How Brands Can Combat Teen Loneliness

COVID-19 has brought with it yet another disastrous side effect: an epidemic of loneliness, felt most acutely by young adults. According to researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, more than a third of Americans 18-65 report feeling lonely at least “frequently” in the past four weeks, up from a quarter right before the pandemic. Meanwhile, 28% say that they are feeling lonely more frequently during quarantine. Among Adults 18-25, a staggering 61% report feeling serious loneliness in the past month, compared to just 24% of Adults 55-65.

What causes young adults to feel so lonely? For starters, they’re the most social creatures, so quarantine has curtailed their interactions more than anybody else’s. Many have experienced disruptions in their schooling, going from in-person education to remote learning or “gap years.” Those in the workplace are just starting their careers, and more likely to be employed in the service industries hit hardest by the lockdowns, performing tasks that can’t be conducted remotely.



And lastly, while many older adults have spouses and kids to keep them company in their quarantine bubble, most teens and young adults haven’t formed these relationships yet, and are just in the process of leaving their birth families for their chosen ones, a process hindered by quarantine.

Young adults are also the most likely to stay in touch via social media, which serves as a double-edged sword. While it’s easier than ever to maintain virtual relationships, nothing fully replaces face-to-face conversations, physical contact, and in-person hanging out. Many young adults have traded “quality time” with their best friends for being alone, or stuck at home with their parents and siblings, while seeing a world of carefully curated, filtered images of their peers “living their best lives,” or at least appearing to. The disconnect and downward comparisons also exacerbate feelings of loneliness; the only thing worse than being alone and isolated is feeling like everybody else is out having fun.

Fortunately, there are steps that brands can take to ameliorate loneliness in teens and young adults -- not only connecting more deeply with them, but helping them connect more deeply with one another:

*Build communities around brand. Most leading brands have millions of superfans around the country, who are interested enough to follow the brand on social media. In lieu of in-person friendships, consumers could join online communities to connect with fellow Porsche buffs, or Apple fanatics, or Chick-fil-A lovers. These shared interests could form the basis of deep and meaningful friendships between consumers; the community would keep them engaged with the brand; and the brand could also gain new insights from listening to customer conversations.

*Provide mental health resources. Brands can leverage their promotional platforms to offer their youngest consumers advice and best practices on mental and physical health. The advice would be particularly resonant if it somehow connects with the brand promise: for instance, Nike could offer tips on “Just doing it” in a socially distanced way, or Southwest Airlines could offer ideas on safe, local day trips until it’s safe to fly again.

*Connect consumers with causes. A proven cure for loneliness is to help others, and brands can also empower consumers to give back to their communities. Again, this messaging would be most powerful when related to the brand promise, such as Purina connecting pet lovers with local animal shelters, or Kraft connecting grocery shoppers with local food pantries. This would create a powerful halo effect for the brand, and improve its reputation for corporate social responsibility.

Nobody should have to go through quarantine alone. Brands that provide comfort and support to young consumers will earn a friend for life.
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