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Keeping it Close: Generation Edge & Politics

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We came together with The Hive to better understand the impact that political brand campaigns were having on Generation Edge.

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Keeping it Close: Generation Edge & Politics

  1. 1. WE CAME TOGETHER TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT THAT POLITICAL BRAND CAMPAIGNS HAVE ON YOUNG PEOPLE And by political, we don’t just mean Trump or Trudeau. We mean political in the sense of the myriad social issues that impact the world they live in and help define how they engage with brands. METHODOLOGY THE HIVE AND THE SOUND
  3. 3. WE SPOKE WITH EDGERS ONLINE ACROSS CANADA AND THE US, MAKING SURE TO ENGAGE WITH: • A mix of Edgers who identified across the political spectrum. • A mix of Edgers who live in urban, suburban and rural areas. • A mix of Edgers of different ages and ethnicities. And then to get an even clearer understanding, we conducted in-depth interviews with 4 of them in their homes in Chicago, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver. WE SPOKE TO 44 EDGERS METHODOLOGY
  4. 4. POLITICAL UPHEAVAL Constant political upheaval has become the norm. From Brexit to Trump - there’s an inbuilt distrust of authority and a perception of instability. ECONOMICS They’ve seen Millennials struggle in the job market and they grew up amid the economic instability of their Gen X parents, forcing them to
 be realistic about their finances. FAMILY Traditional family units have long been cast aside for new ways of being, which includes one’s “chosen” family. Edgers are seeking stabilizing ties wherever they find themselves, based around their value set. SOCIAL MEDIA They are acutely aware of their need to manage their online identity because the Internet doesn’t forget. Offline communications are valued highly as a means to cope with the chaos. CONTEXT GEN EDGE HAS GROWN UP IN AN UNSTABLE WORLD AND FACE A VERY NEW REALITY
  5. 5. REALISTS Gen Edge has grown up in a state of recession and bleak growth - they are pragmatic, valuing personal responsibility & tangible results. ABNORMAL According to Gen Edge, normal is boring and the pressure to be perfect is not a priority. They want to squash the social stigma around mental health and believe having a challenging emotional past or present shows depth of character. POST DIGITAL NATIVES Gen Edge has matured with tech, but they aren’t beholden to it - and they definitely don’t want to be defined by their relationship to it. ACCELERATED ADULTHOOD Due to the challenging and competitive context they were raised in, Gen Edge doesn't have the luxury of experiencing an extended youth. They’ve had to grow up fast and are expected to define their ideologies early. XX GEN X PARENTS Being raised by cynical and rebellious Gen Xers who have instilled in them a heathy dose of skepticism, especially when it comes to establishments and socially constructed systems, has resulted in a generation of Edgers that consider themselves “woke.” WHICH MEANS THEY NEED A LOT OF EDGE TO SURVIVE KEY TRAITS
  6. 6. SO…GEN EDGE IS GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD…RIGHT? BACKGROUND We know that Gen Edge is critically-minded, connected, socially- conscious, and resilient. So, it only seems natural to assume that they would be deeply engaged with big political issues…
 But if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we know that throughout history, older generations often look to the youngest generation to “fix their mistakes” and take up the war they have been waging. Similarly, we currently see Millennials, Xers, Boomers, and beyond, all placing a social expectation upon Edgers that they should be urgently interested in solving the world’s problems.
  8. 8. TEENAGERS GROWING UP IN CHAOS ARE STILL… WELL, TEENAGERS CRITICAL INSIGHTS AS REALISTIC AND SAVVY AS THEY ARE, THEY’VE YET TO START THINKING SERIOUSLY ABOUT MOST POLITICAL ISSUES They perceive themselves to be “woke” or critically minded and are ready to ask questions, but they aren’t ready to change their lifestyle for political reasons. What they’re concerned with is what’s happening in their immediate world. Like teenagers from every generation, they are self-absorbed and subsequently have a hard time connecting with issues that don’t penetrate their social bubble. They are in a critical stage of development, experiencing major physical, emotional, cognitive, and social transitions. This solipsistic experience can provide shelter from what’s going on around them.
  9. 9. THEY FEEL ALIENATED & EXHAUSTED BY BIG ISSUES BEYOND THEIR GRASP CRITICAL INSIGHTS THERE ARE MANY FACTORS THAT HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ALIENATION The political sphere is seen as a space that adults operate in… and they don’t feel ready to step up to bat yet. Big political issues are large-scale and complicated, which is intimidating enough for an adult to grapple with, let alone a teenager. Edgers are inundated with so much as it is that they don't know where to begin or how their personal action can make a difference. They are interested in the bigger issues insofar as they are pieces of information to absorb and file away, but they lack the age and experience to really comprehend the impact these issues have.
