The Momentum Masters of 2020
December 31, 2020
Our clear “net-net” from the 2020 Momentum Masters is the importance of evolving and adapting in times of disruption and adversity. 2020 was a time of change — all the norms, rules and behaviors were flipped on their heads overnight. The 2020 Momentum Masters were able to seize the moment and evolve. They maintained momentum and will now lead us into the future.
In its inaugural year, we used our MFactor to measure the cultural momentum of brands, people, movements and trends as they adapted to the new normal. We distilled everything we analyzed in 2020 into our first annual Momentum Master List. Each of these Momentum Masters leveraged all 5 drivers to fuel momentum at key moments throughout 2020.
We’ve grouped the list by the driver that best represents why each entity is a Momentum Master.
Disruptors: These masters turned their situations upside down. They took an unexpected approach in adapting to their circumstances this year.
- Major League Sports: NHL, NBA, MLB
Sticky: These masters created something memorable.
- LeBron James
- Pets: Pet Adoption, Chewy, BarkBox
Innovators: These masters evolved to create something new and improved. Through their constant evolution, they ultimately drove FOMO (fear of missing out).
- The Beauty Industry
- Influencer Marketing, special mention Serena F*cking Kerrigan and Ryan Reynolds
- Fenty + Rihanna
- Justin Bieber
- Barstool Sports
Polarizers: These masters took a strong stance. Their POV was intentionally not for everyone — it turned some people off and strongly resonated with others. That tension is critical in driving the discussion & debate that ultimately fueled momentum.
- Entertainment, special mention Travis Scott, Cardi B, Meghan Thee Stallion
- Fast Food, special mention McDonald’s, Blaze Pizza, Subway, Arby’s, Qdoba
- Scott Galloway
Social Impact: These masters leaned into a larger purpose.
- President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harrris
- Black Lives Matter Movement
- Food Banks
- Music, special mention Taylor Swift, The Weeknd
Bonus: The Holidays
Momentum Master Emeritus: Leonard Lauder
DEEP DIVE: 25 MOMENTUM MASTERS OF 2020
Airbnb: Pre-pandemic, Airbnb faced criticism for being the less clean and safe option. By 2020, Airbnb successfully repositioned themselves as the safe escape for quarantine travelers looking for a more sanitized, personal experience, plus remote, long term stays within driving distance.
By doubling down on this unexpected target Airbnb reached a peak MFactor of 90, reported a $219.3 million third-quarter profit and closed the most successful IPO of 2020–in a year marked by travel bans.
Crocs: As a core member of the “anti-design design club” Crocs became the signature shoe of 2020 by disrupting the way we think about fashion. Quarantine comfort became a priority, transforming “ugly” into a cool at-home staple. Other retailers struggled throughout the third quarter, but Crocs reached a peak MFactor of 80 and increased revenue 15.7% year over year, making them a shoe-in to win 2020.
TikTok: The app’s momentum took off in February, reaching a peak MFactor of 100. They disrupted social media as the “anti” social media platform… initially dubbed just “for kids”. TikTok made it easy for anyone to create and engage in a way that’s fast, fun and unfiltered.
Cut to lockdown life: TikTok disrupted all facets of our quarantine becoming relevant (and addictive) to the masses:
- Social media: How we entertain ourselves & connect with others
- Music: How we discover new artists and engage with songs through dance. The MFactor for “TikTok music” nearly quadrupled in the past year and rose from 54 to 68.
- Fashion: how others inspire us to try new trends & take risks
- Education: How we learn new skills (Baking, DIY crafting, professional development, etc)
- Political and social activism: How TikTok enabled a new audience to have control — Gen Z. TikTokers disrupted the ultimate disrupter: Trump.
Major League Sports (NBA, NHL, MLB): When the world came to a stop, the Major Leagues were the first to set an example for how to safely return to play.
- They led the reopening. While others were still deciding how to move forward, the Major Leagues remained one step ahead by listening to medical experts and taking the necessary precautions. The NBA bubble got us back to sports quickly and safely, then the NHL gave us a glimpse into the future. Under the leadership of Commissioner Gary Bettman, the NHL served as a model for others with no COVID cases in its bubble.
- They found new ways to engage fans. A year ago, most would have laughed at the idea of games without fans, but the Major Leagues proved that they could maintain momentum without in-person interactions. For the MLB, that meant keeping “the focus on those connections and … really meeting our fans where they were,” by prioritizing digital engagement with more Mic’d Up content & MLB Originals.
