Gen Z is excited to shift the conversations that brands, advertisers, and marketers are having about how to better connect with the next generation of American—and global—consumers. Gen Zers want to see themselves, their interests/values, and identities reflected in advertising and media.
By A. Anthony, Ph.D., Cultural Insights Strategist at Horowitz Research
As such, it is critical that brands take the lead from Gen Z consumers when it comes to their approach to gender and sexuality in creative and messaging. Increasingly, younger consumers are rejecting traditional notions of identity such as binary approaches to both gender and sexuality. They have embraced a more open approach to identity and expression that accepts the notion that gender and sexuality exist on a fluid spectrum.
For example, in Horowitz Research’s recent study, FOCUS Generation Next 2022, a full third (34%) of Gen Zers agrees with the statement “Gender is fluid, it’s not just ‘male’ or ‘female’”— the same percentage as those who agreed with the opposing statement that “Gender is binary; you are either a male or a female” (35%). The remaining third were undecided.
This open approach to gender identity goes hand in hand with their generous support of the LGBTQIA+ community. In the same Horowitz study, the majority (57%) of Gen Zers agreed with the statement, “I do not have a problem with homosexuality or queerness,” while 17% felt that “Homosexuality or queerness is wrong,” with the remaining 26% undecided. This acceptance rises to a full 7 in 10 Gen Zers who are aligned with liberal politics.
Notably—and an important harbinger of generational change— these more expansive views of gender and sexuality are not limited to Gen Zers who are aligned with liberal politics. Among politically conservative Gen Zers, 41% agree that “I do not have a problem with homosexuality or queerness,” compared to 31% who believe homosexuality or queerness is wrong. And, while about half (48%) of conservative Gen Zers agree that “Gender is binary; you are either a male or a female,” one in four (24%) agree that gender is fluid.
Given these seismic cultural shifts when it comes to gender and sexual identity, how can brands show that they “get it” as Generation Next continues to impress its values and worldviews on the general market?
The work of allyship must be in tune with current shifts in identity and values. This allyship should reflect the ways in that contemporary generations live and consume social/media as a reflection of their real everyday lives. Being equitable and inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people, communities, and experiences is one way that brands can send the “right” signal that we are on the leading edge of these cultural changes.
And some brands are already paving the way. In another recent Horowitz study of consumers 18+, State of Consumer Engagement 2022, half (50%) of survey respondents noted an increase in both ads featuring LGBTQIA+ people and communities and brands going out of their way to market and advertise to the LGBTQIA+ community. This is important because media and advertising helps drive acceptance: Four in 10 (40%) of consumers overall— and 51% of 18-34 year-olds— say that seeing LGBTQIA+ people on TV, in ads, and other entertainment content has helped them better understand current conversations around gender and sexuality.
It is also important for brands to acknowledge that openness to diverse gender identities and sexualities is not limited to Gen Z, and simply putting LGBTQIA+ people in ads isn’t the only thing brands should do to show their alignment. In State of Consumer Engagement 2022, four in 10 (41%) consumers overall—and 47% of respondents ages 18-34— say that a company’s public support of LGBTQIA+ rights positively affects their decision to buy from that company.
As we start the new year, this is a great time for brands, advertisers, and marketers to acknowledge this rapidly evolving landscape when it comes to identity, expression, and representation. We encourage brands to reach Generation Next where they are, acknowledge these young people’s pivotal impact on cultural and social norms and become allies and agents of positive change and acceptance.
A. Anthony, Ph.D., is a Cultural Insights Strategist at Horowitz Research. They are a qualitative researcher and a community educator with a Ph.D. in American Studies. Their work focuses on uplifting and documenting the everyday lives of under-represented, under-resourced, and hyper-stigmatized communities in the urban United States.
ABOUT HOROWITZ RESEARCH
Horowitz Research is a leading provider of consumer market research specializing in consumers and their relationships to media, content, and technology with a particular expertise in cultural insights among America’s Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQIA+, Gen Z and Gen Alpha audiences. The company offers a full suite of à la carte syndicated reports as well as custom quantitative and qualitative consumer research for companies ranging from small start-ups to Fortune 500.