Mar 07, 2019

How young adults get involved in today’s social issues—and what they expect from brands.

The information age is giving millennials more than unbridled individualism and a predilection for social media—it’s causing them to be hyper-aware of what’s going on in the world.

This awareness means that today’s young adults know they need to act to make the world better. According to new research from Viacom’s Marketing and Partner Insights (MPI) team, two in every three millennials feel obligated and excited to do their part. They are actively challenging the notion that they’re a generation of so-called “slacktivists” who prefer to share their opinions on social media rather than act.

This trend is especially useful for marketers and advertisers who want to meaningfully engage with young adults around social issues. Overall, cause marketing has increased exponentially in recent years, with spending growing threefold since 2000 to more than $2 billion in 2018, according to sponsorship consultancy IEG.

When it comes to cause marketing to millennials specifically, MPI’s research—compiled with input from experts, interviews with young adults, and nationally representative surveys—highlights a few key trends that will help marketers understand the beliefs and values of this audience segment.

Millennials have a shared support for basic ideals.

Young adults are concerned about a slew of social topics, ranging from poverty to environmental issues to racism. In general, our research revealed six larger ideals that are supported by the collective millennial generation.

Most issues tend to align to basic ideals, such as health, safety, and fairness. Identifying and leading with the ideal behind the issue of your cause allows you to avoid the divisiveness or exclusion millennials shy away from.

Communal Ideals of Millennials

Viacom MPI Just Cause study

Millennials believe small actions can have a big impact.

From sharing forms of collective action to spreading stories to shine a light on an issue, millennials consider online activity as a meaningful and safe way to make an impact with real-time results.

“By reading about it I feel informed,” A 25-year-old female told us about passive engagement, adding that sharing content makes her feel that she’s “helping raise awareness.” Signing a petition, for example, makes her feel that she’s “doing something small to help.”

These approaches automatically protect young adults from the accusation of slacktivism. They concurrently involve massive movements where transparent action translates to camaraderie and safety.

Millennials vs. Gen Xers

Viacom MPI Just Cause study

Compared to Gen Xers, our data tells us millennials are more likely participate in hashtag movements (and even more profound: teenage respondents believe hashtag movements can change the world!).

Millennials support brands that are willing to take a stand.

Finally, it’s your brand itself that the millennial generation expects to slacktivate, push a cause, and firmly support ideals. Young adults expect brands they spend money with to support social causes or issues (or ideals!). And they’re willing to pay for your activism when it matches theirs.

Viacom MPI Just Cause study

At Viacom, our content is made for young and diverse audiences. We’ve supported the ambitions and ideals of our viewers over the course of decades, including devoting airtime and resources to HIV/AIDS awareness and voter registration campaigns. Last spring, all of our television networks went dark for 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting in last February.

How Brands Have Taken a Stand

Viacom MPI Just Cause study

Ultimately, the best thing your brand can do in the space of cause marketing is to embrace who you are and what you stand for. Experiment in different arenas and identify the best way to connect with and engage a generation of young adults who are eager to impact the world.

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