Hey, everyone, still getting used to the era of millennials, branded content and influencers? Wake up! It’s almost 2018 and there are some new kids in town.
Branded content arose from the need for authentic stories within the millennial target audience. Because brands still find this transition difficult, branded content was degraded to a commercial message in an editorial jacket. You can read more about that, here. After this, branded journalism grew. These are articles and thinkpieces written by brands, made exclusively with the aim to find and touch an audience. Read more about this, here.
Now that GenZ (16-24) have dethroned the ever-influential millennials, it’s time for a new chapter in the content marketing book, marking a new generation: branded activism. This can best be described as independent activist or opinionated content carried by a brand. The term branded activism is also used whenever we talk about purpose marketing. However, I see this as something else: purpose marketing is marketing streaming from the well-known ‘why’ of the brand. We see strong purpose marketing at Tony Chocolonely’s, for example: it’s their mission to make EVERY piece of chocolate a 100 % slave free. Their documentary Tony is a good example of branded journalism, an editorial story about ‘their’ theme.
Branded activism is the facilitation of opinion and discussion about different actual themes like diversity, the refugee crisis, environmental pollution and human rights. So, apart from having your own purpose (which is essential!), brands need to think and brainstorm about these topics and how they act around them.
Why is this necessary? Purpose marketing arose because the conscious millennial expects the same kind of mentality from the brands they use/pick. GenZ goes one step further. They characterize themselves by their woke mentality. Woke? Yes, another term to familiarize yourself with! The term woke is so relevant now that it’s been added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), translating as: ‘alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice.’ Being woke is often associated with an activist attitude: just being conscious doesn’t change anything.
Where millennials demanded purpose from brands, GenZ is looking for companies that identify with their woke mentality. Where do we see this? The criticism facing Uber after their support of Trump shows that even a disorderly brand can be mercilessly punished for making politically unpopular choices. A more local example is the protest around Anna Nooshin and Monica Geuze’s photoshoot for magazine Linda.Meiden. The women were surprised of all the commotion, because it hadn’t been their intention to ‘pretend’ to be gay. This response would have possibly saved them in the millennial era, but GenZ expects influencers especially to be very conscious of the image they’re portraying. Collaboration equals approval.
A time in which brands must be careful and mistakes are easily made calls for a different approach. Maybe doing nothing? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem – it’s a well-known saying. People and organisations who do not speak out against sexual violence in the #metoo discussion are called out for their lack of accountability. If you’re not woke as a brand, you’re not relevant.
We see this development in the media too: the distrust of traditional media is huge. How impartial is a news channel when it picks certain subjects and avoids others? Now that we know that the NOS gives us a completely different world view than, for example, Al Jazeera does, this pretend impartiality isn’t worth a whole lot anymore. This becomes apparent by the success of media with a distinct opinion like GeenStijl and De Correspondent. Or Zondag met Lubach: a great success because Lubach’s team takes on such a clear point of view and there’s no mystery surrounding the topic. No one claims to be telling the truth, because whoever is woke knows: there is no one truth.
How to embrace this development as a media brand or consumer brand? This quote from the extensive GenZ research by Protein hits the nail right on the head: ‘They’re demanding that brands create spaces, platforms and mediums that champion the oppressed, not exploit their struggle’. Or: GenZ, the most diverse generation ever, doesn’t want to be talked about or talked with, they want to be the ones talking.
Pepsi made the mistake of using the Black Lives Matter movement for a feel-good coke campaign. Hema made the mistake of selling roti that wasn’t roti. All ‘borrowed’ themes, created by the wrong people. Show that your brand knows that dialogue on these subjects is important, by facilitating the conversation. Even if you’re under fire, stop defending yourself and create space for new opinions to be able to learn.
And media brands? Entertaining media brands used to stay far, far away from news and opinions, also because advertisers do not like to pick sides. But publishers begin to understand that by using more substance and going deeper into a story, they fit into the Zeitgeist more. The first brands are following. VICE launched the successful VICE News: news from the perception and experience of the target audience. Teen Vogue (Condé Nast) underwent a true transition, shifting from a focus on looks and celebrities to politics, feminism, identity and activism. On their website, the first category is news and politics, ranking higher than fashion and lifestyle. Shortly, this publisher is launching THEM, an activist platform by the LGBTQ-community, sponsored by Burberry as one of their launching partners.
Nerve-wracking? Terrifying! But if you don’t facilitate the conversation yourself, it will happen elsewhere. You’re taking true risks if you don’t do anything, because this generation controls where they get their inspiration from. And if it’s not there, they will create it themselves. With or without you.