Gen Z and Millennials are the most diverse generations to date, and as such, they expect brands to meet their standards of inclusive advertising (with inclusive products to match, of course). And advertising can obviously be a hot button issue for these gens—we can’t count the number of times bad or offensive ads have made them ready to cancel a brand. (In fact, our data shows 42% of young people agree they’ve stopped buying from a brand because of an advertisement they didn’t like.) But on the other hand, that means that good advertising that makes them feel seen, can show that a brand cares about all different kinds of people, and can be a way to win some youth affinity.
In YPulse’s Ad / Marketing Effectiveness report, we ask 13-39-year-olds all about what kind of brand advertising they’re open to seeing, and what a brand needs to do to make them think positively of it. We presented them with a series of marketing tactics and approaches, and asked respondents whether they feel more positively or negatively (or neither) about a brand that does them:
Featuring diverse models is a positive to the majority of young consumers
Featuring diverse models in an ad is the thing the most young consumers overall (64%) say would make them think positively of a brand. And it’s the thing the most Gen Z say they view as a positive for a brand, meaning it’s really just a first step when trying to appeal to these consumers. YPulse has said before that Gen Z is the “diversity tipping point”: the first gen to be more than half made up of people of color, and our data shows they’re more likely than Millennials to identify as LGBTQ+, so this gen has an expansive definition of diversity that is more than one token model. If brands want Gen Z to view them positively, as see them as inclusive and diverse, they’ll need to make real efforts to represent all kinds of people in their ads, but also follow through with internal diversity and support for progressive causes.
While diverse ads may no longer be sensational to young consumers as it’s what they’re expecting now, they’re quick to call out brands who do it wrong. Just last week, Levi’s caught backlash on social media for their announcement that they’d soon launch AI models to help them “continue on [their] journey for a more diverse and inclusive customer experience.” But young consumers made it clear that if the brand wants to show diverse people in their ads, they need to hire and give modeling opportunities to real people of diverse identities.
Young people want to see people with all different bodies in ads, too
Millennials are even more likely (68%) to say they think it’s positive when a brand features models with a range of body types in an ad—which is a facet of inclusivity they’re passionate about. Many brands have been making more of an effort to be inclusive of people with all different body types in their advertising. Intimates brands especially have come to make this a core pillar to their branding as young consumers called for it more and more: our new Millennials and Brands Special report shows brands like Savage X Fenty, Third Love, and Yitty score high amongst Millennials. All these brands have made size inclusivity a main feature of their brand and have been rewarded with Millennials’ (and Gen Z’s) affinity.
The majority of young consumers (61%) also say they would think positively of a brand who features models of all different abilities in their ads. For a long time, disabled people were nowhere to be seen in mainstream advertising, but young people have called that out, and brands have listened. But young people want to see disabled people featured in ads that are not solely focused on their abilities, like those for adaptive packaging for limited mobility. Now, some brands have listened and begun featuring models with disabilities as they would any model; years back, Aerie quietly added several models with range of disabilities to their advertising, showing they weren’t looking for the applause for a step young people see as necessary.
Gen Z has had a drop in positive perception of LGBTQ+ people in ads—reflecting the political landscape
It may be surprising that less than the majority of Gen Z say they think positively of brands featuring same sex couples and transgender models in ads, making them less likely to say so than Millennials. While the number of young consumers who think positively of these diversity efforts fluctuates each year, they are notably low in these categories, and it’s likely due to current political debates over LGBTQ+ issues. Young, impressionable Gen Z are seeing an outpouring of disapproval for learning about gender identities and sexualities, and now, not only has the number who see it as a positive for brands to feature LGBTQ+ people in ads decreased, but the number who view it as a negative has gone up +11pts since last year (19% to 30%).
But this certainly does not mean brands should take a step back from being inclusive of LGBTQ+ people or featuring them in advertisements, especially because more than two-thirds of LGBTQ+ young people still say they see these as positives for a brand. In fact, these young consumers need to see support from brands now more than ever, as the constant debate over their community is taking a toll on their mental health.
It’s important to make these efforts authentic and meaningful
Gen Z and Millennials can spot performative advertising a mile away, and they know which brands really follow through on their diversity and inclusion promises. When we ask young people what a brand needs to do to reflect diversity and be inclusive, featuring diverse models and actors in ads is their most popular answer. But it’s followed up by “Create products and services that cater to a diverse range of consumers” and “Have a diverse staff / hire diverse employees,” showing that young people want to see these efforts beyond the ads.
For young people of color, however, surface displays of diversity and inclusion are less likely to impress them—33% think brands should reflect diversity and inclusion by featuring diverse models and actors in advertising, compared to 39% White / non-Hispanic. This may be partly because diversity and inclusion seem like a buzzword and show only that a brand is putting on a good front in ad/marketing, and they expect more. See: Lizzo’s viral response to Victoria’s Secret’s rebooted fashion show. Instead, they’re more likely than White / non-Hispanic young people to say providing financial support to underrepresented/minority groups is something brands can do to reflect diversity and inclusion.