Anthems not Answers: Gen Z and Cause Marketing

Posted by: Ian Forsyth

With a consumer base that will drastically change within the next 10 years, brands will have to chase desirability once again with the Gen-Z consumers of the future. And the word on the street is that if you want to market a desirable product, then you have to join up with a cause.

It’s true. Gen-Z consumers are cause-based buyers and want the brands they surround themselves with to reflect their own beliefs and philosophies. It’s a tough situation and brands are trying to attach themselves to a cause without consulting themselves.

But, there’s a more confident and unreachable answer. An anthem per se.

The consumers are asking, “Hey you, over there! What do you stand for?” It’s not a bad question. But the easier question for a brand to ask themselves when faced with this challenge is: “Wait, what do we stand against?

Turn it on it’s head to discover a richer and more solid anthem: an insight that is powered by the brands purpose, a mission to plant a purposeful ensign for the future.

We are all naturally drawn to the beauty of anthems. There’s a beauty in a cause that makes sense. It lets consumers breath better and sleep better at night when brands say things that makes sense for them to say. An anthem is something the consumers and internal part of a brand can rally behind and involve themselves with. Anthems feel human and there’s not a single brand that can’t have a human truth about them. Quick answers are not the way. Anthems were always the way.

In 2015, Starbucks found itself in some hot water when it asked their baristas to write #RaceTogether on all coffee cups because “Coffee shops have always had a role to play as a venue for open conversation about issues that matter” according the Howard Schultz, executive chairman at Starbucks.

Doesn’t sound like a bad idea when reading it, but to be honest, Americans are not too enthused when they are forced to have open conversations with strangers.  In fact, three-fourths of Americans regularly talk politics. Only with members of their own political tribe and not with their baristas.

Starbucks luckily energized itself recently with a shot of genius with a new statement saying that they’ll no longer be using plastic straws in their stores to combat environmental pollution. So far the reception has been both negative and positive. To take a step back, the campaign on plastic straw use is really about the larger issue of plastic use globally to raise further awareness of the harm in single-use plastics in the oceans. The only problem was people were complaining about their replacement for straws, an adult sippy cup, uses up a little bit more plastic. We will see if every sip makes the customers happy and satisfied.

Again, the easiest way for brands to find out what they stand for is by asking themselves what they stand against. Let’s look at how Nike’s campaign to promote racial equality fits perfectly within what their brand stands for. This is an anthem that matches the purpose of the cause and the purpose of the brand.

Nike’s mission statement is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

The legendary University of Oregon track and field coach, and Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” This is a big idea. It kinda makes your skin tingle when you hear it. It maybe even gets you off the couch to run around the block to break a sweat for the first time in a month. It makes the consumer believe in the magic of the brand, and it changed the way the average consumer views themselves inside of an ever so popular sports industry.

So we see what they stand for, but what do they stand against? What’s the opposite of athleticism? Complacency, laziness, static behavior, haters, people who say you can’t do something? And by saying that everyone is an athlete, they stand against marginalization. It’s a rallying cry proclaiming that there are no boundaries for athletes. As far as Nike is concerned, athleticism isn’t determined by your race or your belief system.

Nike has a moral obligation to join the rallying cry of social equality because their most successful brand ambassador athletes are African American. If it weren’t for signing a Nike shoe deal with Jordan, who knows? Adidas could be at the top of the podium.

No company in the world spends as much money on sports sponsorships as Nike, which has spent a staggering total of $8 billion since 2002 alone, according to a CNNMoney analysis.

Serena Williams, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan are just a few of the top athletes that Nike is cashing in on. If Nike didn’t speak up on equality, there’d be a problem. But when they do speak up, it’s powerful.

Owning your own truth is the strength behind good cause marketing. When a brand uses its truth to support a cause, it’s smooth sailing.

About Ian Forsyth

Passionate about the life-changing amalgamation of story telling and pizza, Ian also writes for brands like Bartles and James, Wawa, DICE and the Missouri Lottery....See Ian's full bio.