Not unlike their predecessors, Generation Z is doing things differently. Disillusioned with traditional cultural institutions, these young people are bypassing the political system and focusing on consumerism as a channel for change, according to new research from nonprofit consultancy DoSomething Strategic.

The study, Dollars and Change: Young People Tap Brands as Agents of Social Change, reveals that more than 76 percent of Gen Z has purchased or is open to purchasing a brand or product to support the issues that brand stands for. In addition—and more costly—more than 67 percent have stopped purchasing or would consider doing so if the company stood for something or behaved in a way that didn’t align with their values.

This outspoken treatment of brands contrasts with how this generation uses its voice through more traditional means of civic action—only 32 percent of survey respondents have attended a political event or protest, or contacted an elected representative.

The study also found that Gen Z are often misunderstood when it comes to their political descriptors. While the stereotypes of this generation make them out to be staunch liberals, actually 50 percent label themselves as moderates and the plurality–nearly half—identify as either independent or unaffiliated. Lacking a traditional political ideology, it’s not surprising voting-age young people haven’t actually voted.

Gen Z amps up expectations for CEOs, companies, and capitalism

As a result, this generation has found it more impactful to use their voice and power for consumer activism

For example:

  • 53 percent of survey respondents have purchased a brand/product because they wanted to show support for the issues they stood up for/represented. And another 40 percent haven’t done this yet, but would consider doing it in the future.
  • 40 percent have stopped purchasing or boycotted a brand or company because they stood for something or behaved in a way that didn’t align with their values. Another 49 percent haven’t done this yet, but would consider doing it in the future.
  • One quarter of respondents say they always/often buy a product or service “based solelybecause they believe that brand’s values and you want to support them” and 67 percent said they do this at least some of the time. People of color act even more frequently, with African-Americans buying this way 33 percent and 76 percent of the time, respectively.
  • In addition, 29 percent actively seek out brands based on values versus stumble upon them, with African-Americans actively seeking out these brands 33 percent of the time.

Gen Z amps up expectations for CEOs, companies, and capitalism

“We continue to see the young people of America using their collective power as a driver of social change. Gen Z believes that everything—from what you buy to where you eat—can make a political statement and they wield that power far more often than they engage in traditional politics,” said Meredith Ferguson, managing director of DoSomething Strategic, in a news release. “With Gen Z expected to account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020, this demographic is expecting brands to use their own platforms for good and to pick up where politicians and politics may have let them down.”

The study also examined the importance of brands more deeply engaging young consumers today by making them partners in progress. Forty-nine percent of survey respondents said it was important for a company or brand to have social change initiatives that consumers can be a part of. The report provides a roadmap to achieve this by outlining five levels of what DoSomething Strategic is calling the “New Brand Ethos Hierarchy.” Within the Hierarchy, the levels range from the basic level one, where brands are seen as “for everyone,” up to level five, where a brand’s purpose and business become interchangeable.

Gen Z amps up expectations for CEOs, companies, and capitalism

“Gen Z is forcing brands to think beyond just ‘what they stand for.’ There is a huge opportunity for brands to make young consumers feel part of something bigger through their purchase power,” said Ferguson. “But know that young people’s BS detectors are finely tuned, so brands that act opportunistically or don’t ‘walk the walk’ will be targeted; and brands that do nothing will be left out or called out. None of these are a smart business strategy.”

Read the full report here.

The “Dollars and Change: Young People Tap Brands as Agents of Social Change” study was conducted online by DoSomething Strategic (formerly known as TMI Strategy) of a nationally representative sample of 2,461 young people ages 13 to 25 during March 2018.

Gen Z amps up expectations for CEOs, companies, and capitalism

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