History will remember 2016 as when digital became a constant overlay to real life, with presidential candidates trolling one another on social media before and after debates while mobile game players chased Pokemon Go characters from one end of town to the next. We'll soon look back on a year that saw Snapchat grow up as an ad business and ready itself for Wall Street.
Without question, it has been an unusually interesting year in tech, and our editors have selected the annual Hot List honorees for the category, with readers voting on their own favorites in our weeks-long poll. Check out the 23 winners below:
Hottest Digital Brand
Talk about a transformative year for this company. It released its much-anticipated ads API, inked partnerships with top measurement firms, joined hands with notable publishers, changed its corporate name to Snap Inc. and launched a sunglasses product that records video from the wearer’s eye-level perspective. Next up, an IPO that will be the buzz of Wall Street. —Christopher Heine
American offices can hardly function nowadays without this company’s chat software. It cuts workplace email dramatically, and it’s become so popular—more than 3 million daily users—that rivals launched copycat versions this year in Facebook Workplace and Microsoft Teams. Slack has a strongly diverse team; for instance, 43 percent of its managers are women. —C.H.
The Bouqs 35.7%
Squatty Potty 33.0%
Hottest Digital Obsession
From the Fourth of July through Labor Day, this game was hotter than anything, rapidly accruing 500 million users—and retailers were in a frenzy to employ it to draw foot traffic. Whether it can sustain a notable level of popularity next year remains to be seen, but it has given marketer’s a great view into our virtual reality future. —C.H.
Pokemon Go 19.2%
Hottest Digital Publication
The Washington Post
No publication made as many waves during the 2016 presidential election, chiefly while covering the Donald Trump. The Post unearthed how Trump used the tax code to his advantage in unapologetically extreme fashion, questioned his philanthropy and published an 11-year-old “Access Hollywood” videotape that nearly defined the election—with the 70-year-old hotelier speaking with extreme vulgarity about women. In October, the publication saw year-over-year traffic jump 49 percent while totaling 99.6 million viewers. —C.H.
Hottest in Sports Media
When it comes to the world of sports, Deadspin is much like the ever-buzzy Daily Mail. Where else can you read about a sports talk show host in Philly who created a racist caricature on air, denied he was the one doing it and then got caught after a long string of denials? Deadspin’s traffic is up 30 percent in the last three months compared to 2015’s same period, per comScore. —C.H.
Bleacher Report 23.9%
Fox Sports 8.2%
Hottest Digital Marketer
GE is continually a step ahead of millennial-minded marketers when it comes to testing new platforms. Just this year, it’s played with Snap Inc.’s video-capturing Spectacles glasses, branded podcasts and Instagram Stories—all while making nerdy science topics look cool. The tech giant even created a limited-edition hot sauce called 10^32 Kelvin—the temperature that causes things to break apart—to appeal to millennials’ taste buds, packaged of course, in jet engine material. —Lauren Johnson
Mountain Dew 32.8%
Hottest in Native Advertising
The New York Times
The Times launched T Brand Studio in 2014, and now it’s central to The Old Grey Lady’s aspirations of generating $800 million in annual digital revenue in 2020. (It made $400 million two years ago.) Belvedere, Cartier, GE and IBM are recent native ad clients, while the paper's newsroom on Nov. 1 launched The Daily 360, a cool, immersive video series sponsored by Samsung. —C.H.
Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo device took over living rooms this year, with its AI platform Alexa becoming the ultimate virtual assistant for helping people do everything from streaming music, booking an Uber ride to ordering diapers from the ecommerce giant. As the Internet of Things takes shape, expect the momentum to only grow. Investment firm Mizuho predicts Amazon will sell 8.6 million of the cylinder-shaped gadgets this year and 41.3 million by 2020. —L.J.
iPhone 7 30.8%
LuMee Cases 25.7%
Amazon Echo 6.6%
Hottest VR Headset
Samsung Gear VR
If 2016 was the Year of Virtual Reality, it’s largely thanks to Samsung’s Gear VR headset. Along with the 2.3 million VR headsets that some analysts expect Samsung to sell this year, the company’s partnerships with celebrities, brands, entertainment companies and chefs have successfully integrated the product into pop culture. —Marty Swant
Oculus Rift 31.6%
HTC Vive 19.4%
Samsung Gear VR 17.6%
Hottest Video Platform
Anyone walking around the streets of New York or D.C. this fall has likely seen billboards from Facebook showing how to “go live” wherever they are. Since May, Facebook has seen live broadcasts quadruple in frequency, starting with celebrities and media companies but now trickling down to average users. Comments have also increased tenfold over regular video. —M.S.
Facebook Live 10.6%
Hottest Video Network or Studio
BuzzFeed Motion Pictures
From addictive Tasty food videos to online star Quinta Brunson’s funny and provoking YouTube series called Broke that explores post-college millennial life, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures was responsible for creating some of this year’s best digital content. Such content is also big business for the viral publisher—50 percent of BuzzFeed’s revenue this year will come from video, according to CEO and founder Jonah Peretti. —L.J.
