Brand-backed cause marketing isn’t clicking with Gen Z—what’s going wrong?

by | May 15, 2019 | Public Relations

Just as consumers are demanding, more brands are publicly supporting social cause platforms—but most of their efforts are not resonating with Gen Z, reveals new research from youth-focused brand engagement firm DoSomething Strategic, the social impact consulting arm of

The org’s new Brands Taking Stands 2019 study, Cause is Working, Your Marketing Isn’t, finds that 66 percent of young consumers say that a brand’s association with a social cause or platform positively impacts their overall impression of the brand, and 58 percent say this association will impact their likelihood of purchasing that brand.

However, across the 88 brands tested, an average of just 12 percent of respondents had “top of mind” associations between brands they were familiar with and a social cause or platform. Even when provided a list of social causes or platforms (aka “aided awareness”) cause association still only reached an average of 24 percent.

Brand-backed cause marketing isn’t clicking with Gen Z—what’s going wrong?

“This study highlights critical factors marketers today should consider when trying to reach a younger consumer,” said Meredith Ferguson, managing director of DoSomething Strategic, in a news release. “Primarily, that you need to shout loud and proud about your support of social issues and cause platforms to break through the noise. Too few young consumers are aware of brands’ support of various cause initiatives and there is a real risk brands aren’t getting the ‘credit’ for the good work they’re doing. It is a missed opportunity to build a relationship with consumers based on shared values.”

Brand-backed cause marketing isn’t clicking with Gen Z—what’s going wrong?

The report also finds that brands can’t ride on their history of cause marketing or expect it will be known to a new generation. Even when young people feel they are familiar with a brand, it’s no guarantee that their understanding of that brand extends beyond the brand’s products.

Brand-backed cause marketing isn’t clicking with Gen Z—what’s going wrong?

The study pointed out a few methods that are giving brands an edge when it comes to strengthening their connection to social cause initiatives among young people:

Finding a unique angle within a brand category

Most undergarment brands focus on body positivity, but Savage x Fenty takes its position a step further by making a powerful statement about racial equality—promoting diverse models and products that appeal to women of different shades (and sizes!). And consumers are noticing: 33% of respondents associate Savage x Fenty with racial justice and equality, locking it in as the only brand in this category representing this cause platform.Brand-backed cause marketing isn’t clicking with Gen Z—what’s going wrong?

Having a singular focus

Since 2004, Dove has stayed laser-focused on its commitment to raise self-esteem and drive body confidence. An impressive 53% of respondents associate Dove with body positivity – among the highest associations with a single cause found in the survey.

Courting controversy

Patagonia’s bold “The President Stole Your Land” campaign attracted so much attention, Patagonia struggled to handle the web traffic; it also contributed to Patagonia’s position as the outdoor brand most strongly associated with the environment. And, among our respondents, the brand received the most consistent unaided association with a cause space, the environment.

“Gen Z defines ‘authenticity’ differently than older generations,” said Ferguson. “To them, there is no such thing as a cause that is off-limits for a brand to champion – it doesn’t have to be in lock-step with what a brand sells. So long as the brand is walking the walk and supporting the issue from the inside out, they’re game.”

Download the full report here.

Brand-backed cause marketing isn’t clicking with Gen Z—what’s going wrong?

This survey was conducted online among a nationally representative sample of 1,908 current members ages 13-25 about their awareness of 88 consumer brands’ support of social causes, issues, and platforms. Data were collected between January 14, 2019 and February 10, 2019. The median time to complete the survey was 11 minutes. 

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at; @BulldogReporter


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