Gen Z Power List: Meet the Brands, Platforms and Creators That Teens Love

From AwesomenessTV to Zendaya, these are the names to know

Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images, Payton Hartsell

Move aside, millennials: There’s a new generation for marketers to obsess over. Born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, Generation Z includes more than 2 billion people worldwide and holds more than $44 billion in annual purchasing power, according to a study from IBM and the National Retail Federation.

Unlike their predecessors, they’ve been brought up in an entirely digital world and, as a result, are relentlessly addicted to tech and building their online personas. (In a recent New York Times story titled “Are Teenagers Replacing Drugs With Smartphones?”, one psychiatry expert compared iPhones and their ilk to “portable dopamine pumps.”) But despite an obsession with appearances, Gen Z-ers also take pride in being socially aware, eschewing narrow definitions of race and gender and creating meaningful connecting with others—just not always IRL.

To help navigate what’s in (and what’s out) with this fast-moving cohort, we’ve put together a cheat sheet of the top technology platforms, content creators, brands and celebrities to know, from iconic names like Nike to the next wave of beauty influencers. —Emma Bazilian

The Platforms

Snapchat

 

Even as Facebook-owned Instagram crouches in on Snapchat, the messaging app continues to add new tools to keep its core group of millennials glued to their smartphones. Snapchat recently rolled out a feature called Custom Stories that lets friends create Stories—Snap’s parlance of collections of photos and videos—together. Coming up next: Snapchat is bringing its wacky, popular selfie lenses to the real world, letting users add colorful rainbows to flowers to IRL objects. —Lauren Johnson

Instagram

Instagram’s continued innovation has allowed it to stay relevant with both younger and older generations. More than 700 million people now use the app on a monthly basis, while 200 million use Instagram Stories on any given day. In fact, according to recent data collected by the analytics firm SocialBakers, Instagram has surpassed Facebook (its parent company) in terms of engagement, with brands getting three times more and celebrities seeing 3.6 times what they get on Facebook. —Marty Swant

Musical.ly

Think of Musical.ly as a newer, cooler version of Vine. Anyone can become a pop star with the lip-syncing app and its 200 million users—primarily teens—can’t seem to get enough of the short looping videos, which let users sing along with their favorite songs and then share them to social media sites. Investors are taking note of the app’s pop-culture appeal as the company was reportedly valued at $500 million in May 2016. —L.J.

Houseparty

Instead of settling for Google Hangouts or one-on-one convos through Apple’s FaceTime feature, many teens are turning to Houseparty, the group video chat. As of December, the app already had more than 1 million daily users. The app has been so popular that even the biggest social giants like Facebook have been trying to figure it out. (According to Recode, Facebook last year offered teens a $275 Amazon gift card to complete a survey about what makes Houseparty so special.) —M.S.


The Content Gurus

AwesomenessTV

AwesomenessTV launched five years ago as a multi-channel network aimed at creating content for younger millennials; but when combined with its film production arm and awareness of the purchasing power behind Gen Z, Awesomeness is now a media company focused on creating the best content for its audience. This year, the company debuted its first theatrical wide-release film, Before I Fall, which co-starred Kian Lawley, a YouTuber with over 3 million subscribers. —Sami Main

Astronauts Wanted

Astronauts Wanted helps connect a Gen Z audience to their favorite creators who partner with other relatable companies and brands to complete the streaming experience. Through research, Astronauts Wanted knows what interests their audience, from music entertainment shows to programs that help teens understand the news in new, familiar formats to them. To Astronauts Wanted, Gen Z views things “a little more sober” than other generations, and the programming reflects that point-of-view. —S.M.

Naritiv/WeBuyGold

Mobile startup WeBuyGold (part of Naritiv) is out to conquer the Snapchat universe by making all of its content on mobile devices. Inspired by the launch of MTV, which senior producer Sydney Hass pointed out was completely original and didn’t emulate existing television channels at the time, WeBuyGold is creating three lines of short-form programming: serialized content, documentary-style content and celebrity features. Each has a twist. For example, the docu-style content strives to pique viewers’ interests about a given topic but doesn’t attempt to be exhaustive. Hass cited gigantic stats as evidence of their being in the future sweet spot of content: 10 billion videos are viewed daily on Snapchat. —Michael Burgi

Whistle Sports

As publishers try to find a millennial male audience, Whistle Sports provides both original entertainment and brand activations for the online sports audience. In September 2016, the network sealed a deal with the NFL to create and distribute football-themed social media content throughout the season. Whistle Sports has over 360 million fans across social platforms and works with over 400 creators, such as Brodie Smith, who has almost 2 million subscribers, and Dude Perfect, a comedy/sports collective with over 16 million subscribers. —S.M.

Defy Media

Home of many content franchises, Defy Media regularly sees over 500 million views every month. Between Smosh and Clevver, two long-time YouTube strongholds of 11 and nine years respectively, Defy connects its creators with brands to create partnerships and popular branded entertainment. This year, Clevver Style’s Beauty Break partnered with MetroPCS to create the cell phone provider’s first ever branded content series with a new season of a road trip series called Beauty Trippin’. —S.M.

