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Moving with the times: the Disney+ and YouTube generation

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Most Gen Zs won’t remember a world without Disney and YouTube – but how have these brands managed to maintain a solid momentum with today’s teens and young adults?

Most people alive today don’t know a world without Disney, but as an emerging consumer demographic, the majority of Gen Zs also won’t remember a world without YouTube. Both of these platforms have become household names across the globe as a form of entertainment. So much so that YouTube has managed to secure the number one spot on our latest Youth Brand Affinity Tracker results, overtaking Netflix and Spotify. Despite only launching in 2019, newcomer Disney+ has also secured a top spot for the second quarter in a row. Here’s how Disney+ and YouTube are moving with the times to achieve success with Gen Z:

Embracing the in-app experience

YouTube launched in 2005 in the US and was pretty much an instant hit, particularly among teens and young adults. In 2006, the brand was acquired by Google and has continued to grow immensely over the years on a global scale. Nowadays, it’s even easier to tap into the latest video content with the YouTube app – making it a top competitor among social media platforms. Indeed, our survey revealed that 97% of US students use social media, with the most popular platform being YouTube – 84% use this at least once a month.

YouTube has evolved from being a platform for users to share funny videos on the internet. Over the years, the channel has become a hub for music streaming, brand advertisements, influencer vlogs, shopping inspiration – 55% of Gen Zs use YouTube for this reason – and more. The YouTube app makes all of these uses super accessible, allowing students to stay up-to-date with their favorite channels with the notification set-up. Young people are used to quick and easy user experiences – and YouTube certainly has not fallen short in this regard. No doubt this has helped increase its brand advocacy to 67% this quarter.

phone screen displaying Disney+ app

As a platform that only launched in 2019, Disney+ has really taken off and become a top contender in the entertainment sector for the Gen Z audience. Despite being a new platform, Disney+ has years of brand reputation behind it.

Older Gen Zs would have watched Disney movies on videotape, before moving onto DVDs in subsequent years. Then came every Gen Zs favorite form of childhood entertainment – Disney Channel. Now, in a digitally advanced world where streaming services and apps get the upper hand, there’s Disney+. Being able to stream new and old Disney content at the touch of a button via an app is appealing to digitally-native Gen Zs, and the brand’s ability to evolve with their audience has seen their brand advocacy jump to 53% this quarter – clearly, Disney+ is one to watch (literally).

Promoting change

Did you know that 77% of Gen Z students in the US have taken some form of action for a cause they believe in? Today’s young people are hyper-aware of global issues and are not afraid to make their voices heard. Both Disney+ and YouTube are using their platforms to tap into this politically and culturally engaged demographic, to keep themselves top of mind among young consumers.

YouTube has partnered with major news channels to stream live content over the years, such as presidential debates and sporting fixtures, and the platform continues to keep itself relevant and right on the pulse by supporting more recent movements. Earlier this month, the brand launched its ‘Women on the rise’ initiative – which shined a light on female YouTube creators making an impact, in light of International Women’s Day.

And the results speak for themselves. YouTube’s brand visibility across the Gen Z demographic has jumped from 80% to 95% this quarter – highlighting in part the success of its digital marketing.


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Disney+ has also played an active role in getting involved with important conversations that Gen Zs are passionate about. During Black History Month in February, Disney+ took to Instagram with thought-provoking and inspirational posts. As a brand-new video streaming service, Disney+ is taking steps to debunk more recent debates around Disney’s historical lack of cultural diversity, too – helping to promote change for the better. Its social media presence has helped its brand visibility skyrocket to 91% this quarter, compared to 70% in Q4 2020.

Tapping into nostalgia

Nostalgia is highly influential in the choices that Gen Zs make, especially when it comes to things like fashion and food. Turns out, entertainment with a nostalgic element goes a long way with this young demographic, too. 2020 especially was a tough year for students, so reliving their childhood with old friends like Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven on Disney+ couldn’t have come at a better time for Gen Zs.

According to our survey, Disney+’s popularity naturally skews younger than its competitors, so winning over the older segment of Gen Z could well be a task for the year ahead – but tapping into nostalgia could be just the ticket to maintaining its momentum with the student audience. Plus, with a raft of newer content like The Mandolorian and Mulan creating excitement for all ages, there’s plenty of reasons for students to buy into this varied platform – that speaks to the then and the now.

student wearing Minnie Mouse ears

Though it’s not been around for as long as the likes of the Disney brand and Netflix, there is still an element of nostalgia surrounding YouTube. While the stereotype of Gen Z is that they’re constantly on Instagram and TikTok, our research consistently shows that YouTube has a larger audience within this demographic. For Gen Zs, trust is important and YouTube’s long-standing reputation as a reliable social media and video streaming platform makes it a winner for young people. 

Gen Zs are embracing YouTube and giving it a new purpose that fits into their social media lifestyle. YouTube has always been the place to go to watch music videos and movie trailers, but now students spend hours on YouTube watching influencer content, such as make-up and cooking tutorials, or ‘my morning routine’ vlogs. Vlogging is a way for Gen Z to get creative and be real online, and YouTube has become the number one space for this purpose.

Offering exclusivity

This quarter Disney+ has overtaken Hulu and has seen its purchase intent increase from 27% to 41% – an impressive achievement for a service that only launched at the end of 2019. Part of its success can be linked to its exclusive and varied content, which makes it a strong competitor against the likes of Netflix. Recent releases that have seen huge success include the new Marvel series, WandaVision, and there are more big releases to come later this year, such as Loki (another Marvel show) and Star Wars spin-off, The Book of Boba Fett.

Gen Zs love exclusivity when it comes to discounts and making purchases – so being the only place where you can stream Disney content, alongside other movies and TV series, has put Disney+ in good stead to become a go-to for students looking to purchase a streaming service this Back to School season and beyond – watch this space.

YouTube’s exclusivity runs in a slightly different vein because of its varied levels of content and uses. Although more recent digital platforms like TikTok present a similar concept, YouTube remains the go-to brand for young people because of its reputation. YouTube is essentially the visual version of Google.

Plus, it’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu, but YouTube’s premium video and music service passed 20 million subscribers in 2020, so the brand’s place in the hearts of Gen Z means it shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, the brand’s purchase intent has increased substantially this quarter to 41%, compared to 27% last quarter. Gen Zs preference for visual platforms means YouTube is likely to stay favorable across the global student audience – stay tuned for next quarter.

Want to know how Gen Z perceives your brand against your biggest competitors? Check out the results of our latest Youth Brand Affinity Tracker.

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