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Summer is heating up, and just in time Ad Age has revealed its 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.

Some brands are fortunate enough to take advantage of trends, such as e-commerce and loungewear, brought on by the pandemic. Others, including a fast-growing cannabis company, are only now able to expand because of newly relaxed laws. And several are gaining ground because of cultural momentum and a new focus on Black-owned businesses.

Yet most of the brands Ad Age has picked have gone on to reach new levels of success. TikTok, which was on Ad Age’s list in 2019, went on to be crowned its Marketer of the Year, as brands from Walmart to Citi clamor to market on the channel. Peloton, which was on last year’s list, recently reported a 141% rise in quarterly sales to $1.3 billion – and shares rose 12% as a result, despite the company’s expectation of a $165 million financial hit from its treadmill recall. Zoom continues to be the platform du jour for remote workers across the country and Headspace just rolled out a new Netflix special.

todd smith

TODD SMITH

A pink cleaning paste that goes viral. Hospital scrubs that become the must-have outfit. And a reboot of a 1990s basketball hit that has brands clamoring for collaborations. This year’s 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.

Some of these brands got a leg up because of the coronavirus. NTWRK, the livestreaming app, might not be as successful if consumers haven’t been well-versed in shopping online, and Pfizer wouldn’t be such a household name if it hadn’t been first to market with a COVID vaccine – but they’re taking that boost and running with it. NTWRK just hired its first chief marketing officer.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” has sparked countless brand collabs, and sports gambling site DraftKings just teamed up with Domino’s as it rides a gambling wave. An executive at gaming platform Roblox recently told Ad Age her company is “well-positioned for continued growth in a post-COVID world” – which is shared by all the brands on the list. Here are the first 10 hottest brands on the list alphabetically (tune in next week for the rest of the list):

Bad Bunny – Bad Bunny’s influence can’t be ignored. The Puerto Rican rapper’s latest album, “Último Tour del Mundo,” became the first all-Spanish LP to top the Billboard 200 chart. But beyond being a Latin American star, the rapper known for his eccentric looks found a way to bring his music and image into the American zeitgeist – from Crocs to Cheetos to Corona beer.

Clubhouse – Clubhouse’s air of exclusivity and ability to connect media bigwigs during pandemic lockdowns made the livestream audio app a must watch in 2020. With in-person networking and live conferences on pause during COVID, the platform allowed people to set up rooms to chat about everything from pop culture to racism. It attracted Silicon Valley execs and media heavy hitters, with Oprah Winfrey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla founder Elon Musk participating in chats.

Cookies – The cannabis chain store founded by Billboard-topping rapper Berner. The brand, founded in 2012, is named because its first strain tasted like Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. The fun-loving company sells 150 cannabis varieties under names including Berry Pie and Honey Bun, CBD items and medicinal mushroom caps. As cannabis gets legalized in more states, the brand is gaining notoriety with high-profile partnerships with Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross and Gary Payton.

CultureTags – First introduced in January 2020 as a Kickstarter campaign, card game #CultureTags blew past its $15,000 fundraising goal by February and was ramping up production by March–just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S. But creator Eunique Jones Gibson, founder of Black excellence-focused platform Because of Them We Can and ad agency Culture Brands, pressed on, delivering the hashtag-based game amid nationwide lockdowns and picking up some major press coverage in the process.

Dick’s Sporting Goods – the retailer had the insight of tapping into two pandemic-related trends – consumers were yearning to relax in leisure apparel and were also keen to pursue athletic activities, whether solitary hikes or distanced golfing. The changes in behavior led to a windfall for the Pennsylvania-based company, which saw revenue skyrocket during the pandemic – ecommerce alone doubled in 2020.

Dolly Parton – In a country as bitterly divided as ours, it’s rare to find someone truly beloved by all. But for decades, Dolly Parton has been emblematic of our cultural dichotomy: country superstar and pop singer, working woman and figure of femininity, traditional Christian and gay icon. Through it all, her philanthropy has been single-minded and legendary. She gives where it counts – to children who need books, animal welfare and HIV/AIDS charities. But perhaps no gift is more timely or impactful than the $1 million she donated to coronavirus research, money that went in part to the development of Moderna’s COVID vaccine.

DraftKings – of the many brands trying to ride the sports gambling wave, DraftKings is one of the surest bets. The company started as a daily fantasy sports outlet in 2012, while some competitors are only now seizing on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a federal ban on sports betting in 2018. Sports wagering is now legal in more than two dozen states, and DraftKings has retail or online operations in 14 of them.

Figs – when Heather Hasson, a former med student with a fashion background, recruited investment banker and friend Trina Spear to create Figs in 2013, they wanted to fuse fashion and performance by making medical scrubs flattering yet functional. But they never could have predicted how far the brand would catapult into mainstream popularity during the pandemic. The craze went beyond doctors and nurses to consumers eager for comfort at home under lockdown. Figs’ revenue leapt 138% last year, and the brand gained awareness with ads featuring real nurses telling their stories, including on billboards and in subways in major cities.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – the hottest new brand in entertainment and media this year? Arguably Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have swapped U.K. royalty for U.S. royalties. Their empire so far spans both Hollywood and Silicon Valley, including an estimated $100 million deal with Netflix, an estimated $35 million podcast agreement with Spotify and Harry’s Apple TV+ series “The Me You Can’t See.” Markle also has a Disney voiceover deal, is an investor in oat milk latte brand Clevr Blends and published a bestselling kids’ picture book, “The Bench,” while Harry has a role at mental health startup BetterUp.

The Home Edit – If your books and clothes are organized in rainbow order, thank The Home Edit. If you give yourself a gold star for overhauling a closet or drawer, thank The Home Edit. If your pantry features labeled zones of food decanted into clear containers, thank The Home Edit. Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin started their Nashville-based brand in 2015, soon after meeting through a mutual friend. It grew steadily thanks in part to its aspirational Instagram stories and a line at The Container Store. The brand exploded in 2020 as people decluttered during the pandemic. The first season of “Getting Organized with The Home Edit,” its Netflix series featuring celebrity clients such as Khloe Kardashian and Reese Witherspoon along with non-stars looking for some organization expertise, debuted last September.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmith.agency, follow him @spinsurgeon on Twitter and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.

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