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Procter & Gamble has a brand problem

August 17, 2021, 3:50 PM UTC

If there were a Big Business Hall of Fame, Procter & Gamble would be a first-ballot inductee. Founded decades before the Civil War, Procter & Gamble has mastered addicting each subsequent generation to its products.

But is P&G losing its magic?

Over the course of July, Fortune and Civis Analytics surveyed more than 6,000 U.S. adults to get their views on America’s largest public firms. We asked them to rate the top 50 companies on the 2021 Fortune 500 list

The finding? Among America’s 50 largest companies by revenue, P&G has the widest generational favorability gap. Among U.S. adults ages 18 to 34, only 36% have a favorable view of P&G. Meanwhile, 87% of Americans over 65 have a favorable view of the Cincinnati-based consumer products company.

What’s going on? It could boil down to the fact that environmentally conscious younger Americans are wary of big consumer brands. That’s something P&G is working to combat: These days, half its sites run on 100% renewable electricity. Earlier this month, P&G and Eastman announced a recycling partnership. On Tuesday, Eastman CEO Mark Costa told CNBC that the company is using “molecular recycling” to change “the whole game.”

Then again, this might not matter at all. No one exactly buys a Procter & Gamble label: They buy brands like Tide, Crest, Charmin, Bounce, or Downy. And the company (No. 43 on the Fortune 500) uses the world’s largest ad budget to defend that massive market share.

The company’s low favorability rating among the nation’s youth isn’t because so many young people dislike the firm. Instead, many of the under-35 crowd—38% of them, to be exact—simply haven’t heard of P&G, and thus have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable view of the consumer-products company. A high percentage of respondents who haven’t heard of a company weighs down a company’s overall score—given that the net favorability rating is calculated by subtracting the share of unfavorable views from the share of favorable views.

While more than 1 in 3 adults under the age of 35 haven’t heard of P&G, just 4% of U.S. adults over the age of 65 say the same thing. Why do so many young Americans not recognize the company? It could simply be the result of P&G’s slipping a bit on the ladder of corporate status. Landing a job at IBM, General Electric, or P&G was about as good as it got during the second half of the 20th century. But times have changed, and recent grads these days are often more interested in Big Tech companies like Amazon and Google.

We should also note that while P&G does have the largest net favorability gap, if you ignore the age breakdown it’s very popular. Overall, its net favorability score is +50 points (67% view it favorably, versus 17% who view it unfavorably). The highest net favorability score we found was for Home Depot (+75 points), while the lowest was for insurer Centene (+8 points).

*Methodology: The Fortune–Civis Analytics survey was conducted in three waves in July. The first wave conducted between July 3 and 6 had 2,205 U.S. adult respondents. The second wave conducted between July 9 and 12 had 2,151 U.S. adult respondents. The third wave conducted between July 16 and 19 had 2,513 U.S. adult respondents. The findings have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography.

This is an excerpt from Fortune Analytics, an exclusive newsletter that Fortune Premium subscribers receive as a perk of their subscription. The newsletter shares in-depth research on the most discussed topics in the business world right now. Our findings come from special surveys we run and proprietary data we collect and analyze. Sign up to get the full briefing in your inbox.

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