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by Isabel Greenfield
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A look at how sustainability and purpose-driven brand messaging needs to be, well, sustainable.
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Today’s consumer has made it clear—sustainability is important and they want the brands they support to hold similar values. From Patagonia to The Body Shop, Lululemon to Ikea, advertisers are taking note, developing full campaigns that speak to their eco-friendliness. Beloved pop group Coldplay has even done its part to go green. With the help of sustainability partner DHL, Coldplay committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 50% on their current tour.
So, the expectation is set, but before diving into purpose-driven messaging, brands need to be mindful of how they’re talking about sustainability and who they’re speaking to.
It’s become widely understood that Gen Z (ages 18 to 24) is leading the charge when it comes to making purchases primarily from brands who they view as purpose-driven. However, a recent study indicates that sustainability is important to older generations as well. The research shows that Generation X (41 to 60) and Baby Boomers (61+) are most likely to pay attention to and then watch a purpose-driven ad all the way to the end. Gen Zs and Millennials, on the other hand, were much less engaged by these advertisements.
This said, we shouldn’t forget what we’ve come to know about the younger generations’ affinity for sustainability-focused brand messaging. The same study revealed that Gen Zs and Millennials are more likely than other generations to want to “talk, learn or do something” after viewing purpose-driven ads.
The findings from this research should act as an eye opener for advertisers—sure, the younger generations are still moved to action by purpose-driven messaging, but Gen Xers and Baby Boomers need to be taken into consideration as well. Knowing this, sustainability-focused brands should be thoughtful about how they market to these varying customer segments.
With the knowledge that sustainability is important to a range of generations, it’d be a big miss if brands didn’t customize ads for each age group. How Baby Boomers react to and engage with advertisements is pointedly different from how a member of a younger generation might, and vice versa. Some brands do get this and have capitalized on their understanding of how to effectively advertise to different generations.
Genuine messaging and multi-screen ad strategies appeal to Gen Z | Mobile payment company Square hit a home run with Gen Z with a recent campaign that leveraged influencers. Made up primarily of YouTube videos featuring popular content creators, the campaign appealed to Gen Z by giving tips on how to start their own business. The videos focused specifically on industries that the younger generation is interested in—”how to create a career in gaming” and “how to go viral on TikTok” were two of the topics addressed. Leading with messaging authentic to its intended audience across multiple screens in the home, the campaign experienced huge success—according to market research firm Insider Intelligence, “By the end of 2022, 44% of Gen Zers over the age of 14 will have used “buy now, pay later” [one of Square’s online payment methods] at least once this year.”
Personal recommendations and relatable experiences drive Millennial engagement | Millennials came of age in a time where brands could be openly reviewed like never before. Platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor and AirBnB provided real user feedback that helped Millennials to make informed purchasing decisions and these brands are still heavily used by this generation. Millennials like being able to envision themselves using a product or being a part of an experience—reviews and recommendations help them to do just this. Understanding this, camera manufacturer GoPro has launched multiple Millennial-focused advertising campaigns that feature user generated content to drive messaging. These advertisements allow audiences to put themselves in the shoes of the filmer—making for messaging that resonates with Millennials.
Direct communication and loyalty programs resonate with Gen X | Seeing as the average Gen X household earns more than any other generational household, this group shouldn’t be forgotten. Aged 41-60, many Gen Xers are in the throes of raising families and growing their careers, so they appreciate direct messaging that doesn’t beat around the bush or sound too salesly. These consumers also love a loyalty program. Oracle reported that 71% of Gen X respondents said that loyalty programs influence their choice of brands to shop with and they care about perks like free shipping—it’s no surprise that Amazon is one of this generation’s favorite brands.
Baby Boomers prefer simple messaging that tells a compelling story and addresses their needs | Baby Boomers hold a whopping $2.6 trillion in purchasing power. While this generation might not be up to date on the latest pop culture or TikTok trends, brands are wise to advertise to Baby Boomers. When it comes to ad messaging, Baby Boomers prefer simple, yet compelling storytelling and want to understand how a product will support their needs. Nike spoke directly to Baby Boomers and other older adults with their creation and promotion of the Nike CruzrOne. The CruzrOne campaign did a good job of addressing Baby Boomer’s needs, featuring messaging like: “the shoe made to keep you moving”, “ultra-comfortable cushioning and support for every step” and “our first shoe designed for steady, easy-paced movement.”
While customized messaging for each generation is key, one value should be used to appeal to consumers of all ages—authenticity. Meaning, if a brand is messaging about how sustainable or purpose-driven they are, they need to be able to back up these claims. When an advertiser makes statements around eco-friendliness or environmental consciousness but doesn’t follow through on their promises, it is called “greenwashing”.
Consumers don’t take well to greenwashing and will turn on brands who do it. Sustainable clothes and shoes brand Allbirds recently suffered the effects of this—a lawsuit was brought against them that claimed the brand had falsely advertised how environmentally friendly their products are. The lawsuit was dropped, but not before Allbirds was dragged across various social media platforms and media outlets. Ultimately, this led to the company changing some of the sustainability language in its IPO filings.
Allbirds should serve as a cautionary tale to advertisers who want to promote sustainability, as some brands might not be lucky enough to escape legal repercussions. A recent symposium hosted by the Institute of Advertising Ethics (IAE) focused solely on greenwashing and its potential legal liabilities.
As MediaPost reported, “This week’s symposium makes clear how pervasive greenwashing currently is within the ad industry, and how varied — and why it is emerging as a serious liability for advertisers and agencies that could well approach the magnitude it has been experiencing with new regulatory and litigative actions surrounding consumer data and privacy.”
Brands who are ready to get their message of sustainability out to the masses need to speak authentically to consumers across generations and avoid greenwashing at all costs. They also should put time and resources into advertising channels that will not only drive impressions and reach, but those that ensure top campaign performance.
Connected TV (CTV) should be at the top of this list as streaming services become increasingly popular with multiple generations. Marketing Dive recently reported that 8 out of 10 Gen Zs said that they stream TV content at least weekly. On the other end of the age spectrum, Baby Boomers and other older adults are consuming content on streaming services as well. Nearly half of U.S. adults aged 65+ are CTV users.
CTV’s precision audience building capabilities enable advertisers to accurately serve ads to consumers from all generations. Leveraging the prestige and reach of TV advertising, brands from a variety of industries can utilize CTV advertising to deliver authentic messages to their ideal audiences on popular streaming services.