NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- This September, some 13.6 million college students with $237 billion in spending power will be making their way across campuses in the U.S., according to Alloy Media & Marketing. But marketers shouldn't expect to see any of that green unless they are willing to show some themselves.
According to Alloy's eighth annual College Explorer study, done in conjunction with Harris Interactive, a growing number of students -- 41%, up from 37% last year -- are looking to spend their money on socially responsible brands.
"That's not to say the students are more socially responsible themselves, but it is to say emphatically that today's college students would prefer to purchase from companies that are socially responsible," said Samantha Skey, exec VP-strategic marketing at Alloy.
Ms. Skey said you always have to take the feedback one gets in these surveys with a grain of salt, but the purchasing patterns of this group show a distinct relationship with the results. "[The findings] correlate to the brands that are doing well in terms of actual bottom-line sales with this audience. So it feels fairly accurate, at least in terms of buying behavior," she said.
The 1,554 18- to 30-year-olds taking part in the survey included undergraduate and graduate students. They determined a company's level of social responsibility using a number of activities including: donating money to a charity or cause; using eco-friendly or green business practices; employing fair labor practices; incorporating social message into advertising; and supporting diversity in the workplace.
Top socially responsible brands identified by students:
SHOES & APPAREL:
"Nike is perceived by many college students as a really positive community contributor," Ms. Skey said. "It is seen as an innovator, and innovation is adjacent to social responsibility for some. It's also seen as a strong supporter of urban communities."
Ms. Skey said while the company is also doing a lot in terms of sustainable manufacturing of its products, "I don't think all of that information is necessarily inside of [these results], but they clearly have a strong and emotional brand for young people."
Ms. Skey was a bit startled by this result. "I'm sort of surprised, frankly, that it was ahead of Honda, but that might be more related to marketing efforts. But Toyota deserves some props for focusing on their hybrid vehicles and promoting them so strongly. When we talk to kids on campus we hear a lot about Honda, but it's usually the two of them neck and neck," she said.
"Yoplait has been really consistent and consistency earns a lot of points," said Ms. Skey, citing the brand's breast-cancer fundraising campaign , "Save lids to save lives." Yoplait donates 10¢ to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for every yogurt lid that consumers mail back to them. "It was a campaign that ... was really baked into their ad messaging," she said. "And that's what's driving that [socially-responsible] perception."
Ms. Skey said the retail giant has been smart about making its socially responsible programs known to consumers at a time when it is not uncommon for many brands to keep their efforts under wraps.
" It has done a good job of positioning the brand as 'caring for all things' " and supporting a variety of causes while having nothing to do with a specific agenda, she said.
Because social responsibility has long been part of the brand's DNA, "this is one that has risen to the top without much of an ad campaign," Ms. Skey said. "Much of what they projected in their brand has to do with leaving a small footprint, respecting the environment and valuing natural products and resources. Their products are inherently connected to this philosophy."