligned with their personal values.

“Age is certainly a driver of liberal versus conservative values, but there are other fundamental differences suggesting that there is less a divide based on age alone,” said Sinopoli. “It’s more of a divide based on ideologies and world views, and we see those values played out for politically and socially active brands.”

Liberal-leaning consumers are the drivers behind Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Shops, a longtime activist brand led by CEOs who actively supported presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as well as Starbucks, whose CEO has been vocal in his opposition to the administration’s recent travel ban proposal, pledging to hire more immigrants and refugees. Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s—companies with CEOs who have voiced their conservative beliefs—are awarded higher equity by conservative-leaning consumers.

In the media industry, PBS maintains a strong following across generations, but its brand equity increases among liberal-leaning consumers (+9). HBO, the home of Bill Maher and John Oliver, has a strong following among millennials, but also among liberal-leaning consumers across generations (+11). While liberals have held strong for NPR, the research shows a steep decline in support for the brand among conservative-leaning consumers (-24).

“Brand preferences demonstrated by values, rather than generational differences, are more striking and perhaps carry a more serious message about how we live today,” said Sinopoli. “How can we expect to close the country’s divide if we aren’t meeting each other over a cup of coffee or discussing news and entertainment from the same sources?”

Top Brand First Timers

This year, the 29th year that the Harris Poll has been measuring brand equity, 18 companies make their Brand of the Year debut.

The Harris Poll 2017 EquiTrend Brand of the Year Debuts

Industry Award Category Brand of the Year
Auto Car Audio Beats In-Vehicle Auto
Auto Online Auto Shopping CarGurus.com
Electronics Home Entertainment Electronics Bose Home Entertainment Electronics
Electronics Smart Home* Google Home
Financial Services Life Insurance Guardian Life Insurance
Home Health Information Website Drugs.com
Media General Entertainment FX Television Network
Media Sports TV NFL Red Zone
Nonprofit International Aid Nonprofit Mercy Corps
Restaurant Burger Restaurant Five Guys
Restaurant Coffee & Quick Service Restaurant Starbucks
Restaurant Casual Dining Restaurant The Cheesecake Factory
Restaurant Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt* Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop
Technology Computer Manufacturer Microsoft Computers
Technology Smart Watch Apple Watch
Travel Full Service Airline American Airlines
Travel Luxury Hotel JW Marriott
Travel Online Travel Service TripAdvisor.com
*First year for this category

The 2017 Harris Poll EquiTrend Study is based on a sample of 102,617 U.S. consumers ages 15 and over surveyed online, in English, between December 30, 2016 and February 21, 2017.  The survey took an average of 30 minutes to complete. The total number of brands rated was 4,052. Each respondent was asked to rate a total of 40 randomly selected brands. Each brand received approximately 1,000 ratings. Data was weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. population of consumers ages 15 and over based on age by sex, education, race/ethnicity, region, income, and data from respondents ages 18 and over were also weighted for their propensity to be online.

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