Activision/Blizzard Entertainment

For teens, Activision Blizzard has it all. Video game fans can play Call of Duty or Destiny from the Activision label, World of Warcraft or Overwatch from the Blizzard Entertainment label, plus games like Candy Crush from King Digital Entertainment. Overwatch alone sees over 30 million registered players, making it one of the most popular games of 2016 and the early 2017 season. Activision Blizzard is home to some of the most addictive games available to a young generation, with new additions to its lineup getting announced all the time; stay tuned for a mobile Warcraft experience coming soon. —S.M.

Nickelodeon

The network is still attracting kids and tweens in droves—along with its sister network, TeenNick—with hits like School of Rock and Game Shakers. While the network launches its share of influencers, it’s landed a big one, signing singer, dancer and social media star Jojo Siwa to a talent deal and rolling out a new line of consumer products for her. As Viacom amps up the network’s global reach and presence, Nickelodeon will also only tighten its grip on the market. —Jason Lynch

Disney Channel

Disney is also a teen pop-sensation factory like Nickelodeon, but edges its rival in tween viewers, thanks to programming like Adventures in Babysitting, which was the No. 1 telecast across kids cable TV networks in total viewers last year (this summer’s highly-anticipated Descendants 2 could have the same impact). And it’s lining up its hits for the next generation of tweens, picking up Andi Mack, the No. 1 show of 2014 in girls 9-14, for a second season. —J.L.

Dan Schneider

Prolific TV producers like Greg Berlanti and Shonda Rhimes have nothing on the former Head of the Class actor, who has spent the last two decades as Nickelodeon’s VIP, creating and producing the network’s most popular shows like All That, iCarly and Victorious and launching the careers of Ariana Grande, Keenan Thompson and Miranda Cosgrove. Now he and his Schneider’s Bakery production company are at it again with two of the biggest current hits among kids and tweens: Henry Danger (which is soon to have an animated spinoff) and Game Shakers. —J.L.

Teen Vogue

A longtime favorite of label-conscious teens (not to mention some under the radar twenty- and thirty-somethings), Teen Vogue has moved to the center of the cultural zeitgeist under the leadership of editor in chief Elaine Welteroth and digital editor Phillip Picardi. TeenVogue.com has become the smart girl’s go-to source for everything from political commentary (see: writer Lauren Duca’s headline-making excoriation of President Trump) to profiles of feminism’s next wave, while now-quarterly print magazine covers fashion and beauty trends with an eye towards what’s next. —E.B.


The Brands

Nike

One of only three brands able to crack Instagram’s most-followed list (the others include NatGeo and, of course, Instagram itself), Nike has managed to amass an enormous social following thanks in part to its smart pairings with teen-beloved athletes like Simone Biles and cultural influencers like FKA Twigs. With athleisure still going strong, the Nike swoosh is just as coveted by teens as ever—in fact, it rated as the No. 1 clothing brand in a recent Piper Jaffray survey of Gen Z. —E.B.

Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret has a loyal following among the fashionable Gen Z set. Teen girls eagerly buy up its popular Pink brand and follow its runway models, who have included Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Kendall Jenner, on social media. The angels from Victoria’s Secret’s 2016 fashion show had 164 million Instagram followers combined, and the Pink brand has 7 million followers. —C.B.

Forever 21

Forever 21 has long been a staple in the world of fast fashion, and Gen Z consumers love its budget-friendly, of-the-moment apparel. In April, the company expanded its F21 Red concept store, which offers even cheaper goods, from eight to 40 locations around the country, and announced a relaunch of its plus-size line, Forever 21 Plus. The brand boasts 12.9 million followers on Instagram. —Christine Birkner

Brandy Melville

Brandy Melville, which launched in the U.S. in 2009, has built a cult following among affluent teenage girls by relying mostly on Instagram—it doesn’t advertise traditionally, and has only 20 U.S. locations in California, New York and Connecticut. The brand’s controversial “one size” policy has garnered controversy, but it hasn’t seemed to deter fans of the brand, which has 3.9 million followers on Instagram. —C.B.

Anastasia Beverly Hills

One of the first big cosmetics brands to successfully use social media to build a fanbase, Anastasia Beverly Hills has become practically inescapable in the make-up artist communities of Instagram and YouTube—and set the path for plenty of other up-and-coming brands, too. Over-the-top trends like contouring, matte lips and bold eyebrows (see: Kylie Jenner and countless other teens on Instagram) can all be attributed in part to Anastasia, whose product releases are now highly-anticipated social media events. —E.B.


The Influencers

Gigi and Bella Hadid/Kendall and Kylie Jenner

For Gen Z celebs, it’s all about family—or, more specifically, sisters. Over the past few years, the Hadids and Jenners have risen from not-so-humble roots to become global mega-stars thanks to a combination of good genes, better connections and unprecedented social media savvy. Gigi, Bella and Kendall have all been roundly embraced by the highest tiers of the fashion industry—once an unthinkable feat for reality-adjacent stars—while Kylie has fashioned herself as a mini beauty mogul. Did we mention that they’re all also part of the same #girlsquad? —E.B.