  10. 10. THEY ARE CAUTIOUS ABOUT VOICING AN OPINION ONLINE CRITICAL INSIGHTS ALTHOUGH EDGERS MAY STAY UP TO DATE ON POLITICAL EVENTS They’ve seen what happens when you speak up online on big political issues… and they are wary of it. Voicing opinions, no matter which side you are on, can leave you exposed and open to attack. Edgers realize the Internet is not really anonymous and that there are potential repercussions to posting an opinion, especially during such a vulnerable stage like adolescence. Viral content means their posts can get singled out for the world to see and held onto indefinitely, even if their beliefs change. As a result, they’re a bit distant and hesitant on if and how to get involved. “I usually don't post my opinions on social media. I prefer to discuss them face to face.” - Patrick
  12. 12. EDGERS ARE OVERWHELMED BY THE BIG ISSUES… BUT FEEL ENGAGED WITH THE CLOSE AND PERSONAL “WHOA, WHATEVER” National Social Issues: Healthcare, Immigration, Education, Government; These are systemic issues that hit closer to home, but are still hard to relate to. “REAL TALK” Personal & Immediate Issues: Sexism, Racism, LGBTQ, Environmentalism, Gun Control, Animal Rights: These are issues that they experience themselves or see others experience. CORE VALUES Compassion, Diversity, Unity, Realism. These are the values that they live their lives by. THE POLITICAL SPHERE “OMG I CAN’T EVEN” Big Global Issues: Globalization, Terrorism, Refugees, War; These are issues that are so big, they’re difficult to relate to and have a dissociative effect.
  13. 13. These issues are the hardest to comprehend for Edgers because they are least relatable to their own lives. They feel geographically distant - they’re happening somewhere, just not here. They’re abstract and only understood by reading or hearing about them - but no one seems to have the correct information, which is overwhelming. They feel exclusionary because of how intensely divisive they can be, creating an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality that goes against the preferred Gen Edge outlook. GLOBAL ISSUES FEEL FURTHEST AWAY AND ABSTRACT THE POLITICAL SPHERE “Politics don't really mean anything to me. I try not to get caught up into it too much, but I do like to know what's going on around the globe. I just can't help but think that everybody involved in politics are only looking to make things better for themselves and not so much the citizens.” - Krista  “OMG I CAN’T EVEN” Big Global Issues: Globalization, Terrorism, Refugees, War; These are issues that are so big, they’re difficult to relate to and have a dissociative effect.
  14. 14. These are issues that may have a local impact but still end up feeling out of their control. Even though these issues can be more relatable, because they are systemic in nature and often issues their parents talk about, it’s harder for Edgers to feel immediate impact can be made. The only way Edgers feel closer to these issues is by attaching them to an individual they know or a personal experience they have had (labour issue, education issue, immigration issue, etc.) But when they can make a personal connection to these issues, they can influence and drive the discussion. NATIONAL SOCIAL ISSUES ARE STILL TOO OVERWHELMING TO BE RELATABLE THE POLITICAL SPHERE “I don’t really feel affected by politics yet because I don’t own a home, or have student debt.” - Aimee-Lynn “WHOA, WHATEVER” National Social Issues: Healthcare, Immigration, Education, Government; These are systemic issues that hit closer to home, but are still hard to relate to.