- They took action (beyond COVID). Amid a summer of unrest & ahead of the election, Major Leagues went on the offensive, using their platform for good. The NBA formed a coalition to prioritize civic engagement efforts — resulting in 17 sports arenas transformed into safe polling places.
Peloton: 2020 was the year that Peloton transcended the exercise category and moved into entertainment. As gyms shut down, Peloton and its roster of star instructors became “must-watch TV” infiltrating culture and appearing in The New York Times, Vogue, ESPN & more. Suddenly, Peloton was everywhere, not just in your home gym. Not to mention the brand’s partnerships with icons like Beyonce and Shonda Rhimes…
Pfizer: The pharma industry collectively leaned into their weak spot this year — distrust from the American people. They realized marketing & corporate branding initiatives would win more confidence and optimism than merely dropping more drug ads.
Sally Susman, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer, led the way. Pfizer’s “Science Will Win” campaign was influenced by company research suggesting that people wanted to hear from scientists instead of celebrities or politicians.
“I knew as a communications executive that I needed to operate differently, that themes like collaboration would become very important as opposed to competition,” Ms. Susman said.
Lowes: 2020 was the year of the home and Lowe’s emerged as the Home and DIY leader. Making our spaces more comfortable became a quarantine past time. And in a year when we spent so much time at home, Lowe’s changed how we gave back to our homes, encouraging us to think of home as an extension of ourselves & home improvement as a form of self care.
- Became one of the sports industry’s biggest advocates for Black Lives Matter
- Mediated between players and the league to end the NBA boycott
- Turned civic minded with the creation of the “More Than A Vote” organization to combat voter suppression
- Won his 4th NBA Championship and 4th Finals MVP award
Cartier: Momentum for Cartier this year was driven by the way they are defining new school luxury. Cartier took an unexpected approach by being a symbol of empowerment for young, successful professionals with timeless pieces that signal new milestones of success — from “gateway” / starter jewelry all the way to the “Tutti Frutti” bracelet that broke online jewelry auction records (during quarantine).
Pets (Adoption, Chewy & BarkBox): Momentum for pet adoption this year surged multiple times throughout quarantine and ultimately became ubiquitous. Pre-pandemic, momentum for adopting pets was driven by philanthropy. Once the pandemic hit, momentum for adopting pets took on a new meaning and purpose: source of emotional support and companionship; form of self care; providing a greater sense of meaning & purpose.
Pet toys surged as the holidays approached and parents searched for entertainment that gets kids off screen. Pet-goods retailers Chewy and BarkBox became the answer and pet merchandise became one of the top gift-giving categories.
The Beauty Industry: As we sheltered in place & hunkered down, the beauty industry evolved its approach to reaching & engaging with consumers to better align with current needs.
- Retail / eCommerce: Knowing how much we value in-person interactions & advice from makeup artists, brands innovated on the typically impersonal eCommerce experience. Following the launch of Bobbi Brown’s virtual makeup consultation service Artistry Like Never Before, the brand saw a 15% increase in new customers, a 46% conversion rate from the consultation, and a 51% repurchase rate after the initial post-consultation purchase.
- Marketing: With beauty counters closed, consumers relied on beauty subscription services to try new & existing products safely. Partnering with new brands, Ipsy evolved its offerings with the first-of-its-kind Ultra Personalization feature that allowed Glam Bag plus members to build personalized bags of full-size favorites from coveted brands without paying retail price.
- Experimentation: Brands leaned into the newfound freedom to take risks with our look, express our creativity and have fun with beauty. Eye makeup sales soared as we leaned into colorful eye shadows, extra long / false lashes, and dramatic cat eyes.
Influencer Marketing: When brands were hit with marketing cuts, they started innovating and creating FOMO through influencer-inspired initiatives & partnerships.
- Influencers that surged in momentum this year like Serena F*cking Kerrigan (aka “SFK”) evolved their approach to advertisements and product placements by integrating them into their personal brand narrative — giving the product context to make more sense in the follower’s mind. Amazon Alexa tapped “SFK,” giving her free reign to weave the Alexa products into her “everyday” life. The response from followers was overwhelmingly positive because of the authenticity of the #ad.
- Ryan Reynolds took the advertising world by storm this year. Through his agency Maximum Effort Productions, he applied lessons from influencer marketing to traditional marketing initiatives by: producing & starring in his content, remaining nimble & agile so he can quickly act on trending news, and marketing companies he is genuinely invested in.
