The 2019 Digital Hot List: The Platforms and Innovators That Shaped a Pivotal Year

And honoring Executive of the Year Evan Spiegel and Creator of the Year Loren Gray

Our Digital Hot List winners include AirPods, TikTok and Fortnite. Sources: Getty Images, Epic Games

This might be the year that finally killed off analog: The digital world has clearly overtaken all aspects of our lives, from the songs we listen to (and the devices we use to experience them) to how we communicate with colleagues and even the way we shop. This year’s hottest digital movers and shakers range from TikTok, which has shaken up the music industry, to Shopify, which has done the same for retail. From an enduring game to a potentially game-changing merger, here’s a look at the Digital Hot List of 2019.

Digital Executive of the Year
Evan Spiegel

Snap's comeback has earned Evan Spiegel Adweek's Digital Executive of the Year honor for the second time.
Courtesy of Snap

Don’t call it a comeback. Call it a resurgence, a maturing of a company that’s somehow still defying the expectations of Wall Street, advertisers, marketers and its users.

Since we last named Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel our Digital Executive of the Year in 2015, Spiegel and the company he co-founded have undergone vast changes. First, Snapchat became a brand under the umbrella company Snap Inc. and decided to market itself as a camera company. The firm pushed forward into hardware, releasing Spectacles in 2016 (which is now on Version 3).

Snapchat went through a much-hated redesign, an IPO and a tumble in the market that made people wonder if the platform stood a chance against Facebook. It lost users to Instagram, after the app mimicked many of Snapchat’s most popular features. And in an echo of the 2015 exodus it experienced, Snapchat shed almost a dozen executives in 2017, including Imran Khan, chief strategy officer. After the company’s IPO in 2017, Snap shares struggled, hitting a record low of $4.99 on Dec. 21, 2018.

But that’s all behind Spiegel and Snap now. The platform’s incredible comeback—it’s once again a coveted place for both users and advertisers—has earned Spiegel the Digital Executive of the Year honor for the second time.

The company has seen positive growth in its last two quarters, and announced that it now reaches 90% of all 13- to 24-year-olds—and does so more than Facebook or Instagram in the U.S., U.K., France and Canada. Its Discover tab, which features content from publishers and Snap originals, continues to see growth, with a 60% increase year over year in total time spent watching Discover each day. More than 60% of the audience for Discover’s daily shows, like ESPN’s SportsCenter, watch three or more days a week. The company stated in its Q2 earnings that it has 203 million daily active users and noted that its Android app update led to a 10% increase in retention rate.

For advertisers, Snapchat opened up pixel tracking in 2017, a self-service video ad creation tool and shoppable Snap ads dubbed Collection ads. With the hiring of its new chief business officer, Jeremi Gorman, the brand’s no longer trying to reach everyone but is instead solely focused on its Gen Z audience and the $1.3 trillion buying power potential there. It’s built in a native ecommerce shopping feature in partnership with Shopify and pushed the boundaries with its augmented reality lenses—but is experimenting with limited drops, such as a collaboration with Jordan Brand and Darkstore that sold out in 23 minutes or Levi’s and Disney. (All of this long before Instagram announced its own checkout feature.)

Back on top once again, Spiegel remains humble, looking toward the future of Snapchat—which, for all its ups and downs, still isn’t even 10 years old. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with our community and partners to build a business that makes a positive impact,” he told Adweek in a statement. “2019 has been a great year for Snap, and we’re excited to continue building on our momentum.”

Some of the “positive impact” that’s attributed to Snap is the lack of emphasis on likes and public profiles, instead zeroing in on one-to-one friendships and curated publishers on the platform. Notably, Snapchat has escaped much of the scrutiny other tech platforms like Facebook and Google are facing, such as inquiries from the U.S. and foreign governments.

This past July, the company rolled out its first global campaign. It’s all about celebrating friends—and not necessarily growth. In other words, maybe Snap and Spiegel’s comeback is thanks to all the friends they made along the way. —Ann-Marie Alcántara

This story first appeared in the Oct. 21, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.