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The Brand Visibility Report

Explore the latest visual trends on social media, from the most visible brand and sectors through to emerging aesthetics

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REPORTThe Brand Visibility Report

We analyzed millions of images posted on public social media channels to find the hottest visual trends.

The power of images has been well documented for decades but, with the democratization of photography through smartphone cameras and the now widespread popularity of image sharing networks, communication is now more visual than ever.

For brands, the images consumers share provide a window into how their products or advertisements are seen in the wild – how they’re used, the context they appear in, and so on.

Less than 5% of the images we studied featuring the most visible logo of 2021 actually mention the brand in the accompanying text.

Being able to analyze images effectively, especially when there is so much that could be missed in traditional text-based searches, is vital to uncovering previously hidden insights.

In this report, we’ll explore:

  • The most visible brand in 2021
  • The most visible sectors in 2021
  • Visual trends for different generations 
  • Aesthetics and online subcultures

The most visible brand in 2021


Brandwatch's most visible brand in 2021 Adidas

Brandwatch Consumer Research identified Adidas as the most prominent logo out of a database of 700+ which features some of the biggest brands on the planet.

Facing tough competition from the likes of Nike, Fox TV, and Apple, Adidas took the lead with over 10 million images identified.

So, what makes Adidas the most visual brand?

1. Sponsorships

When analyzing the content of images that contain an Adidas logo, we found that 15% had a sporting context. Mega soccer and football stars wearing the Adidas logo during big games came up again and again. It goes without saying that sponsoring huge events can get a brand a tremendous amount of exposure to TV audiences, but analyzing how those events impact conversation and visuals on social can give a whole new set of success metrics to sponsors. We explore this more in our 2021 Social Sport Report.

2. Influencers and ambassadors

Adidas have all kinds of lucrative partnerships, and perhaps one of their smartest is with the K-pop group BLACKPINK. The group has a huge and dedicated fan base who amplify all kinds of BLACKPINK content, including their brand partnerships. Images of members of the group wearing Adidas attire, whether it’s owned content they’ve created or images of billboards featuring them, are plastered across the internet by adoring fans.

3. Legacy

Historic sponsorships and partnerships play a big role in Adidas’ current performance in online images. Images taken many years ago are still cropping up in conversations in 2021, helping reaffirm Adidas as a cultural institution. With the help of historical social data, Adidas can measure the impact of legacy partnerships over time and also understand whether their visual influence is growing or shrinking.

As we mentioned above, less than 5% of the images we studied that feature the Adidas logo actually mention the brand in the accompanying text. Without image analysis, that’s millions of images containing vital context and insight that could go unseen.

The most visible industries in 2021

Next up, let’s take a look at the sectors with highly visible logos. To calculate this, we looked at the top 50 most visible logos in our analysis and broke them down into the sectors they belong to.

Tech, sport, and CPG logos tend to be most visible. 

There are a few reasons why this might be.


Sleek products with recognizable logos are super common in images relating to tech. These might relate to giveaways, product complaints, or simply people admiring the aesthetics of a product in their home.


As covered above, popular sports events will always have eyes glued to TV screens and those visuals also translate to owned and earned social media content. Sports team logos (and those of their sponsors) were featured in millions of images online in 2021.


Consumer packaged goods might not sound like the sexiest sector, but there are some huge brand names within that are featured in images in all kinds of contexts. For example, the Coca Cola logo features in pictures of everything from red carpet events to life hacks to visual tricks.

Not to mention big news stories – we’ve already covered the power of Ronaldo, and if you mix that with one of the most visible brands in the world, you’ve got an instant viral hit. 

Every year when we look into visual trends we try to make use of a new piece of Brandwatch tech to see what new insights can be derived. This year, we’re going to dive into visual trends within conversations from different generations using Ready to Use Socal Panels.

To understand the data here, we split out conversations coming from different generations and then used Image Insights to understand the most common objects appearing within images shared in those conversations. Gen Z and millennials shared common themes, as did Gen X and baby boomers.

Among the top objects appearing in images posted by Gen Z and Millennial authors, cartoons were huge. Photoshoots, beauty, anime, line art, and drawing were also big aspects. We recently reported on the explosion of anime and manga online, especially since the pandemic began. Millennials and Gen Z seem particularly keen to share content relating to these.

