Gen Z remains elusive and cause-driven under pandemic, putting legacy laggards at risk

Dive Brief:

  • Apple AirPods, CVS Pharmacy, Disney, Netflix and Spotify have seen the largest gains in brand love among Generation Z since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, according to a Morning Consult report shared with Marketing Dive.
  • In terms of brands that have raised the most awareness during the health crisis, Zoom (+38 points), Quibi (+27), HBO Max (+10), S.C. Johnson (+10) and Tubi (+9) led the pack, the survey of 7,000 Gen Zers revealed. Morning Consult defines Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012.
  • More than a quarter (26%) of Gen Z’s 50 most-loved brands are in the food and beverage category, while nearly a fifth (18%) operate in TV, music and radio. However, Gen Z’s average brand love and awareness scores are lower than every other generation, Morning Consult found.

Dive Insight:

Morning Consult’s wide-ranging survey of Gen Z preferences suggests the pandemic has further shored up the strength of companies betting big on digital content amid a surge in home viewing and as bored consumers look for ways to keep themselves occupied.

Leading the gains in brand love and awareness were a variety of streaming services, including older players such as Netflix and Spotify, as well as newer entrants like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, Disney+, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Tubi, which was acquired by Fox at the outset of the health crisis. Interestingly, the mobile-only streaming startup Quibi — broadly viewed as having botched its April launch — seems to be achieving some staying power with a key target audience for on-the-go content.

Food and beverage labels occupying a large swath of Gen Z’s top 50 most-loved brands reflects another pandemic-driven trend, as young consumers return to packaged foods and snacks they previously shunned for health concerns. Kit Kat landed in the No. 13 spot on Morning Consult’s ranking, while Mondelez’s Oreo cookies followed at No. 15.

The momentum could stick for some companies: 55% of Gen Z respondents said they’ll continue to buy new brands they discovered during the pandemic after the health crisis subsides. Though some brands are enjoying a windfall, Morning Consult cautioned many will face uphill battles in retaining the interest of notoriously fickle Gen Zers.

The data intelligence firm said that Gen Z’s brand awareness “bucket is leaking,” as more than 50% of respondents from the group had heard of only about three-quarters of the brands older generations knew well. All other age groups polled by Morning Consult recorded marginal gains in brand awareness since the pandemic started, while Gen Z was the only group to report overall declines. Gen Zers do not hold onto the same feelings of nostalgia that older generations do, per Morning Consult, meaning legacy marketers will need to rethink their brand-building strategies to win their continued loyalty.

The trend potentially links back to the ad-free subscription services the cohort clearly favors, like Netflix. But the pandemic has at the same time reinforced Gen Z’s choosier qualities, including their progressive bent. Forty-five percent of those surveyed are more likely to shop at Black-owned businesses since March, for example, while 42% are more likely to do so at businesses owned by other minority groups.

A number of marketers, from Ben & Jerry’s to Nike, issued statements supporting organizations like Black Lives Matter as a protest movement picked up in the U.S. this spring. Whether those companies will hold to lofty social justice commitments will be a decisive factor for many Gen Zers. Thirty-five percent of respondents said it’s “very important” that brands follow through on these pledges if they want to win over their dollars six months from now. The skepticism is high, as 42% of Gen Zers “somewhat agree” that companies issuing statements related to Black Lives Matter are doing so purely for publicity’s sake — a sentiment one-quarter of respondents strongly agreed with.

Even as Morning Consult’s report touches on some well-known facets of Gen Z, it carries surprises as well. Despite being digital natives, 78% of the group said they miss spending time with friends the most. The favor for in-person experiences is mirrored in shopping habits, as a majority of the generation does not expect to buy more meals, medication or groceries via delivery than they did prior to the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters (72%) expect to return to their pre-pandemic shopping methods.

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