Fix What's Broken: Gen Z Wants Brands That Tackle Guns, Gays, The Planet

Brands are going to have to get gutsier about purpose if they expect to hang on to Gen Z consumers.

The latest Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study shows that while Gen Z may be tender in age — between 14 and 22 — they’re increasingly focused on fixing what’s broken. And they expect the companies they buy from to do the same.

Overall, 90% believe companies must act to help social and environmental issues. And even as brands grow more timid about issues that drag them into fierce red-against-blue social-media beefs, this group is demanding more action.

The percentage of Gen Zers who say gun control is an issue companies should address jumped from 69% in 2017 to 80% this year. Those who would like to see more engagement on LGBTQ+ rights rose from 65% to 74%. 



“What impresses us is how practical these kids are, and how they perceive themselves as problem-solvers,” says Alison DaSilva, executive vice president at Porter Novelli/Cone. “They’re informed, with 77% saying they know more about important issues than their parents.”

Some 90% say they are tired of all the negativity, and 94% believe the country needs to come together, she tells Marketing Daily, calling the results “massively hopeful.” 

“They believe they can drive impact, and that positivity is their go-forward strategy. They’re nearly unanimous — 94% — in their belief that we need to come together to make progress. And they’re looking for purpose-driven companies to be partners in that.”

In many ways, that pragmatism makes them more like their Gen X parents than their millennial siblings. “Millennials might be described as more experiential and in turn, focused internally. But this group is saying: 'There are problems in this world, and I am well equipped to deal with them.’”

What’s notable, she says, is that while outsiders might label their hot-button issues as liberal, Gen Z doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m reluctant to label them as red or blue or even green, although the environment is a top concern. There is no debate in their mind that climate change is real, so it’s not a political issue for them. Gun control is not a political issue,” she says. “They are seeing these things as problems in their everyday life, and saying, 'I want to fix it.’ ”

The research finds that 85% would rather focus on positive progress rather than negative. 

Asked to list the issues facing America that are most important, 91% of the 1,026-plus respondents name job creation, 90% choose racial equality and sexual harassment; 89% women’s equality; 85% climate change; 83% religious freedom and intolerance; 81% immigration, 80% gun control and 74% LGBTQ rights. 

They are also inspired by their peers, with 87% saying they’re moved by people like gun safety activist Emma Gonzalez and environmentalist Greta Thunberg.

For all the scorn older groups have for hashtag activism, most of Gen Z are firm believers, with 80% saying social media has an impact on issues. And 64% think it’s more effective than something they do in their own communities.

YouTube is the leading social channel, at 64%, up from 50% in the 2017 survey, followed by Instagram, rising to 63% from 51% to 63%. Facebook which falls to 61% from 66%, and Snapchat, at 47%, is up from 43%.

Twitter appeals to just 38%, followed by Pinterest at 21% and Reddit at15%.

What is DaSilva’s advice for brands? Find an authentic purpose, show up on the platforms that appeal to these young people and be brave. “This is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of marketers. It’s going to mean changing platforms and talking about the issues they care most about.”



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