  15. 15. SEXISM Violation of women’s rights is something that they are aware of and frequently witness, to varying degrees of intensity. “I always think about the problem of the sexualization of younger girls because I am living it. Older men make comments, and people yell at me from cars passing by and trust me, I look my age.” - Simone “REAL TALK” Personal & Immediate Issues: Sexism, Racism, LGBTQ, Environmentalism, Gun Control, Animal Rights: These are issues that they experience themselves or see others experience. They experience them, feel them, and witness them wherever they are. Whether in class, at practice, or on social media, these issues affect their day-to-day and penetrate their personal bubble. PERSONAL AND 
 RESONATE THE STRONGEST THE POLITICAL SPHERE RACISM For many Edgers, the issues surrounding racism connects with a familiar reality that they deal with everyday. “I think about the killing of young black men. I am a young black man, and I worry when I go out to school or out with friends …I worry about the police.” - Harris
  16. 16. PERSONAL AND 
 RESONATE THE STRONGEST LGBTQ Edgers assume that there should be tolerance, acceptance, and celebration of the diversity in gender identity and sexual orientation. “If one man loves another man, then why should they not be allowed to marry each other? Gay marriage is a social issue that should be left to individuals to decide on.” - Samantha ANIMAL RIGHTS Concerns around animal testing and the treatment of animals is something Edgers are aware of and feel they can do something about in their daily choices. “I am a huge lover of animals and it literally breaks my heart to see a neglected animal. In my opinion, if you can not properly care for an animal you should not have one!” - Erika ENVIRONMENTALISM Edgers see global warming as a scientific reality that has immediate ramifications. They connect with it on a local level and believe it is a problem that requires an action plan for the future. “I think we really need to start doing something about global warming, just helping out by reducing your footprint. It's not just about one person, it will affect everyone.” - Simrin THE POLITICAL SPHERE
  17. 17. THE CORE VALUE SET BECAUSE THESE ISSUES TAP INTO GEN EDGE’S 4 CORE VALUES Which Edgers see as uncontroversial but remain divisive to older generations. DIVERSITY Life is not an echo chamber: having friends who look, think, or act differently yet have the same value set is important to Edgers. They believe differences are how you learn, stretch, and grow - the people in their lives who are different from them are valuable resources and present important opportunities. The rigidness of singular identities is abandoned for the celebration of a spectrum. “Understanding the different angles of a situation is important for self growth, and I feel as if connecting with like-minded people helps develop your own beliefs. However, associating myself with different minded people helps me think outside of my own beliefs.” - Chat
  18. 18. THE CORE VALUE SET UNITY Edgers support standing together, working towards a common goal, and supporting one another - and connect with others based on a similar value set. They want to make sure everyone feels they “belong” and eliminate the ostracizing of others - especially when it is rooted in the hatred and fear of differences. “I believe that everyone should be treated equally. I also believe that you should be very kind to other people you meet. I have seen many times a homeless person sitting hungry on the street or someone broke down on the side of the road who just needs someone’s help for 30 minutes.” - Jonathan BECAUSE THESE ISSUES TAP INTO GEN EDGE’S 4 CORE VALUES Which Edgers see as uncontroversial but remain divisive to older generations.
  19. 19. THE CORE VALUE SET COMPASSION Edgers value being understanding and non-judgemental towards others’ way of life. They welcome the multiplicity of expressing one’s identity and practice empathy for others’ sufferings and misfortunes. This also encompasses self-compassion: having patience and understanding for one’s self. “My number one value is compassion. This makes it impossible to feel that someone is so different from you, based on their culture, race, or any other characteristic, that they are not worthy of love, respect, and empathy. I think these values are commonly shared by many people, but I wish we saw them in practice more out in the world and in our politics.” - Amy BECAUSE THESE ISSUES TAP INTO GEN EDGE’S 4 CORE VALUES Which Edgers see as uncontroversial but remain divisive to older generations.
  20. 20. THE CORE VALUE SET REALISM Dreams are great, but action is the Edger way.
 “Doing” champions over planning; “making it happen” champions over just thinking about it. This generation really embodies the phrase “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” “I helped my school fundraise to build a school in Nicaragua. Last year, my school set a goal of raising $10,000 to build a school in a poor city. I am so proud of this because it is not something I did for myself, it is something I did to help others. I learned I should acknowledge my privilege and use it to help others who are less fortunate than me.” - Guila BECAUSE THESE ISSUES TAP INTO GEN EDGE’S 4 CORE VALUES Which Edgers see as uncontroversial but remain divisive to older generations.