Fenty: Rihanna is known for pushing boundaries in the name of inclusion. Her MFactor soured from 29 (October 2019) to 57 this October as she evolved her approach by featuring plus size male models for her inaugural men’s collection. Fenty broke down barriers & let plus size males feel heard, represented & celebrated.
Justin Bieber: 2020 was Bieber’s great reset. Following a year of laying low & declining momentum in 2019, Bieber’s MFactor increased 61%, from a low of 54 in September 2019 to a peak of 87 in July 2020.
Bieber evolved by taking us behind the scenes and showing us his authentic self. When everything shut down, he took advantage, moved to Canada and leaned into the quarantine lifestyle. He reminded us that he’s just like us with RV camping trips, socks + slides + sweats, overgrown hair, and focus on skincare. Bieber strategically released projects that aligned with this new version of himself: new songs like Stuck with you, Holy, Lonely, Monsters and partnerships with brands like Crocs.
Barstool Sports: When the quarantine put a pause on sports & sports betting, Barstool Sports evolved its brand & content to keep us entertained in other ways. Enter: day trading, a different type of gambling. With founder Dave Portnoy leading the Davey Day Trading series, Barstool kept fans hooked while also teaching them new skills. Their evolution continued with Portnoy launching the Barstool Fund to provide financial assistance to businesses in danger of closing. In just days, Barstool has already raised $11 million.
Entertainers: Travis Scott, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion
American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer Travis Scott leveraged the power of his name & his voice by partnering with brands to target specific audiences. Through his year of collaborations, he increased his MFactor 33% from a low of 64 in 2019 to a high of 85 in 2020.
- Not everyone is a Cactus Jack fan, and that’s the point. Following the success of his Fortnite partnership, the infusion of his aesthetic & messaging made his McDonald’s Travis Scott meal a sellout success. Regular quarter pounders don’t deplete McDonald’s inventory, but ones with Travis Scott’s name on them did.
Female powerhouses Cardi B (with a peak MFactor of 100) and Megan Thee Stallion actively leaned into controversy with their single “WAP.” The song sparked discussion and debate of female empowerment, sexual liberation and diversity & inclusion.
Nike: Nike, with a peak MFactor of 91, masterfully leveraged polarization by being bold & loud with its brand voice & extending beyond sports. During a summer of unrest, Nike was one of the first to take a stance & side with justice, launching “You Can’t Stop Sport” campaign, voting initiatives & a commitment to community. The polarization doesn’t stop there. Enter Nocta: Drake’s official Nike sub level brand (not Nike x Drake, not Nocta by Nike, just Nocta). As the first official Nike brand since Jordan, Nocta is a manifestation of Nike’s unique POV: a lifestyle brand for more than athletes — all different legends & icons alike.
Fast-food: In a year where comfort food was much-needed, fast food chains gave their brands a voice and joined the culture conversation. Instead of “staying in their lane,” chains were active on all forms of social media, leaning into their brand voice by leveraging humor, hot takes & customer interactions.
- Blaze Pizza’s nimbleness and agility fueled their 2020 momentum. “Guerilla” marketing efforts like open signs outside to remind patrons they are open & one-day only marketing efforts like White Claw pizzas kept them in the headlines.
- Subway creatively fueled velocity by reminding customers of its loyalty & compassion. Following years of struggle, momentum for Subway increased after its kind & caring responses to a followers messages went viral.
- When a TikTok of a “stolen” Arby’s TV went viral, Arby’s leaned in & played up the joke by flying a banner plane flying over a beach in Naples that read “Hey @H1T1 we want our TV back — Arby’s.”
- Qdoba continued to lean into the passionate discussion & debate about their “second best” status, which has been a narrative that loyal Qdoba fans continue to engage in since Chance the Rapper’s SNL monologue in October 2019.
Scott Galloway: The king of hot takes knows and understands the power of “know when you’re not for everyone… and that’s OK”. As he said in The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google… “Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were neither likeable nor cute. In fact, the room got brighter whenever they left it”.
In his most recent set of predictions, he asserts his stance on Robinhood: “In contrast to rivals such as Charles Schwab that encourage investing, Robinhood gamifies trading. at a $11 billion private market valuation, with a $20 billion IPO expected soon, Robinhood investors have done the math and decided the smart thing to do is to ignore the law, as well as any incidental depression and suicide.”
- Masks: The debate around masks became highly political. President Trump took months to take a definitive stance as American’s questioned: Are masks an enabler of our freedom or do they take away our liberty?
