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Picture: 123RF/ josefku bes
Picture: 123RF/ josefku bes

Never before have two generations advocated for diversity, inclusion and equality quite like millennials and Gen Zs. Now in their 30s, 20s and teens, these individuals were brought up alongside the growth of the internet, social media and smartphones – and they’ve made it their mission to celebrate and promote uniqueness.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers expect more diverse messages and portrayals in media and advertising than previous generations were accustomed to. They want their more inclusive world to be embraced by brands. They also want businesses to celebrate and support causes that mean something. 

“Millennials and Gen Z audiences are bombarded with content clutter and noise, especially on social media,” says Scott Thwaites, head of emerging markets, TikTok Global Business Solutions. “This is why it’s essential for businesses to get it right, by sharing authentic and meaningful messages that make consumers stop and look. It is particularly relevant when it comes to inclusivity and supporting a cause. Consumers don’t want to see brands making an effort to be inclusive just for publicity; they want to see something that’s real and consistent.”

By embracing and reflecting real-world diversity, many brands are building greater brand affinity and deeper customer relationships while working to effect positive change. This is also making a difference to their bottom line, as these younger demographics are rewarding brands that capture diversity and share their inclusive values. In 2019, Meltwater reported that SA Gen Z students alone were already spending R35bn a year, making these consumers and their older millennial counterparts a powerful market. 

“These two generations, unlike any others before them, are also very willing to put their wallets where their values are. They will stop or initiate relationships based on how brands react to social and political issues, what they do when it comes to the environment and how they treat their staff.”

Almost a third of respondents in The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey said they started or strengthened their relationships with companies that responded responsibly and authentically to the Covid pandemic and associated lockdowns. At the same time, about a quarter of these respondents halted or reduced their connections with those that did not.  

Interestingly, views on businesses’ ambitions stabilised in 2021, with a lower percentage of the survey’s respondents saying they believe businesses are focused primarily on their own objectives or that their only motivation is profit; but this doesn’t mean brands should rest on their laurels. 

“The brands that are rising to the top,” says Thwaites, “are consistently making important issues a priority, either in their communications or in the content they produce on the platforms that matter.”

The number one thing brands can learn from TikTok content creators, he says, is to be authentic. “Being authentic is the new cultural currency, because people want to feel with their hearts, and they want to engage with those they deem honest and real.”

A 2021 study from consumer research platform Quantilope reveals that Gen Z consumers hope to see more individuals with disabilities represented in advertising and media, as well as more authentic PR backed up by action. It also reveals that this generation strongly prefers adverts and content that show real people in real situations, moving away from painting an idealised view of the world.

“As brands strive to be more inclusive, especially as they relate to people who have been historically underrepresented, excluded and stereotypically portrayed, they are really finding their authentic and disruptive stride, which commonly results in game-changing ideas and content,” says Thwaites.

A good example of this is Kotex’s #ChangeTheTune campaign which ran on TikTok SA. Aimed at addressing stigmas and misconceptions about periods, the brand has challenged creators to finish the lyrics to a song with messages that fight against the narrative that periods should not be spoken about and that women don’t deserve support during their time of the month.

“It’s no secret, then, that the brands that act with bravery and tackle real issues are the ones that continue to earn the respect and buying power of millennials and Gen Zs. Brands that tell a story that resonates with these generations’ motivations and needs will in turn provide them with a practical reason to engage and support these businesses for a long time to come,” Thwaites says.

The big take-out:

“Being authentic is the new cultural currency because people want to feel with their hearts, and they want to engage with those they deem honest and real.”


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