How Companies Are Reigning in Millennials and Generation Z
Updated: May 19
Authenticity and purpose are musts in the digital age—when millennials and Generation Z populate social media and demand social responsibility from businesses, businesses pay attention. A 2015 Cone Communications study found that 91 percent of millennials would switch to a brand related to a cause. In the current climate of turbulence, opposition and polarization, the younger generations expect brands to take an earnest stance on hot topics.
Nike: Just Did It
In September 2018, Nike lit up social media when it revealed that Colin Kaepernick, one of the most controversial athletes of recent times, was the face of its new advertising campaign. Kaepernick fueled controversy for kneeling during the national anthem during NFL games to protest police brutality and racial injustice. According to the analytics firm Talkwalker, there were more than 2.7 million references to the brand on social media in the first 24 hours of the ad release. His appearance in Nike’s campaign ripped a sharp divide—younger customers praised the company for the bold position of support, but there were more than 100,000 tweets from dissenters who enlisted Twitter to post videos and pictures of themselves burning Nike gear and utilizing the hashtag #BoycottNike.
Despite the strident response from the opposition, the multicultural, millennial generation expressed their loyalty to the brand, and Nike expected it. Nike knew that its visible and daring position would resonate among its customers—around two-thirds of its American customers are under 35 years old and are racially diverse, according to the NPD Group. This audience wants brands to weave social causes into their cultures. Brands are no longer just physical objects—they’re lifestyle symbols.
Gillette: New Year, New Me
Gillette took on a refreshing approach on its tagline with its January advertisement that electrified social media. In its new ad, the company questioned toxic masculinity, challenging stereotypes and typical “guy” behavior. Gillette wants it to be known that it will not tolerate that “Boys Will Be Boys,” and instead of “The Best A Man Can Get,” it is “The Best Men Can Be.” Despite this seemingly positive message that wants men to be the best versions of themselves, a social media maelstrom erupted. According to Marketing Dive, the company was mentioned 1.1 million times on social media within 24 hours of the release, and on YouTube, the ad racked up 4 million views in 48 hours. Twitter users spat that the ad was anti-men and claimed that all men were sexists. Angry customers tossed their Gillette products into the toilet and shared pictures on social media.
Gillette had a similar mindset as Nike—although it may have alienated customers, the ad was a strategic maneuver to appeal to millennials and Generation Z, who seek the involvement of brands in the cultural landscape. The advertisement resounded with younger consumers who believed that Gillette was trying to shape negative behaviors that affect many of us.
Can Brands Be Woke on Social Media?
Social responsibility has evolved into brand activism, a loud, fearless call by companies that they care about the world consumers live in. According to Regina Luttrell in “Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect,” corporations have to not only be active in the physical community, but also in the online community to attract the younger audiences who crave mission and purpose in the brands they purchase from.
Creating a vibrant discourse similar to what Nike and Gillette did engages and captivates those passionate about the social issues that dictate our lives. Capitalizing on this opportunity on social media manifests in a robust buzz that may sour the minds of opposers but triggers the attention of the young consumers who are the future of consumer spending.