Many would say that millennials have their heads buried
so deep in their own Facebook pages that it’s no wonder they’re
moving back in droves to mom and dad’s to blog about how harsh the
real world is.
On the other side of the spectrum, the boomers—mom and dad to
many millennials—preach the merits of a can-do attitude to their
sponging offspring, and wonder when having a strong work ethic
ceased to be valued as much as making a spectacle. Radicals in
their younger years, the boomers also know what it means to stand
for something and to create change through action. Now if they
could just figure out what the heck the appeal of this whole
“tweeter” thing is.
This year, our list of top Breakaway Brands® reflects these
generational extremes, comprising both the contemporary and the
classic. Some of the Breakaway Brands on our list are a blast from
the past, yet they remain relevant in today’s fast-moving world.
The other brands are straight from the future and until recently
were just young upstarts, but now they’ve become part of the new
The millennial brands
Like the millennials themselves, these brands are mostly
dependent on technology—they’re only possible in a digital world.
We’ve watched many from this list grow over the years from young,
trendy upstarts into mature brands that serve an imperative purpose
in our modern lives. But beyond being more digital, or more social
than their classic boomer counterparts, many from this list not
only lead, they have shattered and redefined their categories—or
built new ones altogether.
Some of the millennial brands, such as Apple and iTunes, defy
conventional category definitions. Computers? Mobile phones? The
replacement for disorganized drawers brimming with CDs and DVDs in
cracked jewel cases? Apple has radically re-thought how we interact
with technology and media. Never content to rest on success, Apple
is constantly innovating new products and retiring those past their
prime—with the recent release of the iPad fundamentally changing
how we think about computing. Apple is an idea brand with a
cultlike following, but its success can still be attributed to its
ability to get the basics right and execute its brand consistently
across every touchpoint.
Despite its seemingly restrictive name, iTunes is a platform for
more than music. Apple’s media portal helps users organize their
audio and video collections and enables them to buy more in
moments. The market standard for digital media, iTunes is making
physical copies of recorded music obsolete—at least for the younger
generations, save for hipster vinyl aficionados and purist
DJs–eclipsing Walmart in 2009 as top music sales retailer. iTunes’
revolutionary platform and its store’s 99-cent song offerings have
permanently changed not just our consumption of media, but the
entertainment industry—especially the way music is structured and
YouTube was created to fulfill an unmet market need. Before it
was founded, there was no easy way to share video online. Now
anyone can upload, comment on, and share videos easily. And
Google’s purchase of the site underlines its legitimacy as an
online video leader. YouTube continues to grow by adding features
and making the site simpler to use with improvements often based on
user recommendations. Like many of the other leaders on our list,
YouTube’s value is greater than its function. Now, anyone with a
camera and computer has the potential to captivate a global
audience of billions.
Facebook destroyed Myspace, growing into the social networking
leader as it repeatedly rebuilt the category’s definition—despite
angering some with privacy-related missteps along the way. Now an
all-purpose media portal for many members, Facebook has supplanted
slowing, member ranks continue to grow along with their engagement
with the site: Users increased the amount of time spent on Facebook
from two hours a month in 2007 to seven in 2010.
Like iTunes, Netflix has redefined the entertainment category,
and like YouTube, it has set new standards for the way we view
media. When you recommend a new release to a coworker over lunch,
does he mention picking it up at the video store on the way home,
or does he claim he’ll “add it to his queue”? Netflix has not only
shuttered storefront rental shops, it’s reinvented the way we
select (thanks to personalized recommendations and user reviews)
and watch movies at home. Like others on our list, Netflix has not
rested, but instead has evolved to keep up with customer
expectations. In recent years, it’s turned from lending DVDs to
offering more streaming content.
In a page from Apple’s playbook, Samsung innovated its way into
Sony’s space and its customers’ hearts through smart product design
and emotional appeal—the consumer electronics brand presents its
gadgets as vehicles for self-expression. On the digital airwaves,
Skype is replacing AT&T’s traditional phone service as we learn
to love video chatting and expect free international calls. In
2005, eBay bought Skype, further proving its worth, and Facebook
recently announced its own Skype-powered video chat service.
PayPal has become the standard for online payments—so accepted,
in fact, that two of the largest global consumer credit card
companies, American Express and Visa, have developed their own
online transaction services. And in another David and Goliath
example, we see Firefox—the free web browser by the people, for the
people—striving against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to become the
preferred navigation tool. Firefox’s strength is grounded in its
open-source development model, delivering innovations that meet
customers’ needs faster and better than the big guy.
Amazon is a shopping mall the size of the Internet. In addition
to providing instant access to almost anything through a few clicks
and a credit card (or a PayPal account), Amazon encourages users to
advise their peers’ purchases by reviewing and rating products.
Like Netflix, in addition to user reviews, Amazon offers
algorithmic personalized recommendations that aggregate customers’
purchases and browsing histories, effectively socializing online
shopping in addition to making it more convenient.
