A New Look at Millennials’ Favorite Brands Shows a Few Surprises Climbing the List

Despite its woes, Uber gains ground in YouGov BrandIndex's latest ranking

Sources: Getty Images, Adidas, Uber

It’s probably no surprise that millennial consumers tend to spend their time and money with big digital brands. After all, many in this age cohort (now somewhere between 18 and 29 years old) were hitting their teens right around the time that today’s online Goliaths were grabbing their first market share. So it follows that the results of a new study of brands favored by Gen-Y consumers, released today, is chock full of familiar names.

YouGov BrandIndex, a public-perception research firm that interviews over 1.5 million consumers yearly, just unveiled the results of its latest survey, which ranks the brands that notched the biggest gains in making millennial consumers into current customers. As one might expect, the ranking of 20 companies is heavy with digital heavy hitters like like Twitter, Snapchat and Airbnb. Each brand’s customer score is the percentage of U.S. millennials who are current customers of that particular brand. Current customer means they bought the product or visited the web site within the past 30 days.

Even so, dismissing this list as yet another confirmation of tired assumptions about millennial tastes would be a mistake: Lurking between and among the usual suspects on this ranking are a few genuine surprises. And foremost among them is right at the top.

Letting Uber off easy

Occupying the No. 1 spot in terms of improved brand standing is the much-beleaguered and possibly unforgivable Uber, which grew its millennial customer base an astonishing 8.2 percent points this year over last. This growth came despite a pretty much uninterrupted flow of alarming news about the $70 billion ride-sharing app, and calls into question millennials’ much-ballyhooed moral and ethical compass, at least when it comes to how they spend their money.

Granted, YouGov’s survey, which compared attitudes in the first six months of 2017 with those in the first half of last year, concluded before the latest headline out of San Francisco: founder Travis Kalanick is finally stepping down from the CEO post last month. Even so, allegations of Uber’s corporate and moral turpitude stretch back a good many years—far too long for the average media-savvy millennial to have failed to hear about them.

Another surprise: Despite financial-services firms having taken a righteous beating in the years after the 2008 economic meltdown—an event that hit many millennials just as they were entering the job market—those firms still ranked surprisingly high in YouGov’s list. Chase and JPMorgan occupy the No. 13 and 14 slots, respectively, having made gains of 2.8 and 2.7 percent points in making millennials into regular customers.

So what gives? Has Gen-Y abandoned its scruples? Well, not exactly.

Millennials may well be more socially aware and politically progressive that older generations, but according to YouGov BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli, they appear to behave like everyone else when it comes to spending money. That means: Ethics are good, but price and convenience carry the day. Which suggests that whatever hard feelings young people may harbor against Chase are probably secondary to the convenience of online banking or the ease of finding an ATM nearby. And the same maxim applies to finding a car service home from the bar

“I’m not saying millennials are not concerned about ethics,” Marzilli said. “But people in the aggregate tend to make choices that are in their financial interests. So if taking Uber is more economical or convenient than waiting for a cab, I’m probably still going to call Uber.”

Reverence for your elders

Another surprise in the YouGov ranking is that fully half of these millennially-beloved brands are companies that were around before there even was an internet, among them Puma and Ace Hardware. It’s a powerful retort to the presumptive irrelevance of legacy companies, and offers proof that twentysomething consumers have plenty of love left for the brands of yesteryear.