Midterms: Gen Z votes on purpose...

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...and brands get active in support of democracy.

Gen Z  has consistently surveyed higher on sustainability issues than any other generation but their influence both in terms of spending and voting has been limited - until now. This midterm election, something changed. Younger voters are said to come out in higher numbers for the midterms, and the first Gen Z congressman, Maxwell Frost has been voted into the House representing Florida.   

Gen Z are those born between 1997 and 2012, and they are passionate about issues like climate change, gun control, and LGBTQ rights.  In Barkley's 2022 Purpose Up Research we found Gen Z are:

  • 50% more likely to say they or their friends have been treated unfairly due to race, class, sexuality or gender

  • Twice as likely to buy sustainable brands than those from the Boomer generation

  • Twice as likely to buy from businesses that support gender equity than Boomers

Another difference we see in the data is along partisan lines - 74% of Democrats say they buy sustainable products versus 54% of Republicans.  While 30% of Democrats say they would boycott a brand that didn’t share their values, 50% of Republicans would boycott a brand they didn’t agree with.

With stakes this high, an area of opportunity for non-partisan brand action is promoting democracy and the act of voting itself. This midterm season has consisted of five key interventions:

  1. Giving employees paid time off to vote: Retail stores Nordstrom, REI, and Patagonia gave paid time off to vote for their employees. Other retailers joined coalitions designed to support employee voting such as Brands for Democracy, a Rock the Vote program (Athleta, Kate Spade, Macy’s, and Old Navy are members) and Time to Vote (REI, Patagonia, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Carhartt, Walmart, Target and Nike are among the 2,000 members)

  2. Removing barriers to voting: Whether it’s supporting voter registration or literally providing transport to the polls, companies like Ben & Jerry’s partnered with Turbovote to make it super easy for ice cream fans to register to vote, while Benefit Cosmetics offered a Lyft gift card code to its Instagram followers for a free ride to their local polling place.  While ride-sharing apps Lyft and Uber offered discount rides to the polls in nine participating states.

  3. Providing education on key issues. Brands help people decide how to vote based on key issues such as climate change or reproductive rights.  Lush Cosmetics campaign Be Vote Ready,  encouraged its customers to create a voting plan by offering voter guides and providing information on why these Midterms matter. While the Body Shop’s Be Seen, Be Heard campaign helped to educate first-time voters by rallying ambassadors across the US.  Outdoor retailer, REI gave information and resources to employees and consumers on how to vote for outdoor spaces.

  4. Cause-related marketing campaigns. Brands providing merchandise for sale with profits donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to democracy and voter equity.  Voting Merchandise was all the rage in November 2020, with Vogue covering 43 different brands at all price points from J Crew to Michael Kors toting t-shirts for democracy.  Midterms are no exception with new merch from Levi’s, Kenneth Cole, George Esquivel, Tory Burch, Madewell, and the Body Shop to name but a few with a portion of proceeds donated to civil education organizations. 

  5. Amplifying Influencer Voices. Brands partnering with influencers/celebrities to encourage consumers to vote, for example, Levi's has partnered with Hailey Bieber and a group of actors, activists, athletes, and models to encourage voting in the upcoming Midterm elections.  The Body Shop Be Seen Be Heard campaign also amplified the voices of a diverse group of female youth activists.  There were also a lot of youth influencers encouraging voter participation on Tik Tok outside of brand support.

By 2024, Millennials & Gen Z voters will outnumber voters who are Baby Boomers and older, 45/25. It will be interesting to see whether this generational shift will reap big changes in party politics and action on issues that matter to this generation today.  However, in the short term, it remains to be seen if all those t-shirts, socks, and totes encouraging young people to vote are not only worn but actually succeed in making voting a social norm for Gen Z.

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