Gen Z is changing everything, blurring the lines between content and commerce, entertainment and education. And they will have a big say in elections in 2024, determining presidents and prime ministers. Brands will play an important role, a new report states, connecting Gen Z with content, context and insight.
It is not the idea that Gen Z is set to become “the most influential generation of the 21st century” that I find baffling. Or reading that Gen Z and Millennials combined will, for the first time, account for as many votes as Baby Boomers and Gen X in the 2024 elections in the United States. Or even that these young people will, therefore, have a big say in who the next president will be.
It is the notion that brands can – and should – voice an opinion and take a stance on issues in the run-up to the elections that flummoxes me. And that brands must help Gen Z “search for truth online”, counter false information and provide reliable insights.
Admittedly, I am stuck in Generation X (apparently the overlooked, neglected “middle child” age group born between 1965 and 1980), and constantly perplexed by my opinionated, worldly, sceptical Gen Z offspring. Besides, I cut my journalism teeth in what is now called, often disparagingly, the legacy media in the 1990s. Back then, brands focussed on selling, well, themselves. Journalists reported the news, and newspaper editors opined.
In the many years since, journalists also became social media personalities, storytellers, content creators and fact-checkers. Brands started creating content, hiring content writers, journalists and storytellers. Editors still opine, but probably increasingly into a void as they battle the twin challenges of news avoidance and disconnection.
But is brands venturing into politics, as the Gen Z-focused The News Movement (TNM) suggests in a new report, not counter-intuitive? With pivotal elections not only in the US in 2024 but also the United Kingdom, France, India and South Africa, to name a few?
A ‘tremendous opportunity’ for brands
Not if they know what they’re doing, explains TNM Executive Editor Jessica Coen and Chief Marketing Officer Lotte Jones, who spearheaded the report, Make it count: What does Gen Z want from brands ahead of the 2024 Election?
“Traditionally, brands wouldn’t talk about a political persuasion because it would alienate half their audience,” Lotte says. “However, this election, probably more than any in history, is dominated by issues more than by political persuasion. What we found, for instance, is that when it comes to diversity being an important issue in the forthcoming election, Gen Z Republicans and Democrats only differ by 19% in terms of how important they feel it is when they go to the polls.”
This is a significant change compared with other generations, with 39% of Millennials and 86% of Gen X and Baby Boomers combined viewing diversity and inclusion as important, the report states.
“So, 98% of this generation will go to the polls and vote on issues, not necessarily [for] parties,” Lotte adds, referring to information sourced from TNM’s social audience. “Can brands even afford not to show up around those issues, given how dominant they are in the lives of this audience?”
Jessica says brands have a tremendous opportunity to be present at a time when political messaging, advertising and headlines are going to be front and centre.
“And if we know that Gen Z does not trust politicians, or doesn’t trust politicians as much as brands, brands have an opportunity to insert themselves immediately and create that contrast with politicians we already know Gen Z feels negative about.”
It may be easier said than done. Surely it is a minefield for brands given cancel culture and the culture wars?
Complicated, complex and curious
Gen Z, the report points out, doesn’t consume media and news the same way previous generations have. They don’t trust a lot of what they see. So, brands will have to understand these young people, who are hardly a “homogenous lump”, as Lotte puts it.
“They are very complicated, very complex, very curious about the world and individualistic in their identity and viewpoints on life,” she explains.
These young people check facts, Jessica explains, and are much less likely to just pass on a headline without reading an article than millennials or Generation X.
“They do not care about ideology,” Jessica says. They find partisan bickering a waste of time. Gen Z cares about the health of the planet. Women’s health rights, such as abortion. Gender identity. LGBTQ issues – whether they are pro or against.
There are growing signs that consumers want to see brands voice an opinion, the report states, especially on social and environmental issues. They can leave politics to the politicians, but take a stand on issues that are natural extensions of their product of purpose.
Then brands have to be authentic, relatable and liked.
Brands that “shoe-horn their way through the back door of an issue in order to be present at something they perceive to be prescient”, Lotte says, will always have them “showing up like a dad at the disco”.
- Watch our interview with Jessica and Lotte for more insight on Gen Z below.
Adri Kotze has been a journalist for as long as she can remember, including stints as a features writer, political journalist, investigative reporter and commissioning editor. She now writes about all things media and publishing. Contact her on email@example.com or LinkedIn.