gen z, sustainable

Gen Z is Radical, You Should Be Too

How would you like to wake up? For me, it’s softly. Under a quilted duvet, to the sweet serenade of birdsong, no need for alarm. There’ll be sunbeams coming from the window, an aroma of roasted coffee beans from the kitchen. I’m a little too old to be considered ‘Generation Z (someone born after 1997).’ Theirs is a different awakening. In fact, it’s a reckoning, and not one of their choosing. 

Inheriting Disaster

It’s become cliché at this point – we’re all aware of the climate catastrophe but many of us don’t care enough to do anything about it. The mindset, and it’s an extremely selfish one, is that it’s tomorrow’s problem, that global warming is not going to affect us in our lifetimes, so we can delay action for the future. We can let other people worry about it. This attitude has been mainstream for decades yet the logic is extremely outdated. The future is here. Tomorrow’s generations won’t clean up the mess when we’re gone. Tomorrow’s generations are our family, students and friends. 

So, what happens when the generation who have been tasked with inheriting the climate crisis faces up to the problem? We get a vanguard of radical young people on a quest to save the planet. Despite how fantastical my words sound, they don’t belie the harsh reality of the situation. Generation Z knows that environmental disaster is an alarm that can’t be snoozed.

According to The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), climate change is atop a list of concerns facing Millennials and Generation Z. They state that 71% of young people see it as the biggest challenge facing their generation.

Not only do they show up to protest, they help shape changing attitudes. In addition to fighting climate apathy, theirs is a generation that reacts against racism, homophobia and transphobia.

Let’s look at the posterchild of young environmental activists, Greta Thunburg. Interestingly enough, she’s still seen as a highly divisive figure. That’s because much of the press, and often the wider public, still has a visceral reaction against her. Why not remind ourselves of when Andrew Bolt, the Australian political commentator, breached press standards when publishing a column that mocked her? He referred to her as ‘deeply disturbed’ and ‘freakishly influential’ before the press watchdog ruled that his words were likely to cause substantial distress, offence and prejudice. I don’t need to remind you how Trump, a man who’s in the process of being impeached for inciting riots, also incited mass ridicule against the teenaged campaigner. 

It’s true that the world of eCommerce and marketing is a far stretch from the world of right-wing politics. Yet, it’s clear that brands can’t afford to alienate young people by taking a conversative approach towards environmental issues. Even if a marketing manager has the same derisive views towards the activist generation as a Bolt or a Trump, it’s in their best interest to silence them. 

Gen Z Warrants Respect

It’s true that there’s always been generation gaps. Older generations have always lamented the actions of their children and grandchildren. They’ve always seen their behaviour as precocious and progressive for the sake of being radical. Older generations have always seen young people as naive to the harsh realities of the world as they have known it. With this distance, there’s been derision. Let’s have a look at what’s different, let’s take a moment to think about the cost of disregarding young people today.

According to the 5WPR 2020 Consumer Culture Report,

83% of young people want brands to align with them on values. 76% want CEOs and leaders to take a strong stance on the issues that matter to them. About two thirds will boycott a brand that takes an opposite stance on an issue. In truth, Gen Z is already on track to become the largest generation of consumers, accounting for up to $143 billion in direct spending.

Young people make valuable consumers not just for their own purchasing power: they influence the decisions of their friends and family. If a brand is popular with Gen Z, then it will gain ‘cool’ status. According to a report by CASSANDRA,

93% of parents say that their children influence their household purchases.

The fact is Gen Z already shapes the market. Gen Z are also likely to expect brands to take sustainability, social responsibility and other contemporary causes, as seriously as they do.

Generation Z are different from the traditional youth consumer. They’re born in the digital age, and are unable to remember a time without computers, tablets or smartphones. They are much more connected than your previous generations. So what does this mean? While they’re online, they’re flooded with incessant marketing messages and promotions. This is all the more true following the mass digitization of commerce following the pandemic. But they’ve been online all their lives, and have quickly become wise to bad marketing. As a result, we have a highly savvy generation, able to spot a ploy, suspicious of any scheme that too eagerly wants to take their money. 

Meeting Expectations

So what’s the take-away message? You’re working with a consumer base that both expects ethical conduct from their preferred brands, yet abhors cynical marketing that fails to respect their intelligence. The best way to mediate these principles is to adopt a clear brand ethos. It’s to commit to sustainable business practices. It’s to promote social good and to reflect that in your business decisions. It’s to do more than grandstand, but learn the ways that your company can make small differences. Don’t boast or bandwagon, but apply your ethos to a content strategy that highlights the way you stand by the causes of today. If you struggle to resonate with the radical youth, it’s time to redefine your core values. It’s time to earn their interest with meaningful actions that sit behind your brand message. 

As is the case with any marketing strategy, you have to understand your consumer. Although I’ve been speaking in generalising terms, there’s no denying that on a whole, Gen Z are politically and socially engaged. Those that are too young to vote, may in turn vote with their pounds. 

Generation Z shapes the market. So now’s the time to shape up.

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