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.
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:
- Mental health
- Disease & famine
- The environment
- Jobs & unemployment
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.
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
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.
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:
- Tom’s Shoes, a company whose entire business model represents cause marketing, pioneering the “one for one” giving model in their ongoing support for children’s health, continues to broaden their efforts to include causes like sight, water, homelessness, mental health, equality, ending gun violence and more
- Patagonia, a company known for their ongoing support to protect the environment, recently closed their stores and offices on September 20, 2019 in support of the Global Youth Climate strike, highlighting prominent youth climate activists and asking their customers to get involved with a direct call to action to contact their government representative
- Starbucks, a brand known for their inclusive, personable and communal nature, continues to win teens over with their cause marketing initiatives, from donating proceeds to support non-profits, including $3 million to COVID-19 relief efforts, to their commitment to sustainability, completely eliminating plastic straws globally in 2020 by launching innovative strawless lids
Fuse surveyed 1,000 members of Generation Z about social activism to compare against data from 2018 and 2015.