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A major soft drink company wanted to bet big on their ready-to-drink iced tea brand in 2020, starting with a new campaign. The company desired this campaign to be based around a social cause or issue, but first needed to understand which social cause(s) Gen Z consumers value most. Concurrently, they also needed to gain knowledge of the territories in which their iced tea brand has permission to play.

Additionally, they wanted to uncover what brands in other industries successfully contribute to the cultural moments or value territories that are most important to Gen Z consumers. And, it was vital to understand why some brands are successful at creating campaigns that address social issues, while other brands are not. 

The C+R research team developed an online qualitative approach to address these specific objectives with the goal of uncovering deep consumer insights & opportunity areas for the iced tea brand that best aligned with Gen Z consumers’ values.
 

Problem

A soft drink company needed to understand what social causes were most important to Gen Z consumers and with which cause(s) their iced tea brand could best align. 

In addition, the company wanted to understand what brands have been successful in addressing cultural moments or value territories that are important to Gen Z consumers, and the drivers behind such successes. Similarly, the team hoped to uncover examples of brands that have missed the mark with Gen Z, with the goal of avoiding potential pitfalls. The company feared potential backlash if they chose a cause that was perceived as a poor fit, as they were aware of failed brand activism in other industries due to disingenuous alignment with social issues.

The goal of the project was to equip the client with the necessary information to successfully develop creative activation ideas and execution for the iced tea brand’s new campaign.
 

Result

C+R has a wealth of existing institutional knowledge about Gen Z and what has shaped them as consumers.  In addition, previous ethnographic research yielded key territories that young consumers value. Building upon this foundation, the online qualitative phase gauged which territories were valued most by Gen Z and helped to prioritize them for key sub-segments of the shopper base.

Regarding brand involvement in social issues, the research team discovered that brands resonate most with consumers when they “walk the walk” and are perceived as genuine and caring. The research showed that a brand’s actions speak louder than words, specifically regarding time, effort, and/or monetary donations.  Additionally, it was found that Gen Z consumers desire these actions to be part of a brand’s identity; if these actions are only employed as a one-time initiative, consumers could perceive this as a publicity stunt and grow cynical towards the brand and its intentions. 

Another key finding was that brands that were perceived by Gen Z consumers to be authentic and sincere had greater permission to speak on social issues; brands that are consistent in their contributions and messaging on specific social issues build credible reputations with Gen Z consumers.

Additionally, it was found that the perception of lost profits, sacrifice, or working for the greater good of society greatly contributes to a brand’s authentic feel.  In a similar vein, brands that risk alienating a segment of consumers to do what is right can help confirm a brand’s sincerity and cement its reputation as a brand that sticks to its values. Many Gen Z consumers admire this and look to support brands that take a proactive stance rather than trying to pander to everyone. 

Furthermore, the research showed that brands that lack understanding, oversimplify solutions to complex issues, or overcorrect for past mistakes feel disingenuous. Gen Z consumers were quick to point out numerous examples of brands who have failed to make sincere efforts to help address specific social issues. These examples included brands that attempted to profit off serious issues, contradicted past stances on issues, or were perceived as doing the bare minimum to appease the public. 

Another major finding was Gen Z’s positive perception of the company’s iced tea brand; most consider it a fun, creative, and caring brand that consistently promotes positive messages. Furthermore, Gen Z consumers associate the brand with positive traits like peace and kindness.

Due to these perceptions, Gen Z consumers feel the brand has permission to play in a number of social territories that promote human rights and taking care of one another. Consumers consider alignment with any of these causes to be genuine, as these issues fit with the established brand identity and align with the brand’s past messaging campaigns. 
 

Solution

C+R created an online discussion board of teens and young adults, utilizing a variety of text-, photo-, and video-based activities.  The experience for respondents felt much like a social media engagement, with which they are familiar and comfortable, in contrast to some other research approaches.

Based on the findings and recommendations, the client was able to confirm the importance of dedicating genuine time, effort, and money to social issues year-round to consistently build social activism into the brand’s identity. Also, they were able to narrow down which social issues their Gen Z consumers care about most, and more importantly, in which areas their iced tea brand’s involvement is deemed appropriate.

As a result of this research, the client discovered that the iced tea brand already had a good reputation to build from and didn’t need to start from scratch; they were able to use the research findings to build upon the current brand equity and previous messaging to help develop creative activation ideas and execution for the brand’s new campaign.