Gen Zs are ringing in a new era of protest culture, flash philanthropy and change-making movements, and redefining activism as an urgent and all-encompassing endeavor.
While Boomers protested Vietnam and Xers fought the man, apathetic Millennials swung the other way, becoming known as comparably lazy “clicktavists” who signed online petitions and and shared articles on Facebook rather than, say, vote. For many Gen Zs, activism is an essential part of their identity and the way they channel their frustrations and challenge authority. Zs are engaged, informed — and they’re not afraid to show and leverage their anger to make positive change.
Activism is Gen Z’s outlet for rebellion. Compared to Millennials and Xers, Gen Zs are having less sex, they’re less likely to use drugs or alcohol, they’re going out less, and they’re even less likely to get their driver’s license. Who is the ultimate badass for Zs? Greta Thunberg.
“Thunberging” is one example of how all-encompassing activism is for Zs. Thunberging, coined by Okcupid, refers to the tendency of Gen Zs to search for like-minded lovers to fight climate change alongside (you can read more on Thunberging here). Along those same lines, Tinder’s recent “Year of the Swipe” report found that users 18-24 were 66% more likely than older users to mention issues like climate change, gun control, and social justice in their bios.
Making the world a better place is the Gen Z north star – it guides how they spend their time, their money, and most importantly, their attention. How’d they get here? Gen Zs grew up inundated with digital information about political, social, and civic issues 24/7. Unlike previous generations of children who were shielded from adult content, Gen Zs were swiping before they were wiping, and they were exposed to the news and realities of the world at an early age. Their social feeds have always featured the likes of natural disasters, gun violence, police brutality and more — giving these issues a sense of intimacy and urgency. Luckily, Zs have the tools to take action: social media has empowered them to voice their opinions, build communities and organize IRL actions.
Climate change is front and center in the lives of many Zs. The Arctic is melting, the Amazon is burning. Climate change is reaching a crisis point, and predictions about the planet’s near-future are dire. Climate change has reached a boiling point for Gen Zs who face a more existential challenge: extinction.
Climate change is also the crux of generational disharmony: Zs resent previous generations for failing to act on climate change when time was still on their side (‘OK Boomer!’). Zs are cutting class, organizing protests and lobbying lawmakers and they’re the ones driving the growing momentum around climate change. For them, environmental conservation is their primary deciding factor when it comes to consumer decisions. They do everything they can to live sustainably, from buying local to “flight shaming” and embracing train travel, to purchasing sustainable and secondhand clothing.
Okay, so how far does this moral and ethical consumerism go? Take a look at the following stats from a Front Row Insights & Strategy nationally representative survey of Zs in the U.S. conducted back in February 2020. Among Zs age 13-24:
- 68% want to know more about the ethics and morals about the brands they buy
- 67% are willing to pay more for products or services that are eco-friendly
- 65% would rather make less money working for a company that does good rather than make more money working at a company that has negative impact on society
- 43% have shopped in a thrift store in the past 6 months
- 43% have purchased a local product past 6 months
The pandemic hasn’t slowed Z activism down, they’ve merely taken their activism indoors. Gen Z climate crusaders Greta Thunberg and Xiye Bastida started a digital strike initiative, encouraging Zs log off and “walk out” of online school and post pictures with climate strike posters using the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline. This movement already has 28,000 posts on Instagram. Meanwhile, the anti-gun violence group March for Our Lives tweeted, “taking to the streets is not the only way we can organise to make change […] Join us for a whole new phase of the movement” and they’re recalibrating their movement for this new era.
And other Zs are rising to meet the challenge of COVID-19 by creating new programs and platforms where they can make an impact. For example, InvisibleHandsDeliver.com, a free service created by a college junior that delivers groceries and other supplies to vulnerable people in the NYC community. Other teens are helping seniors get set up on Zoom and offering themselves up to help however they might best serve their local community.
From the Youth Climate Strikers to “the Squad” to the teens in your neighborhood, there’s a new group of woke, politically and civically engaged young people stepping up to make change. This demographic is highly diverse, digitally-savvy and confident that they—and their generation—will have a positive impact on the world. Whatever their cause du jour may be, making the world a better place is their number one priority.
What it means for brands and marketers
Everyday Activists aren’t waiting around for brands or companies to help them do good; rather they’re inventing their own movements to make a positive impact on the world. That said, they expect brands to take a stand on political and social issues and to care as much about making the world a better place as they do. Gen Zs are embracing brands that take a step beyond bland corporate responsibility and embrace activism, even when it’s controversial. Especially in this COVD-19 era, Zs are looking for ways to make a difference. Zs would love and respect and engage with your brand even more if they saw your brand as an ally in their mission to make the world a better place.
*Front Row Insights and Strategy, Nationally representative survey of N=1,030 respondents age 13-24, February 2020 along with perspectives from qualitative research interviews conducted among Gen Z influencers in January and March 2020