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The Top Brands in 2021 for Gen Z and College Students

By collegemktgrp | July 21, 2021 | Brands/Advertisers

College fads can shift quickly depending on the season and current trends. Popular brands are looking to capture college students’ attention, so it’s essential to see what they’re interested in at the moment.

As students start attending classes on campus again this year, their spending habits offer exciting insights into their day-to-day preferences.

Information about college students’ consumer trends enables brands and marketers to tap this lucrative market in new ways. Let’s take a deep dive into the favorite brands that keep Gen Z coming back for more.

1. Amazon

In January 2020, the number of Amazon Prime users in the U.S. rose by 11% for shoppers between 18 and 34, and 81% of all adults used Amazon for their shopping. College students fall squarely in this bracket.

Convenience and the range of products available are the main reasons why college students are hooked on Amazon. Students can now enjoy customized Amazon Lockers and designated pickup locations on campus.

Everything from textbooks to gaming consoles is available at their fingertips, making this a dream brand for college-goers. If you’re planning a campaign to target this age group, take into account college students’ bias for Amazon over other shopping experiences.

2. Netflix

If college students are given the option of choosing only one streaming service to watch, an overwhelming number will pick Netflix. By the numbers alone, about 90% of college students have a Netflix account or share one with friends or family.

Gen Z doesn’t watch as much TV as previous generations, but it’s the Netflix format they identify with most. Having access to on-demand content and being able to binge-watch entire seasons of a series continue to make Netflix the preferred pastime for college students.

3. Nike

The Nike brand is timeless and transcends generations. This sporting goods manufacturer has turned its sports-oriented apparel into a lifestyle brand.

The bold new designs appeal to carefree youth, and “Just Do It” is basically a different way of saying #YOLO.

Sneakerhead culture is another reason why youngsters are so into Nike. It’s trendy to be a collector, reseller, or simply an enthusiast of sneakers.

The original Nike Yeezys and Jordans are favorite styles that give Nike a progressive image which allows younger demographics to identify with Nike products even though Nike has been around since 1964.

4. Apple

Gen Z and Millennials don’t know what it feels like to live without mobile technology. These data-hungry generations have created a lucrative tech industry centered on hand-held devices.

Although Android devices still lead in global sales, Apple is the preferred choice for U.S. college students. Sleek product design, dependability, and status symbol qualities are the main reasons why over 80% of teens either own an iPhone or want one.

Apple products aren’t just functional items — they’re fashion accessories that young people can relate to. Apple’s product design focuses on esthetics which is a significant reason for their popularity with younger demographics.

5. Chick-Fil-A

The management of Chick-Fil-A may be less politically correct than your average teen or twenty-something college student, but the fast-food brand appeals to them more than ever before.

So what’s the secret sauce?

The Piper Sandler bi-annual survey puts Chick-Fil-A ahead of any other restaurant after interviewing thousands of older teenagers. It’s not just the famous crispy chicken sandwich that the students liked — other favorable attributes of the food chain include quality customer service and regular free giveaways.

6. TikTok

Kids and young adults have flocked to this new social media platform that boasts close to a billion users. TikTok is now a cultural phenomenon that checks a lot of boxes for college students.

The bite-sized content allows users to create and enjoy entertainment on their terms. The short clip format also enables young people to express themselves and build their identities.

Like any other social media tool, TikTok gives young people a chance to become active members of a community. Popular brands can learn a great deal from TikTok’s ability to reach out to the Gen Z demographic.

7. Lay’s

Generation Z is poised to account for almost half of all consumers from 2020 onward. Brands are doing all they can to capture this market, and Lay’s seems to be doing everything right.

The company revamped its look and added exciting content to its online marketing mix, gaining traction in the younger market segment.

Their “Insta-Worthy” new look has paid off, and now Lay’s salty snacks are the highest selling goodies among college students. The success of Lay’s makes it the best performing brand among the PepsiCo family.

8. Target

Young adults greatly influence the retail space with their purchasing habits. Since they control almost half of online retail spending, big brands are paying attention to them.

Target now differentiates its market segments and concentrates on catering to each one exclusively. Their way of reaching out to youth is with the right products and targeted marketing.

The Heyday brand, for instance, offers a range of youth-centric items like speakers, headphones, and cell phone cases. These best brands for college students are heavily marketed on YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram.

Target also has other brands like Wild Fable and Original Use that offer edgy, trendy clothing at an affordable price. These are among the most popular clothing brands for college students.

9. Dove

Dove is rated as one of the top brands for college students in 2021. The skincare products top the list of trusted brands for Gen Z and Millennials. In 2021, Dove had an 11% share of its market segment, ahead of CeraVe at 9%.

The marketing campaigns for the products are value-driven and fight against unattainable beauty standards. Dove’s marketing campaign involves online influencers such as Hyram Yarbro, who adds personality to the products and attracts new customers to their large following.

Connect Your Brand to College Students

Trends and algorithms are constantly changing. But what appeals to college students remains consistent: they love convenient and accessible brands that tie into their lives at college.

As Gen Z heads back to school this fall, brands can pay attention to how they shift their focus to online back-to-school purchases.

Discover 4 ways to reach college students online for back-to-school shopping >


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