Millennials are optimistic about brand values and activism. Gen Z is not.

A study by MullenLowe shows Gen Z expresses ambivalence towards brands.

General consensus in the industry is that younger generations, especially Gen Z, expect brands to engage in social activism. 

But a study by MullenLowe shows millennials are more likely to feel optimistic about brand values. 

According to the study, which surveyed 1,000 Americans, millennials (50%) agreed with the statement: “When I make a purchase decision, a brand’s values are more important than their prices,” at a higher rate than Gen Z (43%). 

Millennials are more likely to feel the most effective way to boycott a brand is to directly hurt their bottom line, either by getting friends and family to stop purchasing from the brand (48%) or start purchasing from a competitor themselves (46%). 

But millennials are more optimistic about the role brands can play in society overall. According to the study, 56% of millennials trust brands to put the interests of the public ahead of their own, and 28% “strongly agree” brands can affect long-lasting change. Gen Z doesn’t have as much faith in brands, with only 17% “strongly agreeing” brands can impact change. 

In fact, Gen Z was more likely to express ambivalence about brands’ stances on social issues, with 28% reporting they “don’t care,” compared to 18% of millennials. 

Meanwhile, Gen Z is more likely to engage in civic activity (77%) compared to millennials (50%).

“Gen Z's aren't expecting anything lofty to come from a brand, so the next best thing is to get that audience to see a brand as serving a purpose for their needs and helping them,” said Jose Aniceto, director of behavioral science at MullenLowe U.S. and the author of the report. 

The data shows Gen Z is activist by nature and perceives brands’ efforts to portray social responsibility as inauthentic, Aniceto added.

“[Gen Z] has more to lose, in a sense, because they have to worry about the climate more than anybody. They have to worry about the health of communities more than anybody,” he said. “Gen Z doesn’t necessarily have those high expectations, but they're more likely to react in a way that is vocal and truly stand up and organize.” 

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