C&R Research found in its latest YouthBeat syndicated research report that a brand's perceived level of social responsibility is an increasingly important consideration when young people open their wallets.
Kids, tweens and teens are all more likely to buy a product if part of the price goes to a cause close to their hearts. Nearly half of the teens in our panels said they had made a cause-related purchase, and more than 20% asked their parents to buy a particular product because it supported a cause. And the younger set is following the pattern. Almost 40% of tweens (ages 9 to 12) and 20% of kids (ages 6 to 10) also have bought an item tied to a social cause.
And big money's at stake. Studies put the annual spending power of young people ages 8 to 14 at $43 billion -- and that doesn't count their influence over billions of dollars in their parents' purchases, whether it's cell phones, or cars, or vacations.
You don't have to be as explicit as "Buy this product, and 10% goes to charity." Merely associating with worthy endeavors can influence young people's relationships with brands. Nearly 40% of teens (age 13 to 18) and tweens, for example, say they have bought a product because it was made from recycled materials, with more girls than boys reporting such ecological attentiveness.
Smart marketers get it -- and are doing well by doing good. Tom's Shoes is one business that has grown around its policy of donating a pair of shoes (130,000 to date) to a needy child for each pair sold. Its Web site features a You Tube video, narrated by a teen, of barefoot children around the world receiving pairs of Tom's Shoes. It also involves the community in playing a bigger role supporting the effort by hosting a "sole party" or repping for Tom's on a college campus.
Disney gets it, too. While children shop the Disney store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, a voice interrupts the music to urge them to go to join Disney's "Friends for Change" project. On the Disney.com Web site, a video by Miley Cyrus explains how kids can pledge to cut water usage or reduce household trash. Those pledges will then be used to determine how Disney spends $1 million "on projects to change the planet."
Burt's Bees also plays up its social leadership as a key part of its pitch to young consumers. In addition to other activities, it commits to giving 10% of proceeds from sales to such charitable partners as Habitat for Humanity. That solidifies its already strong franchise with teens and tweens because of its natural offerings such as Herbal Blemish Stick and a new line of natural acne products that produce results without the use of harsh chemicals.
Marketers that are looking to capture a slice of the youth market would be smart to heed these examples and pay attention to the issues that young people care about. YouthBeat panelists identified child abuse, animal welfare, drug abuse, world hunger and the environment, among others, among their top concerns.
The challenge in adding a socially responsible component to a brand's positioning is including the authenticity factor, increasingly important across all demographics, but particularly with young people. That might be why celebrity alignment with a cause may not be the most effective strategy to pursue, especially with teens and tweens. In fact, 70% of the teens in our panel said celebrities wouldn't impact their decision-making on this front.
Society is apparently succeeding in getting the "social responsibility" message embedded in today's youth, despite the indifference children of all ages may often display. For marketers who want to effectively reach out to this important demographic, the next challenge is to ensure that these youthful buyers and influencers are aware that companies feel the same way, as well.