Gen Zs are described as a well-informed, digitally savvy, often cynical generation that were born after 1995; a bracket which I fit into. Gen Zs have grown up in a period dampened by fiscal uncertainty, depression, climate change and terrorism, growing up amidst unprecedented atrocities such as 9/11 attacks and more recent global recession, this generation of people are generally less trusting, more aspirational and more rational in their consumption choices.
At a time when political culture has become such a hot topic and opinion increasingly polarised – most recent examples including the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 and the UK’s referendum decision to leave the European Union in the same year – there has been a noticeable shift in brands willing to take a political stance to seemingly be closer aligned and better connected with their target consumers – a sentiment proving popular among many Gen Z-ers.
Large, household names are facing increasing pressure to take a stance, particularly since Trump’s presidency, driven by the notion that consumers will generally support brands they feel best identify with their beliefs and support their own values. However, in doing so are the same brands running the risk of alienating large sections of their customer-base?
The last 2 years has witnessed an eruption of anti-Trump protest, taking place on a global scale. Numerous brands have leveraged their influential position to take a stand against the somewhat controversial president and to connect with their customers, the most prevalent being the recent Nike brand campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick (the outcast American football player and civil rights activist). The Trump administration is under constant scrutiny and faces infinite criticism for its actions and conduct. In response to the Whitehouse’s ‘Alternative Facts’ controversy, regarding Trump’s counsellor Kellyanne Conway defending the press secretary Sean Spicer’s fabrications as simply ‘alternative facts’, Dove released a new campaign titled ‘alternative facts’. The campaign from Dove was a direct attack on the Trump administration, as it set out its own set of alternative facts about its new anti-perspirant, promising that it will ‘increase your IQ by 40 points’ or that it ‘knows a guy that can get you on the guest-list’. The campaign has since received significant applause and succeeded in ridiculing the Trump administration.
Trump’s immigration ban is arguably one of his most disputed policies and numerous brands have responded to the ban in support of the refugees, publicly opposing the President. For example, Starbucks, a brand known for its clever advertising and campaigning, pledged to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years, arguing that they are not prepared to stand silenced by the actions of the administration and its values that arguably neglect the longstanding promises of the so-called ‘American Dream’.
A survey from Weber Shandwick the PR Agency, found that 51% of the millennials or Gen Zs surveyed said that they were more likely to buy products from brands that had activist CEOs, therefore since a significant proportion of millennials and Gen Zs are democratic in their views, they are more likely to buy from brands whose CEOs are seen to be taking a stand against Trump and his policies. Moreover, a further study found that 65% of consumers buy based on their beliefs and that 57% are buying or boycotting brands based on the brand’s position on a political or social issue.
These figures suggest, that now more than ever before, consumers are buying with their beliefs and voting with their wallets, this particularly holds true for millennials or Gen-Zs. A brand publicly seen to be taking a public stand against Trump is Patagonia. After Trump announced his plans to significantly reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah, Patagonia immediately responded by changing its website homepage to ‘The President Stole Your Land’. In my opinion, such a move by Patagonia is an example of a company taking responsibility and acting on behalf of public opinion to stand up against Trump’s extreme and irrational policy making. However, sceptics may argue that in such instances brands are using the intense political climate to their advantage – ultimately to increase sales – and may not even support the cause that they claim to, rather creating marketing stunts.
Personally, as a member of Generation Z, witnessing a time of intense political disputes and polarisation, leading me to question the true motives of governments and institutions. I believe more so than ever, brands should be utilising their platforms to act on behalf of, and support the societies that they operate in, despite the risk of alienating some customers.
Bullshit officially walks, and consumers see through this quickly, so, talk politics if it’s authentic and true to your brand, not if you’re just jumping on the bandwagon of another trend.
As a student who has just completed my first year at the University of Bath studying Politics with Economics, during my time as an intern at Green Room by writing this blog I aim to bring relevance and ties between my studies and the industry that Green Room belongs to. To achieve this, I explore the relationship between politics and consumer behaviour and how brands are responding and acting in today’s political climate, from the perspective of a Gen Z.