Brands have been told by speakers at conventions that they need to be a good guy and they need to have a purpose or else millennials will shy away from them. As I have often pointed out, however, there is an inconvenient truth. The mega brands that dominate the digital media and ecommerce landscape are not exactly a force for good.
If anyone would like to disagree about any of the social media companies or ecommerce giants, I would point them toward businesses that do all they can to -- completely legally -- avoid paying their full and fair share of UK tax, as they do rather well out of the UK market.
However, the latest research from brand consultancy BBMG and GlobeScan has found there is a major shift in attitude among Gen Z. These people who are either still studying or just entering the workplace have grown up as the mobile-first generation, and they are about to begin making decisions about which brands they want to support.
I know it's a problem to presume your experience is typical, but I have three Gen Z youngsters in school right now and I can assure you, they are far more aware of the global issues and how brands fit into their vision of a better world than I would say my millennial cousins, nieces and nephews are. Put it this way -- we are only allowed to shop in Waitrose because of its position on palm oil in its own-brand products.
The research found that five times more Gen Z youngsters think business do not act in the interests of society than those who do, and around a quarter can't name a single brand they think acts responsibly. This is likely because, the research suggests, Gen Z is twice as likely as the rest of society to care about issues of diversity, inclusion and tolerance.
This means there is a significant uplift with Gen Z, compared to other demographics, wanting to believe in brands that show they are acting in the interests of society. Interestingly, there is a lift in Gen Z not trusting words or slogans but wanting to be shown this is happening.
The research caught my eye because it tallies perfectly with what I notice about my own children, one of whom is already working part-time and picking the brands she wants to be associated with through her meager weekend wages.
This generation that is just starting to, or will soon start, work is part of a world where equal rights and environmental protection are fundamental beliefs.
This was said about millennials -- but in my experience, they were a starting point that meant brands could still rest on their laurels and funnel money home via Bermuda.
I seriously doubt this will be tolerated by Gen Z, who will be keen to make their own choices about brands and not just stick with those their parents or older relatives chose to be loyal to.
The warning about brand purpose was right. It just came too early by being tagged heavily to millennials. As this research shows, it's Gen Z that is going to make doing the right thing more than just a tagline and repurpose it as a code brands will have to live by or lose out.