Cone and AMP Insights surveyed 1,800 "millennials" (aka Generation Y) between the ages of 13 and 25 to represent a demographic born between 1979 and 2001 and estimated to be 78 million-strong and incredibly diverse -- one third is non-Caucasian.
In the survey, 61% agreed they are personally responsible for making a difference in the world, but even more, 78%, think companies have a responsibility to join them in this effort. When a company has a deep commitment to a cause, 75% said they are more likely to pay attention to its messages. Nearly 90% stated they are "likely" or "very likely" to switch from one brand to another that has a strong association with a good cause.
Other statistics that should make marketers pay attention: 69% of respondents consider a company's social and/or environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, and 66% will take the same factors into consideration when making recommendations to friends. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed think companies are not doing enough to support causes they care about.
So what can marketers gather from all these numbers?
To begin with, the odd dime donated on every purchase is just not going to cut it. As Anastasia Toomey, VP-consumer insights at AMP Insights, put it: "Everybody's saying 'OK, I'll donate 10 cents to X,' but that's not a cause program. It has to be something that's very ingrained in who your brand is; it has to be believable. An 18-year-old sees through it. They know when companies do it just to make them buy stuff. It has to be long term. It can't be just in and out with your spring line."
The big surprise
The big surprise in the survey for both Ms. Toomey and Ms. DaSilva was that, while teens and young adults are passionate about supporting causes with their purchases, they did not feel their actions had much impact.
"Companies are doing cause programs, but unless they are loudly communicating back what's happening, the kid doesn't feel an attachment," Ms. Toomey said. "Young people are looking for the benefit back to them and the benefit for them is that they made a difference and know it." But she said there's "a missing communication between the company and the young person. You can do it big and say 'All of you kids did X' or you can do it smaller and do a postcard: 'Thank you, here's what your donation or your time has helped us accomplish.' There's a wide range of personalizing, but it's just not happening."
"This generation is used to instant gratification, and if you want to keep them as ambassadors of your brand and really harness their energy, they need to be communicated to often," Ms. DaSilva said. The survey even looked into how millennials want that communication to happen; some 64% said that they want to hear about a company's practices through TV, followed closely by 62% wanting to hear the good news via the internet.
Not just any cause
Whether marketers are looking to align themselves with a cause or have already done so and just need to start shouting it from the rooftops, they should know which causes millennials care about. Almost half of those surveyed said education is a top issue that companies should support, followed by the environment, poverty and then health and disease.
Cone cited shoe marketer Aldo's year-old "Aldo Fights AIDS Campaign" and Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" as examples of companies that have approached youth cause-marketing effectively. Ms. DaSilva distilled the traits that made Aldo's campaign a success with youths into guidelines for others to consider.
"Have a long-term commitment to relevant social issues," she said. "Programs should include grant-making; to have it be a credible program you need to have a significant contribution to whatever cause you are trying to impact."
Moreover, she advises to "engage millennials in multiple ways: through product tie-ins, through viral e-mail, through engagement of other relevant media personalities, entertainment folks and other celebrities. Multifaceted programs that are substantive in terms of how [a company] is supporting the issue and substantive in terms of how [the company] is talking about what they are doing are how they are going to engage this generation."