Zendaya

These days, being a celebrity requires a lot more than just beauty and talent. While her Disney credentials (she got her start on Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie and currently stars on the series K.C. Undercover) might suggest a goodie-two-shoes, 20-year-old Zendaya has become known for both her fearless personal and fierce social activism, promoting the Women’s March on Washington and working with Verizon’s #WeNeedMore campaign, which encourages more kids to get into STEM. This July, she’ll make a splash on the big screen as one of the stars of the new Spider-Man franchise. —E.B.

Amandla Stenberg

As if her memorable film debut as Rue in The Hunger Games wasn’t enough, 18-year-old Amandla Stenberg set the internet alight two years ago when a video she made for her high school class went viral. Titled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” it took celebrities like Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera to task for cultural appropriation. She’s since become known as a powerful advocate for intersectional feminism, racial and LGBT issues, all while continuing her acting career (including the recently released Everything, Everything) and securing a spot at NYU’s film school. —E.B.

Fifth Harmony

At the end of 2016, world famous girl group Fifth Harmony (which first formed through TV show The X Factor US) went from five to four after singer Camila Cabello left the band. The group had just released its second album, 7/27, featuring hit song “Work From Home.” Now Fifth Harmony is preparing to roll out a new single to its some 25 million social media followers and fans across the world. —Katie Richards

Shawn Mendes

At just 18 years old, singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes has amassed over 40 million followers across social platforms including Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and put out two albums—Handwritten and Illuminate. The artist first gained popularity posting six-second covers of hit songs from all sorts of artists on Vine in 2013. His Vine fans helped his first album, Handwritten, debut number one on the Billboard 200 chart. His second album did the same. —K.R.

Baby Ariel

Ariel Martin’s story is something of a social media fairy tale: In May 2015, the Florida high schooler downloaded lip-syncing app Musical.ly on a whim and posted her first video as “Baby Ariel,” which ended up getting featured on the app’s home page and introduced her to millions of kids and teens. Two years later, she’s a bona fide internet sensation, with the most followers on Musical.ly (19.5 million, to be exact), a spot on the DigiTour lineup, a Teen Choice Award and relationships with brands like Coca Cola and Sour Patch Kids. (For more about Martin’s rise to fame, read our exclusive Q&A.) —E.B.

Connor Franta

This 24-year-old vlogger and entrepreneur found his fame after scoring over five million YouTube subscribers by posting funny sketches and inspirational videos. He’s already a New York Times bestselling author and just published his second book, a memoir titled Note to Self that dives into depression, anxiety and self-love. On top of that, Franta co-founded record label Heard Well and launched his own lifestyle brand, Common Culture. The brand sells its own line of coffee and apparel. —K.R.

Logan Paul and Jake Paul

The brotherly social star duo of Logan and his younger brother Jake have maintained their ability to draw massive fan bases across social platforms. With a total 10.6 million subscribers on YouTube and 17.3 million on Instagram between the two, the brothers have collaborated through comedy bits, extreme sports and various other videos. They’ve also partnered with brands such as Nike, Snapple and Beats by Dre. Last year, Jake Paul launched his own company, TeamDom, a collective of social star friends that create content while also leveraging each others’ popularity for brands and fans. —M.S.

King Bach

Back when Vine was a thing, Canadian-American Andrew Bachelor (aka King Bach) was the most followed person on the platform. But even though it’s gone, King Bach is not. The actor/comedian/Internet celebrity has held a massive following. With 13.7 million followers on Instagram, 2.2 million on Twitter and 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, the 28-year-old has maintained his kingdom with scripted parodies about hit films even when many online celebrities made a name for themselves doing far less-polished acts. —M.S.

Amanda Steele

This self-taught makeup guru—also known as MakeupbyMandy24— started her own YouTube channel at the tender age of 10, long before being a “beauty vlogger” was actually a thing. Now 17, she’s one of the top influencers in her field: She has nearly 2.9 million subscribers on the video platform, while her videos have been viewed more than 291 million times. Recently, she’s dipped her toe into worlds of modeling (she signed with IMG, which also reps the Hadid sisters) and acting (as star of the go90 series Guidance), and released a collection of makeup with ColourPop Cosmetics. —E.B.

The “Beauty Boys” of Instagram

Gone are the days when the only models to score big cosmetics contracts were thin, white and blonde—or even women, for that matter. James Charles (age 17), Manny Gutierrez (25) and Lewys Ball (also 17) are helping to shatter gender-based beauty ideals, using social media to show off their enviable cosmetics know-how and post addictive makeover tutorials. In the process, they’ve gained millions of followers and even caught the attention of brands that had traditionally only used female models. Charles scored a headline-making contract with CoverGirl last October, while Gutierrez and Ball signed with Maybelline and Rimmel, respectively, in January. —E.B.

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