I grew up in a world marked by cynicism. In my younger years, the concept of a brand was synonymous with greed. Corporations were concerned only with accumulating wealth by using exploitative supply chains. It was not until I was exposed to veganism through educational media that I started to believe whole-heartedly in ‘purpose’.
To me, ‘purpose’ means not only selling a product but having an authentic social cause that aligns with your brand. It means having an ethical supply chain, sustainable packaging and most importantly being transparent. I have to not only believe in your cause but see tangible, honest steps the brand is taking to further social impact – show and tell me how you’re working on making a better world.
For years, Gen Z-ers have seen a world hungry for an emotional connection and good change. The ‘why’ behind our existence has been lost in translation; sales, production and time racing each other in an attempt to fulfil human desires.
Purpose is the only fuel to this type of hunger and Gen Z-ers are demanding and reclaiming back the value of ‘why’. From issues such as capitalism to racism, Gen Z-ers are at the forefront – transforming the narrative on existence back to the ‘good’. It is not just about the money anymore. The crux of brand purpose is in the word ‘purpose’. It requires a brand’s honest connection to us and our issues within the world, then being a part of the solution.
With the world hungry for some good, what can a brand serve on our plates?
Brand purpose is a large consideration when Gen-Z decides what/where to buy. Dubbed the “Depop Generation” – 90% of Depop users are under 26 and 59% Gen-Z purchase upcycled products – there’s a huge emphasis on social and environmental responsibility.
So much has changed from our parents’ generation. There is greater market competition (so we can be pickier), and we interact with brands differently, such as on social media. In this competitive environment, it is vital for brands’ actions behind-the-scenes to reflect the values customers believe are important.
Gen-Z also relies on proof, not a one-off marketing campaign. It reflects a desire for realness, also evident with the popularity of unconventional idols like James Charles and Lizzo, or the trending TikTok #beyourselfchallenge. Young people don’t want a brand to tell them they’re doing good. They want them to show it. And they have the means to find out if they’re not.
I have never considered myself a member of Gen Z. Maybe it’s because, as Canvas8’s Generational Snapshot of Generation Z states, collective identity markers that tied together previous generations, such as Baby Boomers, have largely disintegrated. A new collective identity marker, however, that has largely emerged in this generation is the value placed in social justice, particularly through purpose branding. Gen Z, who generally say they do not have brand loyalty, are not afraid of calling out brands that are not purposeful and brands that champion social justice on the surface but do little to affect real change. Those who criticise Gen Z for this, bemoaning so-called cancel culture, attempt to trivialise Gen Z-er’s real concerns about their future. Many of our adult lives are beginning amidst a pandemic, a global recession, an increasingly volatile climate, and a world where systemic racism is rife. So, can anyone really blame Gen Z-ers if they want corporations to do more than the superficial?
As Gen-Z emerges as a consumer demographic, brands need to be aware that many in this generation view them as fundamentally unable to help societal change. What needs to be shown to convince Gen-Z is a material response, such as through donations. Many brands will pay lip-service, but a hashtag doesn’t help those being exploited, such as the low-income and BAME groups that are being underpaid by such brands. There have been many controversies with brands who will post #BLM, only to be exposed for racism within their businesses, and for mistreating their Black employees.
Gen-Z understands that above all else brands are run for profit. Brands need to judge the cost/benefit of endorsing any movement, so they can only align themselves with movements that are already widely agreed with by their consumer base. In this, the question must be asked as to if any of these brands are interested in making an impact, or if it’s just a way to help their public profile. To really capture Gen-Z, there must be an actual desire to help.
The idea of purposeful branding is so inspiring, a brand with a purpose shows us, a woke generation, that not only do they care about the world today and the impact they have but they’re also demonstrating that they care about our future. As a generation I think one of our best capabilities is to be able to look beyond a façade. We can spot a brand that genuinely wants to support a cause long term and one that’s committed to making a difference. This for me personally is incredibly important, particularly when it comes to environmental and social issues. A brand that doesn’t advocate and show solidarity to a social cause, such as Black Lives Matter for example, is not a brand I will consider or support in the future. I think this links back to the idea that if you’re not standing with us you’re against us.
The rise of social media has meant that Gen-Z has a direct link to brands and bigger cooperation’s. There is now a platform for and an expectation that wrongdoers will be called out and will not get away with things they would have done in the past. This essentially acts as a forcing hand on companies to do good and to recognise the fact that they have a responsibility to do good, it appears as though it is Gen-Z who are driving this hand.