Last week, we dove into the hottest brands revealed in Ad Age’s annual list of America’s Hottest Brands, those that are sizzling – through a resurgence of popularity, capitalizing on newfound fame or through a modern reboot of a well-loved franchise.
This year’s list highlights trends that are taking our culture by storm, including a brand that could be called the poster child for viral commerce and one that went mainstream through vaccine marketing.
The crop of Ad Age’s America’s Hottest Brands includes 20 buzzy products, people and services that are sparking conversations on social media, at the retail checkout line and on the school playground. The list includes newcomers in niche categories, like health care uniform maker Figs and hair care brand Pattern as well as Dolly Parton, a celebrity who is so beloved she bridges America’s divisions – and sells out of ice cream in the process.
Here are top brands on the rest of the list (alphabetically):
- Liguid Death – The name Liquid Death could easily apply to a punk band or high-proof liquor, but it’s actually the moniker of a rising star in the sustainable water category. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company sells mountain H20 in “infinitely recyclable” tallboys marked with the mantra “#DeathtoPlastic.” Last September, the brand secured $23 million in series B funding, and in May, it became the exclusive water partner for Live Nation Entertainment venues and festivals across the U.S.
- Marvel – The world needs superheroes now more than ever, and Marvel hasn’t failed to deliver. From the successful rollout of series on Disney+ such as “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” to drumming up anticipation for its post-pandemic theatrical releases, Marvel and its studios have kept the brand fresh and relevant in a way that few others have managed amid COVID-19. The accelerated shift to streaming during the early lockdowns drew eyeballs, but it’s not just original titles that have kept the billion-dollar superhero factory running; branded crossovers and ad campaigns have also done their part. In the past few months alone, Marvel’s out-of-this-world characters have done everything from getting behind the wheel of a mortal Hyundai Tucson SUV to collaborating with ESPN for an “Arena of Heroes” NBA game.
- NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) – The markets made a weird turn this year as so-called meme stocks such as GameStop and AMC took investors on a wild ride and Dogecoin crypto enthusiasm grabbed headlines. But there is little that competes with the rise of NFTs – Non-Fungible Tokens. Crypto-backed digital goods, NFTs retain value because they are unique and can’t be reproduced without some heavy manipulation.
- NTWRK – It’s all about shopping the drop at NTWRK, the three-year-old trendy livestreaming shopping platform that started its rise when the pandemic forced shopping, and drop culture, online. The platform, only accessible through an app, streams shows featuring exclusive merchandise from brands including Nike, Oakley and collectible toy line Be@rbrick available for purchase for a short time only – known as “drops,” a sort of Home Shopping Network for the new generation.
- PATTERN – Tracee Ellis Ross may be an accomplished actor and director, but hair care and retail executives weren’t buying her as a brand builder when she started pitching the idea for Pattern in 2009. After a decade of hearing she wasn’t “credible,” she launched the specialized hair care brand anyway. It turns out Ross, and her line of products for curly, coily and tight-textured hair, were right after all. Launched in late 2019, Pattern thrived despite the disruption caused by the pandemic and social unrest; it won awards from Allure, Essence, Marie Claire and New Beauty.
- PFIZER – Amid the handful of COVID-19 vaccine choices, one brand emerged as the inoculator of choice. Early U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, coupled with a three-week time frame and few side effects helped propel Pfizer beyond its pharmaceutical roots and into mainstream conversation, earning distinction as “the hot person vaccine,” and the go-to-shot for celebs including Bette Midler, Tyler Perry and Marc Jacobs. The 172-year-old drug maker is just getting started. Pfizer is currently testing its vaccine on children younger than 12, with results expected this fall, and executives anticipate continued booster shots for its coronavirus adult vaccines.
- Pink Stuff – The Pink Stuff was a 20-year-old cleaning brand from the U.K. with very little name recognition in the U.S. – one of myriad abrasive cleaners for tough kitchen grime. Then TikTok’s cleaning craze swept it into internet fame, and it became the poster child for viral commerce. With little encouragement from any marketers at brand owner Stardrops in the U.K., the brand exploded in 2021 on the social platform. Videos showing people using the pink all-purpose cleaning paste, claiming to contain only natural ingredients, now number more than 250 million, with billions of views.
- Reddit – Most Super Bowl advertisers spend $5.5 million for a national 30-second commercial, but not Reddit. The company took a 5-second regional spot in select major cities for a fraction of the price, and got as much attention, if not more, than national advertisers. Reddit might not be the biggest platform like Facebook, mainstream like Twitter, or carefree like TikTok, but it has influence. The site has 100,000-plus communities around forums that cover almost every interest. Reddit says it’s found the right formula to reach $1 billion in ad revenue by 2023.
- ROBLOX – Gaming platform Roblox, now with a $50 billion market cap, has become one of the success stories emerging from the pandemic, when gaming boomed. Roblox’s daily active users, who play an average of 2.6 hours a day, grew by 28% to 43 million for the 12 months ended in May. Creators building their own worlds in the metaverse earned $329 million on the platform in 2020. Over the past year, Roblox has worked with Warner Bros., Gucci and Columbia Records to bring experiences, concerts and launch parties to the platform – and all have attracted millions of visitors.
- SPACE JAM – Fans of LeBron James and Lola Bunny celebrated in style when “Space Jam: A New Legacy” hits theaters and homes – via HBO Max – on July 16, becoming the top-grossing movie release. More than 200 partners lined up to tie into the Warner Bros. Pictures animated/live-action follow-up to 1996’s “Space Jam” starring Michael Jordan. Looney Tunes apparel, Nike and Converse shoes, Spalding basketballs and Funko Pop collectibles feel fitting. BarkBox dog toys, Vilebrequin swimwear and a $1,500 silkscreened print by Mr. Brainwash at Bloomingdale’s show the out-of-this-world reach for the summer hit. Food partners include a “Space Jam Sweet Slam” of Ferrara candy such as Trolli Sour Sneaks. There’s even a digital candy tie-in via the biggest takeover in Candy Crush history. That’s all, folks!