We’re in the home stretch of the 2016 election, and it’s not just the Presidential candidates working on their campaigns. Brands from all categories, from automakers to fast food chains, are capitalizing on this spike in public interest around politics with ads that reference issues and poke fun at the political circus.
Some are even going so far as to publicly declare their support for a candidate, as Cards Against Humanity did as part of a recent marketing push. These campaigns and messages are clearly targeting consumers aged 18 and up, which may seem logical considering the country’s legal voting age, but it ignores a segment of young people keenly interested in politics: teens.
Historically, when brands have attempted to create an election-themed campaign for those under age 18, they water down the concept to an insulting level. This often takes the form of a fake vote related to the brand or its products, giving adolescents a means to “make their voice heard” on a topic, however inconsequential. Just this year, Pop-Tarts presented a “Pop the Vote” campaign in which young people could vote for their favorite flavor to become the next Pop-Tarts president. Brands have failed to recognize the power of engaging the “youth vote” around real issues, particularly when it comes to teens, who have demonstrated a clear interest in politics.
Two-thirds of teens aged 14-18 (66%) are moderately or highly interested in politics, according to our recent research. A strong majority (89%) get news and information on politics, and 30% actively follow the topic. Compared to previous generations, teens today likely find the topic of politics and social issues hard to ignore. It infiltrates their Facebook and Instagram feeds (one in five teens has posted something about a political candidate to their network), and it’s a significant part of the social conversation as politics has become a pop culture subject (more than a quarter of teens have engaged in political discussions or debates).
Teens’ interested in politics and social causes isn’t flippant. Rather, they want to be a part of the cultural conversation around politics, participating as well-informed and mature young adults who are taking up the mantle of making the world a better place. To do so, they’re looking to gain a better grasp of politics.
Brands have an opportunity to play a key role in helping teens not only to understand the issues at hand in the current election but also to see how they can make a difference, now and in the future, in their communities and for the country overall. There are few sources for teens to get serious news about politics aimed at young people like them. Too often, the message is dumbed down for youth, thereby being of little use to teens, and traditional media fails to resonate not only in how they talk about politics but also in the platforms they use to deliver news (they use TV and Facebook while teens are on Snapchat and Instagram).
Brands are reasonably concerned about getting involved in this space which can be fraught with peril, but by taking a factual, frank, and neutral approach, they can tap into teens’ interest in politics by providing necessary aid to a cohort that is eager for more information and engagement around the topic. What’s more, teens believe in brands’ political and social influence. Gen Z teens overwhelmingly see brands (73%) more so than politicians (27%) as having the power to make the greatest positive impact on the world, finds Cassandra.
Teens under the age of 18 may not be able to vote yet, but they still see themselves as a part of the political equation. With help from brands, the “youth vote” will be more informed and empowered, which may also lead to young people voting with their wallets for the trusted brands that helped them along the way.