- Wearing a mask has since become a symbol that you care about others — you are doing your part to flatten the curve. The CDC states that “a mask may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.”
- Masks have gone from an imposition and burden to something many of us don’t feel comfortable without. Now we don’t leave the house without our masks… even if they now pose a new challenge: Maskne.
President-Elect Joe Biden + Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris: After months of uncertainty & conflicting messaging, Biden and Harris brought us together & filled us with hope by getting started on COVID efforts before taking office. Throughout the election, Biden sided with science — a clear sign that he would help us out of the pandemic. In contrast to the slow rollout of vaccines, Biden’s administration has promised to administer 100 million vaccines by his 100th day in office. To meet this goal, Biden announced he will invoke the Defense Production Act to help ramp up production & distribution.
Black Lives Matter Movement: Black Lives Matter was the single largest movement for change in 2020. Following the tragic losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others, the BLM movement took the country (and the world) by storm. As the nation banded together under one common cause, momentum for Black Lives Matter took off. On June 6th, half a million Americans turned out in nearly 550 places across the country to stand in solidarity — and protests continued the rest of the year. Staying silent was not an option for any person, organization or brand. For those with a large following, it was all about using their platform to inspire change: Lewis Hamilton brought the BLM movement to international F1 races and Zendaya dedicated her acceptance speech for her historic Emmy win to young people & change.
Food banks: With so many holiday traditions disrupted or canceled this year, supporting local food banks, pantries or soup kitchens was one holiday tradition that maintained momentum.
Nationally, it’s estimated that food insecurity rates have more than doubled — now impacting as many as 23% of US households this year.
- Giant Eagle Supermarket partners with Feeding America with a mission to end hunger and aid those who may be food insecure during these uncertain times
- The NBA’s Charlotte Hornets partnered with hunger relief fund Food Lion Feeds to donate all the ingredients for a warm Thanksgiving meal to 1,000 families.
- The Miami HEAT alongside Feeding South Florida hosted a contactless Thanksgiving drive-through food distribution
- Food Bank for NYC collaborated with world renowned artist KAWS to raise money to provide meals for families in need
Netflix: When we were stuck at the home, the one thing we all had in common to discuss was the latest Netflix binge. We began quarantine with Tiger King and wrapped up the year with The Queen’s Gambit. Netflix was bigger than their content. It was there for us when not much else was: it educated, entertained and comforted us. With features like Netflix Party and frequently updated content, Netflix helped us feel connected to each other and escape from reality for a time.
Music brought us together: While many delayed album releases at the start of the pandemic to be culturally sensitive, The Weeknd’s After Hours and Taylor Swift’s Folklore, followed by Evermore, were exactly the albums we needed to get us through.
The Weeknd’s momentum surged to a high of 88 in March while Taylor Swift’s doubled from 40 to 80 in July. By announcing Folklore only 24 hours before release, she avoided speculation, controlled the narrative and positioned her new music as a gift for her fans.
BONUS: The Holidays & 2021: Momentum for the holidays & 2021 surged earlier than usual in 2020 because people were eager to get on to the future. Momentum picked up in September because people were optimistic about the new year, a fresh start and a new beginning. For most, celebrations throughout the year were canceled, delayed or downplayed. But the memorable holiday moments we know and love still happened this year, even if digital or with minimal crowds. Macy’s 94th Thanksgiving Day Parade still went on as a TV-only production and the Times Square New Year’s rockin’ eve will still ring in the new year with a virtual ball drop.
Special feature for our Momentum Master Emeritus: Leonard Lauder.
As written in his recent book, The Company I Keep, Lauder teaches us what is takes to be a momentum master:
- Disruption: “We were always contrarian. When the competition tightened its budget, we increased ours… we set out to out-advertise, out-promote and out-launch them with new products that were rolled out almost every month.
- Stickiness: “There could always be another super-ingredient. But the positioning statement was our own and would last forever. The positioning is the product.”
- Innovation: “During the 2001 recession, I coined the phrase “the lipstick index” in response to the rise in lipstick sales as women facing an uncertain environment will turn to beauty products as an affordable indulgence while they cut back on more expensive items”
- Polarization: “Don’t fall into the trap of ‘how do we compare to others’ as opposed to ‘this is who we are’… Clinique helped us to understand that there were so many new customers entering the market that the EL brand couldn’t appeal to them all.”
- Social impact: “Everything I’ve done has been with one aim in mind: make a difference.”