Gen Z survey: Brands get drowned out in all the cause marketing noise

Sources: Savagexfenty; Patagonia
May 17, 2019
Tom Ryan

A survey from finds 66 percent of young consumers say that a brand’s association with a social cause or platform positively impacts their impression of the brand and 58 percent say this association will impact their likelihood of purchasing that brand. Yet of 88 brands tested, only 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.

A core finding is that brands can’t expect their history of cause marketing to be known to a new generation.

“You need to shout loud and proud about your support of social issues and cause platforms to break through the noise,” said Meredith Ferguson, managing director of DoSomething Strategic, in a statement.

The study offered a few methods for strengthening connections to social causes:

  • Find a unique angle within a category: Many lingerie brands advocate body positivity, but Savage x Fenty stands out for taking stands on racial justice and equality.
  • Have a singular focus: Since the 2004 launch of its “Real Beauty” effort, Dove has earned a reputation for promoting self-esteem and body confidence.
  • Court controversy: Patagonia’s launch of its “The President Stole Your Land” campaign in support of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah contributed its position as the outdoor brand most strongly associated with the environment.

Fenty Beauty, Nike, Lush and Covergirl were all cited as having high associations between brand and cause.

Among traditional retailers, Aerie, known for its body positivity, ranked first in the survey with a 50 percent aided awareness of an association with any cause. Target, at 40 percent, was recognized for its support of LGBTQ rights. Other retailers known for cause initiatives included The Body Shop, Victoria’s Secret, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Sephora and H&M.

The survey respondents were between the ages of 13 and 25 and members of, an organization dedicated to mobilizing people around social change. Numerous other studies have shown the Gen Z and Millennial generations seek out socially responsible brands.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What’s causing the apparent disconnect between brands and their support of social causes in the minds of younger consumers? What advice would you have for brands looking to get their cause marketing efforts to resonate with consumers?

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"The most resonant 'cause marketing' campaigns I’ve seen are backed by structural and substantive commitments to ways of operating. "

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4 Comments on "Gen Z survey: Brands get drowned out in all the cause marketing noise"

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Keith Anderson

The most resonant “cause marketing” campaigns I’ve seen are backed by structural and substantive commitments to ways of operating. Patagonia being selective and turning down business that doesn’t align with its values. Truman and Blueland minimizing single-use plastic in their cleaning products. Companies becoming certified Benefit Corporations (B corps) to align their operations with their values.

Brands that want to benefit from cause marketing should align with their R&D, supply chain, operations, and finance teams to put real substance behind their messaging.

Ralph Jacobson

Younger people are definitely into causes, however the brand loyalty is not as strong as with older generations. I realize I’m painting the market with a broad brush, however, I just don’t see evidence that younger people will always stick with the same car brand as folks in my generation did, as an example. I think targeting those causes toward which younger people tend to migrate is the first step to linking the cause and the brand.

Art Suriano
It is probably “out of sight, out of mind.” Intentions are good, but it’s hard to remember which brand is supporting which cause, especially when the customer is in a hurry and wants to buy the product for their needs and move on. There is much noise, not just on brands supporting causes. Everything from loyalty rewards programs to must-have new products and the need to save money makes it almost impossible for consumers to remember everything. I have yet to see any brand make the cause they are supporting part of their ad and marketing campaign. By that, I mean every ad and every mention of their product letting customers know they are supporting this cause and when you buy their merchandise, you’re supporting it as well. Perhaps that might be a better way for the consumer to remember. However, when you do that you run the risk of alienating those customers who do not support that cause. The best thing is to develop a product that can stand on its own merit that… Read more »
Joel Rubinson

Might be the way the questions are asked. If you asked what social values a brand is associated with, I bet you would see a lot more association. The sponsoring of causes is a way to get to those associations. So if the consumer cannot remember the cause but they retain the societal value associated with the brand, that still counts!

"The most resonant 'cause marketing' campaigns I’ve seen are backed by structural and substantive commitments to ways of operating. "

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