Woven Digital 24.0%
Hottest Video Star
The self-described King of Snapchat has cultivated millions of followers on the wildly popular app that tune in to watch his daily 10-second videos that spread positivity. Now Khaled is making the jump from social media star to mainstream celebrity—he launched his first book, called The Keys, this month and has made phrases like “bless up” and “major key” part of pop-culture vernacular. —L.J.
Hannah Bronfman 33.3%
DJ Khaled 8.4%
Hottest Social Platform
The five-year-old app has exploded to 150 million daily users, proving more popular than Twitter, which is twice as old. Snapchat has Gen Z and millennial consumers in the palm of its hand by constantly evolving its features. Marketers love the young attention: Last month, Wendy’s campaign via BuzzFeed’s Discover channel on Snapchat netted 6 million impressions. —C.H.
Hottest Entertainer on Social Media
She has 11.6 million followers on Instagram and Twitter, which are her main soap boxes for holding court on food, culture and politics. Teigen’s secret weapon via social is an unusual combination of a refreshingly original sense of humor, a chic style and salt-of-the-earth candor about all things life. —C.H.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson 13.2%
George Takei 8.7%
Chrissy Teigen 7.9%
Hottest Way to Message
In the past year, Snapchat has gone from being just an ephemeral messaging app with filters to becoming a camera company after this fall’s launch of Snap Spectacles. The company, which is expected to IPO next year, recently launched its API and has seen user growth surge to more than 150 million monthly users. —M.S.
Hottest Way to Shop
Amazon continues to make shopping so easy and instant that you don’t even have to think about something before purchasing it. That vision was particularly clear this year with the expansion of its Wi-Fi enabled “Dash” buttons to include more than 200 brands, growth in the Amazon Prime membership program that offers two-day, free shipping and its smart home Amazon Echo devices that make shopping as simple as pressing a button or saying it out loud. —L.J.
Hottest Way to Hook Up
While Tinder doesn’t want to consider itself a hook-up app, it’s certainly brought swipeable dating to the masses, reportedly growing to more than 50 million users worldwide in 2016. This month, the company added dozens of new gender identity options to make the app more inclusive. —M.S.
Hottest Music App
The digital music service has been popular for about a half a decade, but it struck a solid-gold hit earlier this year by debuting its Discover Weekly playlists. The feature has garnered more than 9 billion streams and has allowed users to fall in love with Spotify even more. —C.H.
Hottest Utility App
The money-transfer app is beloved by millions of users, who employ it to pay back their friends in a social way. It is on track to process $20 billion in payments per year, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said recently. Whoever thought that showing your friends that you are paying back other pals would ever be considered fun? —C.H.
Hottest Mobile Design
To keep Gen Y folks plugged into Snapchat everyday (and fend off competitors like Instagram) the red-hot app constantly tweaks and plays with its design to stay fresh with millennials—including a revamp of the publisher hub Discover section and new video playlists this year. Meanwhile, Snapchat continues to flip the ad world on its head, coaching marketers and media companies to make vertical-oriented content that fits alongside ephemeral photos and videos. —L.J.
Hottest Mobile Game
Who would have thought this year’s hottest mobile game would be an IRL scavenger hunt? With millions of downloads, Pokemon Go not only helped make augmented reality mainstream this year, it also brought in foot traffic to historic locations and bricks-and-mortar stores. —L.J.
Candy Crush Saga 8.9%
Hottest Console Game
The hit first-person shooter game has already gained 20 million players in the first few months. Now, the game’s creator, Activision Blizzard, wants to turn that momentum into a massive esports league, with salaried players and city-affiliated teams. (Think of it as the NBA for gamers.) —M.S.
Grand Theft Auto V 26.3%
Dark Souls 3 10.6%
Hottest VR Game
Instead of following up the visually stunning and wildly successful mobile game Monument Valley with another mobile game, UsTwo—the makers of Land’s End—released their sophomore game in VR. This time around, the game has 360 degrees of stunning landscapes, allowing players to feel like they’re in a dream. —M.S.
Job Simulator 27.8%
Eve: Valkyrie 16.0%
Elite Dangerous 10.9%
Check out the rest of this year's Hot List honorees:
• Hottest Magazines
• Media Visionary: Jeff Bezos
• Magazine Executive Team: Hearst's David Carey and Michael Clinton
• Magazine Editor: New York's Adam Moss
• Hottest TV Shows and Networks
• TV Executive: FX's John Landgraf
• TV Creator: Full Frontal's Samantha Bee
• TV News Anchor: Fox News' Megyn Kelly
• Digital Executive: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg
• Digital Creator: Casey Neistat
This story first appeared in the November 28, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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