Social activism and teens—and why it’s more important than ever that brands listen

by | May 6, 2020 | Public Relations

Over the past five years, brand engagement firm Fuse has been monitoring Generation Z to explore teens’ views on cause marketing and the role it plays in communicating. In its initial 2015 study, teens were found to be concerned with more close and personal things like the quality of education and their own career forecasts, but by 2018, that had expanded greatly to include more globally minded causes such as racism, terrorism and the environment.

With the recent and dramatic shift in everyday life in the age of COVID—and the need that brands will have to re-engage teens in the coming months—Fuse endeavored to take a third look at Gen Z’s role as teen activists and conscious consumers. And the firm found that the top 5 concerns of teens have shifted significantly again over the last two years, with mental health now topping the list in 2020, followed by disease and famine—neither of which were noted as teen concerns in the previous studies.

Social activism and teens—and why it’s more important than ever that brands listen

Given the times, these results aren’t necessarily surprising, with as many as 1 in 5 young people suffering from mental illness even before enduring the social isolation and changes brought on by COVID-19. From a cause marketing perspective, companies like NBCUniversal, Adobe, and Google have been ahead of the curve in their recognition of the importance of mental health to teens—and it’s now more likely that other brands will begin to support mental health causes.

Top 5 concerns of today’s teens:

  1. Mental health
  2. Disease & famine
  3. The environment
  4. Jobs & unemployment
  5. Education

By comparison, the top 5 key concerns of teens in 2018 were: 1) Education, 2) Jobs & Unemployment, 3) Prejudice & Racism, 4) The Environment, and 5) Terrorism.

Social activism and teens—and why it’s more important than ever that brands listen

How teens are taking action

When it comes to activism, teens in 2020 are focused on educating their friends and family—a decidedly less assertive type of action than in previous studies. By comparison, in 2018, more than a quarter of respondents said they had “attended protests or rallies” or “boycotted a company” in the previous year. Among the respondents in the newest study:

  • 32 percent recently educated family or friends about a cause
  • 24 percent recycle regularly or take other action to live more sustainably
  • 20 percent regularly donate or volunteer time to a cause
  • 4 percent have boycotted a company

Social activism and teens—and why it’s more important than ever that brands listen

Teens say companies have a role in solving social issues

Teens’ views have shifted on who has an obligation to solve social issues. Teens feel that individuals (51percent) and the government (39percent) have the primary responsibility. While less than 10percentof teens say corporations should play a role in solving social issues, 77percentof teens say they are more likely to purchase the products of the companies that do.

When it comes to corporate social activism, 85percentof teens expect brands to donate money to a cause, and communicate their support in their marketing and advertising campaigns.

Social activism and teens—and why it’s more important than ever that brands listen

Which brands’ cause marketing efforts resonate most with teens today?

In past studies, this list included Ben & Jerry’s, Walmart, McDonalds, Chili’s Bar & Grill, Microsoft and the NFL. In 2020, these brands and their cause marketing efforts are getting teens’ attention:

Fuse surveyed 1,000 members of Generation Z about social activism to compare against data from 2018 and 2015.

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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 richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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