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Gen Z, ethics and brand choice

Josh Krichefski

A new study shows the majority of teens (54 percent) aged 16+ have deliberately bought or deliberately stopped using a brand because of its ethics. Lush and The Body Shop are among the brands cited as bought because of their ethics, while Starbucks and Primark are among those claimed to be avoided for the same reasons. Contributor Josh Krichefski, CEO – MediaCom UK.

Teenagers are becoming increasingly careful about the products they buy, questioning some of the world’s biggest brands in favour of more ethically-produced goods, according to new research from MediaCom.

Over half of teenagers (54 percent) aged 16-19 surveyed in the Connected Kids report have either deliberately purchased or stopped using a brand because of its ethics. Brands that are seen to have strong ethics are likely to reap revenue rewards with 63 percent of young people aged 16+ more likely to buy from a brand if it supports a cause or charity important to them.

When asked which brands teenagers have bought because of their ethics, Lush, The Body Shop and Fairtrade were among the most cited. On the contrary, Starbucks, MAC and Primark were high among the brands that teens claim to have deliberately stopped using because of ethical reasons.

Brands that offer quality and are seen to do good are likely to attract a younger audience. Lush is just one example of a company that does this well, providing premium products made from ethically-sourced vegetarian ingredients, as well as actively fighting against animal testing and using eco-friendly packaging. Patagonia is another company popular for its ethical approach, using a high proportion of its clothing materials from recycled fabrics – on the other hand, Burberry took to burning millions of pounds’ worth of bags and clothes earlier this year to “protect its brand”, but failed when it came to purpose. To address the growing ethical movement, purpose should not just be part of the brand’s marketing strategy but rather the lifeblood that runs through any business, otherwise people will rightly remain suspicious.”

Most teenagers aged 16+ expect brands to be ethical and morally conscious; 85 percent say that brands should be responsible about minimising their impact on the environment and 71 percent agree that brands have a responsibility to give back to society.

Yet they are becoming increasingly sceptical about certain ethical messages from brands who say they are supporting good causes; over a third (37 percent) of teens are sceptical of brands that claim to support good causes. Furthermore, the majority of teens believe that brands overstate how much they support good causes (69 percent) as well as exaggerating how much they do to look after the environment (69 percent).

Furthermore, young people tend to be more ethically conscious than adults too. Teenagers aged 16+ are more likely to pay extra for a brand that supports a cause or charity important to them (57 percent teens vs. 49 percent of adults) and believe brands overstate or exaggerate how much they support good causes (69 percent vs. 63 percent).

While ethics has an important role for brands, teens will still choose quality and value first. When asked what factors were most important for teens when purchasing a brand, good quality products (81 percent) and value for money (80 percent) topped the list. Ethical factors such as whether a brand ethically makes its products (43 percent), does not test on animals (42 percent) and is environmentally friendly (34 percent) were secondary factors.

The increase in online exposure to brand news stories means teenagers are more in tune with brand behaviour than ever before. While many are sceptical about what companies promise, they are likely to be more conscious about where and how their products are sourced than their parents.

Yet brand purpose alone isn’t enough to guarantee a purchase; quality and price remain the most important aspects, but purpose can be a key differentiator when it comes to teens deciding where to buy their products. If you’re a brand in 2018 not concerned with purpose and ethics, you run the risk of not just alienating a whole generation but letting down customers who value ‘good’ more than you do.”

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