Opinion  

Gen Z wants to know where you stand

Alex Payne

Alex Payne

It was not long ago that brands required their ambassadors to be neutral – no controversy, no opinion, nothing to react against. A ‘hold the product, smile, take the picture’ relationship.

Now, the clamour from consumers to know what a brand stands for, and to be able to hold them to account, means that marketing directors are increasingly challenged to be more selective in who they partner with.

Gen Z is made up of almost 2bn people, the largest generation to ever exist, and they are driving the most digitally savvy and value-driven era. 

They are also more socially, environmentally and ethically conscious than any generation before them. And philanthropic too: 84 per cent of 18 to 24-years-old donated to a cause during the pandemic. 

This generation cares, their money follows their opinions – and we are all having to react.

This drive for change is clearly moving the dial on influencers and the content they produce. If social media was an organic playground at the start – the place we occupied to be informed, challenged, amused and entertained – brands spotting the opportunity turned it into an advertising channel, awash with #ads and #spons.

Audiences of course understand that the best influencers should earn money, but they are now demanding their heroes have right collaborations with the right brands. 

But that alone it is not enough. Instead, people of influence have to keep talking about the things they love, and the causes they believe in.

This drive for authenticity, the requirement to have a view on the points that matter to a Gen Z audience, has also led to far stronger statements from those at the top of the influencer tree. 

Whether it is Kendrick Lamar’s powerful reference to Roe v Wade at the end of his Glastonbury set, Colin Kapernick taking the knee or Naomi Osaka’s bravery in detailing her battles with anxiety and pressure – the strength of voice and ability to affect change is both inspiring to Gen Z, and demanded by them.

Celebrities making statements is nothing new – think John and Yoko, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics – but the difference now is the speed at which their message spreads across the globe. 

‘Buy in’ is not far behind – this is a generation that wants action, demands awareness and can add their voice in seconds. 

Look at the speed of reaction and the mobilisation of almost 25mn people across America in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

Gen Z are demanding both change and acceptance. As much as the political causes rally the masses, the demand for equality and tolerance is every bit as forceful. Vulnerability is now a powerful message, and Gen Z has facilitated the ability to show who you really are and not who you’re meant to be.