For Gen X authors, people are the most common thing to appear in images posted online. Meanwhile, animals and pets were common in images shared by our baby boomer authors (they were popular with Gen X too). These included funny images and memes as well as just cute cats and dogs.

When brands are looking to target different audiences based on generation, it’s worth studying the kinds of imagery and messaging that will resonate with them most.

Aesthetics and emerging online subcultures

Let’s switch gears a little. A look at visual trends across 2021 wouldn’t be complete without analyzing the rise of aesthetics online. 

Aesthetics in the sense we’re referring to here mainly relate to online trends that are based on an amalgamation of fashion, hobbies, music, and other interests into a single concept. They often invoke their own kind of atmosphere or ‘mood’ that’s imparted into content posted on platforms like Tumblr and TikTok.

Interest in the topic has grown dramatically online.

From 2004 to 2015, searches for the aesthetics topic referred to things like beauty, medicine, and philosophy. But in 2016 Tumblr was one of the biggest related topics, while searches around specific colors were increasing. Tumblr, which is seen as the original birthplace of these online aesthetic subcultures, remained a major topic for the next few years. By 2018 all of the top five related search topics focused on the new understanding of the term aesthetics.

A good way to analyze aesthetics is to look at words ending in -core. These portmanteaus take the ‘core’ from ‘hardcore’ and combine it with a word that sums up the aesthetic. Really into nature? That’s naturecore. Like crystals? You’ve got crystalcore. And don’t worry fungi friends, there’s even mushroomcore.

By far the biggest of these, and the one you’re most likely to have heard of, is cottagecore.

It gets mentioned far more than any other aesthetic we could find, and it’s one of the oldest too. Although the original post has since been deleted, the following was posted to Tumblr on 24 Feb 2018:

“which sounds better villagecore or cottagecore”

We can’t claim this was the first use of the term, but from that point on cottagecore only went from strength to strength, fascinatingly culminating in influencing Taylor Swift’s Folklore album. From Tumblr obscurity to global pop hits? That’s quite the journey.

So what is cottagecore exactly?

A lot has already been written on the subject, but this Vox article does an incredible job of charting its history, influences, and how it fits into the modern world.

“Here is what cottagecore looks like: It is doilies, snails, and DIY fairy spoons crafted from seashells. It is illustrations from Frog & Toad, stills from Miyazaki movies, two girls kissing in a forest in springtime. It is a laughably arduous tutorial on how to make homemade rosewater whispered to you in a British accent.”
— Rebecca Jennings, Senior reporter covering internet culture at Vox

Mentions of cottagecore remain high, but they are beginning to wane. Will there ever be another aesthetic that reaches the same heights? It’s hard to say, but there are common themes amongst many aesthetics even if they look like opposites.

Escapism is a big part, while longing is another. Whether it’s wanting to run away to the countryside, live in the future, or have a mushroom-shaped house, many of these trends are far removed from the real world.

This may explain why we’ve seen an explosion in aesthetic interest during the pandemic. When you’re trapped inside by a highly contagious virus, what else is there to do but to wish for a different, better life? And for the thousands of people who fled cities for the country, they made the cottagecore dream a reality. Who knows what aesthetic may be driving our decisions next.


Bringing all this data together, what are the takeaways? There are a couple of threads we’ve seen throughout that brands should take notice of.


Sponsorships, paid partnerships, and influential voices all continue to play a big role in online visuals, from boosting logo visibility with online fandoms to causing potential audio-visual scandals.

Surprises pop up all the time

While they can cause a stir, you don’t necessarily need to have an influencer at the heart of something to make waves with visuals. From the grassroots growth of aesthetics like cottagecore through to strange life hacks consumers come up with using popular products, brand managers and marketers should be prepared to tackle surprises and listen deeply to understand emerging visual trends. There could be some insight in there for product development too.

Nuance across audiences

While those into mushroomcore might not be a huge audience, studying aesthetics and online subcultures is a great way to understand new niches and target consumers in ways that go beyond traditional demographics. Meanwhile, if you are thinking about targeting a particular audience with visuals based on something like age, it’s worth looking at the kinds of images that resonate most with them. Baby boomers may be more receptive to a cute animal pic than Gen Zers.

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