  21. 21. IT’S NOT COOL TO CARE, IT’S COOL TO BE A GOOD PERSON It’s not simply about signalling they care about these social issues, it’s about living these more intimate core values in their everyday lives. MILLENNIALS Tended to showcase their concern for social issues despite how much they actually DID to support their claims. • Because it was expected of them • Because it was seen as cool - showing that you’re more progressive and altruistic CRITICAL INSIGHTS “I believe caring for others is a really important value to have. Doing kind things and putting yourself before others… Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind” - Jamie WHEREAS GEN EDGE Don’t have the time or interest in the bullshit of ‘showing’ they care - they desire to help in small real ways to make things better. • They don’t pretend to be interested in things they don’t understand. They focus on what is happening in their world, amongst the people they care about • They desire to help in small but real ways to make things better
  22. 22. ALTHOUGH THERE ARE A FEW GENERATIONAL STAPLES… A handful of brands are so entrenched in youth culture that they are lifestyle ambassadors that transcend politics and scrutiny. Each brand is considered established, cutting edge, and pioneers in their industry, having carved their own way as rebels and innovators, with a certain aesthetic that has stood the test of time. CRITICAL INSIGHTS Where Millennials are brand forward, Edgers backseat logos over the products themselves. Logos are out and product savviness is in: more important than a brand name, Edgers prioritize product quality and the knowledge that they are getting the best product. Abandoning segregated style: Edgers enjoy the freedom and fluidity of curating their own sense of fashion, by mixing tried and true staples with style elements they like. PRODUCTS BEFORE BRANDS
  23. 23. SO WHAT DO 
  24. 24. “OMG I CAN’T EVEN ” Big Global Issues: Globalization, Terrorism, Refugees, War; These are issues that are so big, they’re difficult to relate to and have a dissociative effect. WHEN IT COMES TO BIG SOCIAL ISSUES… BUTT OUT! IDEALLY… “WHOA, WHATEVER” National Social Issues: Healthcare, Immigration, Education, Government; These are systemic issues that hit closer to home, but are still hard to relate to. Choosing a brand is a personal choice, that occurs in a personal space. Gen Edge don’t want to be weighed down with the baggage that comes along with a brand attaching itself to big “political” issues (i.e. divisive opinions and social consequences). Brands that declare that they stand for one big “political” issue are too polarizing and exclusive. Gen Edgers don’t have the knowledge they need on these big “political” issues to make an informed opinion…or understand its relevance to their personal lives to see why they should care.
  25. 25. BUT WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL ISSUES THAT CONNECT WITH THEIR CORE VALUES…THEY’RE ALL FOR IT IDEALLY… “REAL TALK” Personal & Immediate Issues: Sexism, Racism, LGBTQ, Environmentalism, Gun Control, Animal Rights: These are issues that they experience themselves or see others experience. CORE VALUES Compassion, Diversity, Unity, Realism. These are the values that they live their lives by. They need to feel how a brand’s cause fits into their lives to truly connect by engaging with one of the personal/ immediate issues they care about: sexism, racism, LGBTQ rights, environmentalism, animal rights. The more core values that are being touched upon, the better: i.e. a brand could be showing how they celebrate diversity and promote unity. Edgers are critical thinkers and well…edgy! They appreciate it when brand messaging comes across as cutting edge. Otherwise, they risk being seen as stale, disingenuous, or simply stating the obvious.
  27. 27. POLITICS AND BRANDS A MULTILAYERED CAMPAIGN CHEERIOS' INTERRACIAL FAMILY In the face of controversy, Cheerios stood their ground by promoting interracial visibility and received a layered reaction from Edgers. • Edgers who were racially aware and believe in a need for equal representation applauded Cheerios for its efforts • Edgers who are not as close to the issue were not aware of the politics surrounding the campaign. The fact that the ad features an interracial couple did not interest them at all; they simply see it as normal. Instead, many saw the campaign as being focused on health consciousness and family bonding “It made me so happy to see an interracial relationship represented in an ad. Representation is important. It’s an issue that connects with me because I am in an interracial relationship.” - Simone
  28. 28. POLITICS AND BRANDS A PARADOXICAL CAMPAIGN KENDALL JENNER FOR PEPSI While Pepsi received critical attention from the world at large concerning its controversial “protest” campaign… reviews from Edgers are mixed. Some appreciate that the commercial connects with their values: • Diversity: it showcases people from different cultural backgrounds • Unity: people coming together for a common cause • Compassion: crossing picket-lines to connect with the ‘other side’ • Realism: Young people taking action, voicing real concerns • … and they like how it features a familiar Gen Edge icon However, for some, the ad does not resonate. They feel the ad is in poor taste (i.e. give someone a Pepsi and all will be right in the world) and find it confusing; unclear what the main message was. “This ad makes me angry. A white woman coming in and offering a Pepsi to riot police solves the riot while people are hurt and even killed at riots all over the world. Racial injustice is not a sales tactic.” - Simone
