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As the new decade rolled in, 2020 was set to be a year of hope.
Then, the threats of Nuclear War. A bushfire season that killed 1 billion animals and burned more than 1.26 million hectares. That segued into the COVID-19 pandemic, with the second global economic downturn in a dozen years (one set to rival the Great Depression) next on the agenda.
In Australia, an extra 1.4 million Australians were out of work in March 2020. Dr Jim Stanford, from Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, speculates that if you count the number of people who were paid through JobKeeper but didn’t actually work at all, our April unemployment rate would be closer to 15 per cent.
Overall, the incoming economic downturn will have an impact on all of us, but will hit Gen Z particularly hard. Young people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 job losses. Despite comprising only 15 per cent of the workforce in 2019, they accounted for 36 per cent of national job losses in April, with more than 200,000 people aged
Recessions scar young people and have lasting impacts on their economic and social wellbeing.
I’m 23, and was lucky enough to be in school during the 2008 financial crisis (now, I count myself lucky to have a job). But for people who entered the job market at that time, this is the second major economic setback in their lives. Writer Rainesford Stauffer captures the feeling well:
“Financial anxiety has been an omnipresent part of how I see the world. It feels as though the one-time hallmarks of adulthood — buying a house, having kids, stability, even thinking about these things — are no longer milestones, but irresponsible dreams.”
Recessions scar young people and have lasting impacts on their economic and social wellbeing. For those Australians aged 15–19 during the mid-1970s recession, they have performed worse in almost every recent subjective wellbeing survey than those born before or after that period.
I have never been very good with uncertainty. One of the reasons I love working in strategy is because you can take all the (messy) information available and turn it into a plan of action — something clear and meaningful. It’s making sense of a world that is often chaotic.
In such a chaotic time of adversity brands have a chance to step up and make a positive impact on customers and communities. Here are some steps they can take to assist Gen Z in the months and even years to come.
Clarity and consistency
The Infamous “Live For Now” spot by Pepsi is a great example of brands not knowing their role. Promoting social justice messages toa young audience makes sense for the brand, but this was delivered in a clumsy and misguided way. What does a multinational beverage corporation know about grassroots advocacy? The spot rings especially tone deaf during this time of widespread protests.
Delivering on both the triple bottom line and your purpose is vital for any brand that wants to succeed and resonate. Understanding your role in customers’ lives is also of great importance when championing causes, let alone basing campaigns around them.
Delivering on both the triple bottom line and your purpose is vital for any brand that wants to succeed and resonate.
Still, many brands have moved in unexpected and interesting ways since COVID-19 arrived (we discussed a few of the moves that impressed with our team here). In these celebrated instances, the brands had a social license to operate, a sense of approval and acceptance from impacted communities. They also stayed true to their core. It’s hard to be disappointed when Archie Rose Distillery shifts gears and starts making hand sanitiser.
Control and continuity
In light of new national research by ANU into mental health, Associate Professor Ben Edwards told Hack the “COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased risk of mental health problems for young people, more than any other group in the population”.
Beyond Blue has suggested a range of measures that people can use to support their mental health and wellbeing throughout this crisis, such as:
Thankfully, this is something that brands can help with.
It’s no revelation that ease and simplicity are key drivers of consideration for customers universally. Reducing stress, particularly emotional or financial stress, through flexible payment plans, for example, can provide much-needed respite. In terms of creating (or maintaining) routine, Val Morgan Outdoor moved their Active Nation Program online for employees in the media industry, bringing the health club environment into the home. A great initiative that serves their clients and adapts to these adverse circumstances.
Any way brands can support Gen Z in rebuilding their lives and routines will be appreciated and remembered.
As Kieran Mathew recently told Forbes, the best way for marketers to communicate with Gen Z right now is to clearly outline how they are helping their employees and their communities during this time. On top of that, any way they can support Gen Z in rebuilding their lives and routines will be appreciated and remembered.
During this crisis, over one-third of young consumers have been willing to try new products and services, while nearly one in five shared that they feel less loyal to brands than before. So, creating value now can build consideration and market share later, as long as these initiatives are well-intentioned.
Community and connection
Content and games have been a diversion sent from the gods these past few months. Spark Foundry found that escapism is one of the four behavioural trends shown by Australian consumers, as they strive to get through the COVID-19 crisis.
In the battle against tedium, people of all ages have taken up creative pursuits… and dusted off the ol’ jigsaw puzzle. Hasbro launched Bring Home the Fun to supply families with games and activities to keep children occupied/distracted while studying from home. Meanwhile, everyone from local councils to Audi has dabbled in colouring books.
Memes might seem superficial on the surface, but they’re able to offer quick hits of connection, levity, and information.
Per Vice, 72% of Gen Zs say coronavirus memes make them feel “capable of getting through this”, which shows that finding ways to alleviate the stress and horror of the news, even for a few moments, is a valuable thing. Memes might seem superficial on the surface, but they’re able to offer quick hits of connection, levity, and information. Plus, they’re primed for sharing among your audience.
Prioritise engagement, make it authentic, and be relevant — the community will gather around it.
As the restrictions in Australia begin to ease, it can feel like COVID-19 has been defeated. But the economic consequences of a global shutdown are on the way, and our society still needs to be cautious.
According to Vice’s Global COVID Youth Sentiment Study, young people’s outlook on the world, post-COVID-19, is “undecided”. I’d be inclined to agree: I began researching this piece three weeks ago, but each day the global news gets progressively more shocking and troubling, which offsets the joy and relief that stems from our relaxation of lockdown protocols.
Uncertain as we may feel about the future, Gen Z is definitely aware that brands have done some truly spectacular things during this pandemic. But only the best brands will continue to respond to the times, living their mission and helping to solve their customers’ problems.