The boomer brands
While the world spins faster, brighter, and bolder around us, we
all still yearn for familiar comforts. In contrast to the
technology leaders on our list, the other Breakaway Brands are
decidedly old-school classics. Maybe it’s precisely the fast,
bright, boldness of the new American benchmarks that have us
grasping for something more tangible, something tried and true. The
boomer brands are comforting and familiar. But most importantly,
they are authentic, and they are still relevant and distinctive
even alongside the shiny and new.
For many, Reese’s is an easy indulgence, reminiscent of happy
childhood memories. The candy brand recently re-differentiated
itself from competitors by eliminating the line extensions that had
distracted from its popular peanut butter cup offering and diluted
its image. When Reese’s refocused its strategy, its marketing
became simple: Ads featured the candy cup paired with catchy copy
placed against an orange background. In the confectionary category
where a constant stream of new sweets to appease our picky palates
was thought to be the only way to grow, Reese’s went retro and
Wolfgang Puck stands for hospitality and an everyday passion for
food: from a fine dinner at Spago to a gourmet frozen pizza heated
at home to a meal handmade with branded cookware. Food should be an
enjoyable occasion with family and friends. While criticized by
some for diluting the premium value of its brand as a result of its
rapid expansion in casual dining, cookware, and packaged food,
Wolfgang Puck’s wide accessibility has also made the company more
relevant to a greater breadth of customers. Getting the brand back
on track in recent years was a relatively simple fix: a return,
similar to Reese’s, to its core promise, inviting us to enjoy a
good meal in great company by a chef we know and trust.
Since Michelin’s classic ads featured a baby seated in a tire,
the company has always stood for keeping families safe. Staying
true to its core protection message but wanting to address modern
woes about high gas prices, in recent years Michelin added tires
that promise to improve vehicle fuel efficiency. Safety and saving
money are about as practical as a brand can get, and Michelin’s
messaging communicates these promises, effectively selling tires at
premium prices during a weak economy.
This year’s Breakaways live in the laundry room as well as the
garage: Shout has revitalized its brand and seen its products
similarly embraced. Despite its premium pricing, customers have
responded to the simple message that Shout fights stains better so
their family’s clothes last longer.
The National Guard is the ultimate American protection brand. In
2007, to combat recruiting challenges, the Guard doubled its ad
spending and embarked on a diverse campaign that spanned
traditional media (such as brochures that recruiters hand out) to
social media, and more—like branded songs by Kid Rock. The Guard
also went on a national tour to show its 18-to-24-year-old target
group what real missions were like through a simulator. Throughout
its efforts, the Guard was confidently honest about the realities
of its brand, admitting it was primarily a service organization
that would never be as “sexy” as the Air Force. And it worked: The
Guard erased its recent recruiting deficits, not only attracting
more recruits, but also better educated ones.
Yin and yang
In our hearts we’ve all got a little bit of that millennial
attitude and some of those boomer values. If you look at their core
attributes, the boomer and the millennial brands actually have a
lot in common. Contemporary or classic, this year’s Breakaway
Brands share some common qualities. Whether they’re brand building
in cyberspace or on Main Street, all have succeeded in one way or
another by being really good at using basic branding principles to
stay relevant and differentiated. These old and new school brands
should be seen not as oppositional but complementary: yin and yang,
rather than adversaries.
Now just don’t get us started on those crazy Gen X brands.
About the Breakaway Brands study
First published in 2004, Landor’s annual Breakaway Brands® study
provides a unique look at brands that have exhibited sustained,
quantifiable increases in brand strength over a three-year
Brand strength is determined using three years of consumer
survey data from the BrandAsset® Valuator (BAV) U.S. database (we
compared results from 2007 to 2010 for this study). Landor analyzed
data for approximately 2,500 brands across industries, based on
interviews with more than 15,000 consumers annually, evaluating
against 48 different measures of brand health.
By comparing brand performance on key measures that drive
consumer preference and choice—specifically, the brand’s
differentiation (including its distinctiveness, innovation, and
dynamism)—and the brand’s relevance (how appropriate it is to a
consumer’s life), we identified those brands that increased their
scores most dramatically. When a brand grew significantly on both
measures (an indication of true brand strength) and these numbers
were sustained over the three-year period, they became candidates
for the Breakaway Brands list.
Later, Landor consultants partnered with students from Wake
Forest University’s Graduate School of Business to conduct
secondary research on key actions undertaken by brand owners to
enhance performance and identify the strategies and initiatives
employed to sustain brand growth over three years. The selected
finalists are therefore not necessarily the biggest brands, but
brands that proactively built their brand strength most
consistently over time.
With more than 18 years of consumer data, BAV is the world’s
largest and most enduring study of brands. Polling consumers in the
United States on a quarterly basis for their perceptions of brands,
it identifies and analyzes brand strength and trends based on four
pillars of brand building: differentiation, relevance, esteem, and
To date, BAV tracks brands in more than 40 countries, covers
some 50,000 brands, has conducted interviews with more than 750,000
consumers, and includes dozens of brand metrics and attitudinal
questions. BAV is part of Young & Rubicam Group, a partnership
of companies that includes Landor.
A slightly different version of this article was published on
forbes.com (8 September 2011).
© 2011 Landor Associates. All rights reserved.