  29. 29. A GOOD CAMPAIGN ALWAYS’ LIKE A GIRL Always’ ‘Like A Girl’ campaign received a positive response from Edgers because they recognize the issue and the message resonates with them. • It showcases the unconscious biases of older generations by having young people speak out about female stereotypes • Edgers can not only relate to the issue of sexism but are proud that their generation embodies the belief that women are equals • The edgy ‘reveal’ of the ad, rooted in honesty and human truth, connects easily with the Edger aesthetic “When I was a kid, I couldn’t play with the boys. And I was like… no, I want to play hockey, soccer. Always shows that when you aren’t respecting a girl, it DOES hurt - the younger generation is showing that we can change society’s views.” - Marie POLITICS AND BRANDS
  30. 30. AN EXCEPTIONAL CAMPAIGN MOTHER LEIOMY FOR NIKE This Nike campaign featuring Leiomy Maldando has just the right amount of everything according to Edgers. • It connects with Edger core values and with several political issues close to Edgers’ hearts (racism, LGBTQ rights) • It is told through a first person narrative that feels genuine, inspiring, and relatable • It features a celebrity who is famous and revered in a fringe culture • The raw grittiness of the spot gives a sense of realism and honesty that Edgers appreciate from a big brand, while its edgy quality is something they expect from Nike “The main message I took away is: support each other. The ad made me feel empowered. It is an issue that connects with me because as a woman of colour, I am part of two minority groups.” - Guila POLITICS AND BRANDS
  32. 32. COVERGIRL HAS FIRST BOY ON COVER Breaking gender norms with their first “CoverBoy” was a bold move that won CoverGirl some serious cred with Edgers and paved the way for other make-up brands to follow suit. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BRANDS? FINDINGS • Segmentation based on traditional demographics (age, gender, income bracket) is old news • Edgers embrace the fluidity and abandon the limitations of singular identity IMPLICATION • Screeners and specs need to be adjusted to reflect the Edger point of view • Everything from models to products featured in a campaign needs to be re-aligned, through a more inclusive lens THE DEATH OF DEMOS
  33. 33. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BRANDS? IKEA’S “WONDERFUL WORLD” CAMPAIGN While lightly touching on social issues Edgers care about, the campaign really speaks to their core values of unity, compassion, diversity and realism, presenting Ikea as a ‘good brand.’ FINDINGS • Edgers believe it’s not just about signalling you care about the ‘big social issues,’ it’s about living those more intimate core values in everyday life, and being a good person IMPLICATION • Brands need to connect with Edgers by aligning with their core values of Unity, Compassion, Diversity and Realism, rather than addressing specific social issues IT’S NOT COOL TO CARE IT’S COOL TO BE A GOOD PERSON
  34. 34. RED ROSE - BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER ONE CUP AT A TIME Focussing on an Edger social issue (LGBTQ) makes the ad more relatable. But important to remember: always gut check that the product connects with the issue or a campaign can look forced. KEEP IT CLOSE TO HOME WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BRANDS? FINDINGS • Gen Edge can relate more easily to issues that they see happening in their immediate world because… • Big social issues are kind of scary and they lack age, experience, facts to deal with ‘big issues’ • Global issues feel far away, distant, abstract • Politics around big social issues are confining, narrow, exclusionary • Social media trolling has made them cautious to voice an opinion IMPLICATION • To drive brand relevance, brands need to connect with an issue Edgers care about and can personally relate to in their everyday life, i.e. Sexism, Racism, LGBTQ, Animal Rights, the Environment. • Brands need to move to support local initiatives or give Edgers the resources they need to make a difference in schools and communities
  35. 35. When an influencer reaches out and shares from a genuine place of personal experience, the campaign or brand ends feels the benefit of that honesty— otherwise Edgers can be so skeptical they tune it out. DEMI LOVATO EDGYEDGYEDGY WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BRANDS? FINDINGS • Edgers have grown up with a lot of upheaval – political, economic, family • Healthy distrust and skepticism of authority (and brands) make them critically minded and wary of bullshit • Edgers are well, edgy, so brands need to come across that way IMPLICATION • Brands need to reflect the realities of an Edger’s day-to-day world without coming across as as too utopian or idealistic • Brands need to utilize the power of influence - use influencers as a gateway into their world, have the influencer tap into a brand’s philosophy and the shared values they have with Edgers • Brands need to appear credible by connecting with established organizations that deals with socials issues so that communications are factual MAKE IT EDGY
  36. 36. This campaign evolved from just creating awareness around child labour, to a more actionable end goal: the birth of Me to We Day, an action-oriented student led day of awareness building. ME TO WE WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR BRANDS? FINDINGS • Gen Edgers are pragmatic realists that seek usefulness • They are self-reliant, savvy and personally responsible • Dreams are great, but taking action is the Edger way IMPLICATION • Brands have to step up and take action (even something as simple as donation matching on product purchase) • Edgers are not as interested in brands that just help them showcase their concern • Brands need to only get involved when it makes sense to in relation with their brand BE THE CHANGE
  37. 37. THANK YOU
  38. 38. V A N C O U V E R | N E W Y O R K | L O N D O N | T O R O N T O | C H I C A G O | M U M B A I W W W . T H E S O U N D H Q . C O M