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‘Gen Z’s Most Magnetic Brands’ Report Praises McDonald’s, Starbucks

brand magnetism, mcdonald's, magnetic brands

McDonald’s has nearly as much brand magnetism with Gen Z as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Ariana Grande. And in 2023, the purple-hued force of attraction that connected the burger giant with young consumers was its mascot, Grimace.

According to brand consulting firm dcdx, McDonald’s has always worked hard to build clout with Gen Z consumers. Yet the chain’s recognizable purple mascot was the star of a massive viral trend in 2023 which captured the attention of seemingly every young adult and, according to some reports, boosted McDonald’s sales nearly 11%. Thus, McDonald’s earned the top spot in dcdx’s latest report, titled Gen Z’s Top 25 Most Magnetic Brands.

If it seems surprising that an 83-year-old corporation would earn such an honor, perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, McDonald’s has often found ways to revamp its image and appeal to younger demographics.

“McDonald’s has mastered the balance of appealing menu choices, nostalgia, and pop culture relevance in a way that meaningfully connects with Gen Z,” Michael Della Penna, chief strategy officer at InMarket, told The Food Institute.

“(McDonald’s) continuously hits the nail on the head with their celebrity partnerships, creating unique meals with Gen Z’s favorite artists, like Cardi B.”

Brand Standouts

To determine its rankings of magnetic brands – “brands that attract young consumers,” dcdx noted in a press release – the consulting firm studied U.S. brand-relevant content and engagement, mainly on TikTok. Data was collected from more than 100,000 Gen Z consumers.

Among the trend-setting brands like Twitch, Apple, and Spotify, you’ll find a few venerable F&B brands like Oreo (No. 23) and Starbucks (No. 7), in addition to McDonald’s.

Here’s a look at all the food-related brands who appeared in dcdx’s list of Most Magnetic Brands:

   24. Walmart (87.6 GenZ Score) – dcdx noted that America’s largest retailer is “known to be a middle-America cultural hotspot.”
   23. Oreo (87.7) – The majority of Oreo mentions online showcase creative recipes featuring its cookies.
   22. Chipotle (87.8) – The Mexican chain earned praise for its creative product launches, like its recent “Boorito” campaign on college campuses.
   9. Target (94.2) – dcdx noted that young adults typically view Target as “a place to go on a date, to hang out with friends, and to fantasize about the life you one day wish to live.”
   7. Starbucks (96.0) – Gen Zers often take to social media to show off their favorite Starbucks drink.
   1. McDonald’s (99.3) – The burger chain earned top billing in the brand rankings due largely to marketing efforts featuring Grimace and a purple shake that paid homage to the character.

2024 FoodBev Outlook

McDonald’s Magnetism

McDonald’s connected with Gen Z in a big way with its purple shake promotion, which inspired 1.4 billion online views in a span of 2 weeks earlier this year. McDonald’s boasts a rare ability to find a way to create moments of relevance that propel the brand through culture, dcdx noted.

“McDonald’s has consistently adapted its marketing strategies to resonate with younger generations,” Vee Rodriguez, industry expert at Planet V, told FI. “Through engaging content, interactive campaigns, and collaborations with popular influencers, McDonald’s has created a digital presence that aligns with the preferences of this tech-savvy demographic.”

Industry experts said McDonald’s also scores big with younger customers due to the way it uses evolving tech to provide convenience – through mobile ordering, self-service kiosks, and loyalty programs that are accessible through mobile apps.

Lessons Learned

According to dcdx’s report, 2024 will be the year in which Gen Zers realize, more than ever, the power they hold regarding consumption and culture. And the brands that recognize that shift will be best positioned to earn the loyalty of the elusive generation.

To truly resonate with Gen Z, experts feel it’s imperative to go beyond superficial characteristics and attempt to understand what’s driving young consumers’ purchase decisions. Utilizing influencers and promoting user-generated content can also help connect with the young cohort.

“Once you understand their key motivations and needs, you’ll be well-positioned to craft promotions and campaigns that meaningfully connect with Gen Z,” Della Penna said, “and transform them into loyal advocates of your brand.”