This yearbook spotlights the social-first brands of 2023
“The Brand Yearbook” was compiled by marketers Sara Wilson and Michelle Goad.
Nintendo is bringing Pokemon cards back to the lunch table, Rare Beauty is ready to meet you in the bathroom with a box of tissues and McDonalds scored a standing ovation for just showing up for class.
These brands, which have carved out distinct pathways to heightened relevance in 2023, account for just three signatures on Sara Wilson and Michelle Goad’s “The Brand Yearbook,” a yearly roundup that features standout names among Gen Z. Other picks include Reddit, Skims and Taylor Swift.
The class members have found success through a mix of in-house marketing moves and organic recognition from consumers and creators. Wilson, a marketer who works with brands including Nike, YouTube and Bumble, and Goad, founder of social-first commerce studio Greatest of All Digital, offer both a breakdown of each pick’s current status and a prediction for their futures.
“These brands all know how to garner the most valuable commodity in the world: attention,” they said.
CapCut presents a playful intro to AI
The video editor, which is owned by TikTok parent company Bytedance, has dominated feeds through a seamless integration that enables every user to post AI-generated content. Popular uses include corporate headshots and an unsolicited portrait of what their boyfriends would look like if they were alive in the 40s.
Dubbed by the yearbook editors as “Most likely to help you win an Oscar,” the brand’s success offers that Gen Z invites a playful foray into the new technology that is otherwise labeled as dystopian or daunting. The hashtag #CapCut has six trillion views on TikTok, and just behind online shopping giant Temu, it became the #2 top free iPhone app in 2023.
McDonalds dominates schoolyard chatter
Every brand wants to convince consumers just how much it is aligned with culture, but 2023 was the year McDonalds proved its fans have already done that work for them. Aside from Grimace’s Birthday, the obvious social standout that resurrected the retired commercial mascot, McDonald's “As Featured In Meal” campaign was promoted with a compilation of sound clips from movies and TV shows that mention the franchise. Travis Birkenstock, the notorious skater boy from Clueless, scored a feature for giving McDonalds a nod in his school tardiness acceptance speech, thanking “the wonderful crew from McDonalds who spend hours making those Egg McMuffins, without which I might never be tardy.”
“For a generation supposedly obsessed with environmental sustainability, Gen Z sure loves its fast food,” wrote Wlison and Goad. ”You could call it having contradictory values. We call it being human.”
Takis takes gossip in stride
Rolled tortilla chip brand Takis was ready to redirect the conversation when a viral post falsely claimed that the snack caused ulcers. Embodying a true Gen Z spirit, Takis leaned into the rumor by reasserting its dominance as “the most intense snacks in the world” in its official messaging.
Consumers were left eager to test the product for themselves on social. Admiring Taki’s “danger-adjacent positioning,” Wilson and Goad pointed to its overall ability to generate consumer demand through long term partnerships with creators like Charli D’Amelio and streamer Ninja. Its Aldi campaign also generated sneaker-adjacent social clout by featuring a series of “drop codes” that revealed where consumers can snag Takis in the UK.
Stanley becomes the unexpected It Girl
While Stanley didn’t introduce the concept of water bottles defining popularity just as much as clothing–see the previous craze over competitors Swell and Hydroflask—it has capitalized on more than one consumer need.
The water bottle brand, which reached 750 million in sales in 2023, took over school cafeteria tables with its array of aesthetically-pleasing colors and proven durability. Benefiting from Gen Z’s sudden decision to make healthy habits like drinking enough water and wearing sunscreen cool, Stanley’s stardom reached its peak when a woman shared on TikTok that her Signature Quencher—with its ice cubes intact—survived her car fire.
“Stanley’s genius was combining this approach with marketing tactics made famous by streetwear collaborations and sneaker drops,” they said.
TikTok Shop hijacks Gen Z's study breaks
When it comes to consumer sentiment, the cognitive dissonance around TikTok Shop mirrors that of Amazon: it may be accompanied with a minor moral dilemma , but its influence on consumers is hard to ignore.
Crowned by the yearbook editors as “Most likely to dethrone Amazon,” the newcomer that only madeits way to the US in September is well positioned for success—61% of users say influencers impact their purchase decisions, and #tiktokmademebuyit has garnered 84 billion views on the platform.
“TikTok Shop will only get smarter—the more time consumers spend on the platform, the more the algorithm can predict what they’re interested in, like a personal shopper on steroids,” they said, adding that brands must break their 18-month product roadmap to keep up with this technology.