'Gen Z expects brands to walk the talk'

Advertising industry experts give us an insight into how today's youth wants brands to highlight social issues and also prove their authenticity

Generation Z

Having an opinion or voice on the pressing social issues of the day is a must among most members of Gen Z and they want to associate with brands who do the same. 

Keeping this in mind, several brands have taken up the task of creating awareness on social issues through campaigns on various platforms, including the social media. Some of these include Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad campaign and Nike’s #DreamCrazier. 

An international study, conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics and commissioned by WP Engine, has also revealed that Generation Z prefer brands that are socially accountable. 

Based on this insight, we at exchange4media asked industry experts for their views on the Gen Z consumer and if it was important for brands to create conversations and emphasise their authenticity, diversity and social responsibility. 

According to Anand Chakravarthy, MD, India, Essence: “In an increasingly complex world where information can be channelled and manipulated in any number of ways, consumers are becoming wary of where they invest their trust. Brands are no longer immune from this. Also, in a world of greater awareness, there is a rise in social consciousness amongst the young consumers. Millennials are a lot more socially conscious and aware of the pitfalls of development and growth on the society, the environment and the different economic groups.” 

The access to digital platforms allows Gen Z to be more connected and to be able to express their views like never before. On brands building a connection with these young consumers, Chakravarthy said: “The next generation of the consuming class, across the world, will be dominated by these consumers. Hence, brands are dealing with consumers who have motivations similar to consumers in the past, but also some very new motivations which will decide where they invest their money or what brands they go for. Great brands have always been built by recognising a shift in the consumer mindset and aligning to emerging needs. This has built loyalty and trust among these brands. It is necessary for brands to recognise the ‘social awakening’ amongst young consumers and be truly authentic and socially responsible if they wish to build their next base of loyal consumers for the future.” 

P&G’s latest campaign showcases diversity with their #WeSeeEqual campaign. Nike, too, had created a high-impact social campaign to spread the message of diversity in 2017. 

Every brand is jumping onto this bandwagon. Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, 82.5 Communications, Ogilvy Group said: “There seems to be a growing preference amongst Gen Z for brands that associate with causes or celebrate diversity. But, as consumers get more evolved, just paying lip service to such issues in a communication could backfire. Gen Z will expect the brands and their parent companies to actually walk the talk. A good example of taking an authentic approach towards social responsibility is the Airbnb campaign. They have tied up with an organisation called ‘SEWA’ to train poor rural women to become Airbnb hosts, thereby empowering them with a source of livelihood. This becomes advertising content for them as well.”

But if all brands start highlighting their ‘do-good creds’, how will they stand out? Raghu Bhat, Founder & Copywriter, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi said, “Brands like Jio, Ola and Netflix have found huge traction amongst Gen Z. Is it because they stand for a social cause or just because they give Gen Z exactly what they want? Differentiation is important. When every brand is talking product benefits, standing for a social cause helps a brand stand out. The important factor is authenticity. A brand shouldn’t be seen as fake, in whatever they do. Showing genuine commitment to a cause through ads and actions is the key.”

Sahil Siddiqui, AVP, Creative Strategy, WATConsult, also sheds light on authenticity. “Gen Z has made it necessary for brands to be authentic in every aspect of their business, even though it is not associated with the product. Barely anything goes hidden in a digitally-connected world. Social cause and diversity marketing are great opportunities for brands to make a case for their values which travel effectively to their products and services. This has also been a watershed moment in highlighting shortcomings and pitfalls in a brand culture, which have brought us to a point where brands are getting more comfortable in being open and in inviting direct conversations with the consumer.”

In a different take on consumer behaviour, Agnello Dias, Co-founder, CCO, Taproot Dentsu, says there is not yet enough evidence that cause-related advertising makes the journey from affinity to behaviour. “In the purchase cycle, behaviour, more often than not, subsumes affinity. The Gen Z consumer opts for an advertisement that stands for a social cause but I am not yet sure if he opts for the brand through his purchase behaviour. There are exceptions like Nike’s Kaepernick campaign but there’s still not enough evidence for brands to change track en masse,” said Dias. 

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