Gen Z ‘demand’ brands have a strong purpose

Wattpad's head of brand partnerships discusses the role of cause marketing in trying to connect with young Canadians.

Wattpad - Chris Stefanyk 77

2018 was arguably the year of cause marketing.

From Nike’s bold Colin Kaepernick ad to IKEA Canada’s multi-faceted sustainability push to Ben & Jerry’s continued support of the LGBTQ+ community, marketing with a message was everywhere this year.

Young Canadians, in particular, want companies to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to important causes including racism, the environment and homophobia.

“We’re just seeing that through all the research and work we’re doing that, specifically, the Gen Z audience really, really cares and they demand that the brands they purchase from have a strong purpose and cause-based strategy,” says Chris Stefanyk, head of brand partnerships at storytelling platform Wattpad.

Indeed, a survey released this summer of 3,500 Gen Z girls, ages 14 to 19, by Girl Up (a United Nations Foundation organization dedicated to empowering young women) found that 65% of respondents feel it is important for companies to take a stand on social issues. Also, 65% said buying from brands that give back to their community is important, while 72% agreed it’s important to buy products or services from brands that are environmentally friendly.

Wattpad started in Toronto in 2007 and now bills itself as a “global multi-platform entertainment company for stories.” Ninety percent of its users are Gen Z or millennials. A bevy of brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, have worked with Stefanyk to get their cause-based marketing out to young Canadians.

The Unilever-owned ice cream co. has a long history of speaking out about social issues and has supported Pride Toronto for years. But awareness of those efforts was not as high as the company liked, so to address this issue, Ben & Jerry’s partnered with Wattpad during Pride month in June. The partnership paid off.

The “Pen Your Pride” campaign write-a-thon asked the Wattpad community to write about being a member or ally of the LGBTQ+ community. When users posted stories with the hashtag #WattPride, $1 was donated to IGLA (International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), up to a total of $10,000. The goal was 10,000 stories. By the end of June, more than 17,000 stories were posted.

“The Gen Z audience really want to interact with brands that care and support a cause… When we run campaigns that are cause-related they have certainly outperformed the norm,” says Stefanyk.

But, the head of brand partnerships warns companies that they need to lay the groundwork before launching purpose-led marketing initiatives.

“You hear this a lot, but it’s got to be genuine and it’s got to be authentic, you can’t force the message. . A lot of the conversations we get in with brand partners who don’t have a purpose yet is recommending to them they need to figure that out first,” he says.

With so many brands jumping on the cause-marketing bandwagon this year is this a fad that will fizzle out in 2019?

“I don’t think it’s going to stop. This is really going to be with us for the long haul, which is great.”