Social Activism & Teens
And Why It’s More Important than Ever 

In 2015, we first studied teens’ views on cause marketing and the role it plays in communicating with young consumers. We revisited the topic again in 2018 to compare the results. With the recent and dramatic shift in everyday life – and the need that brands will have to re-engage teens in the coming months – we have looked at the role of teen activism once again. We think cause marketing may be an important consideration for the remainder of 2020 and beyond.


Top 5 Concerns of Today’s Teens

Ranked in order, the top 5 concerns of teens have shifted significantly over the last two years, with mental health topping the list in 2020, followed by disease and famine (neither of which were noted as teen concerns in our previous studies.) These results are unsurprising, with as many as 1 in 5 young people suffering from mental illness even before enduring the social isolation and changes brought on by COVID-19. From a cause marketing perspective, companies like NBCUniversal, Adobe, and Google have been ahead of the curve in their recognition of the importance of mental health to teens – and it’s now more likely that other brands will begin to support mental health causes.

1. Mental Health

2. Disease & Famine

3. The Environment

4. Jobs & Unemployment

5. Education

By comparison, the Top 5 Key Concerns of Teens in 2018 were 1. Education, 2. Jobs & Unemployment, 3. Prejudice & Racism, 4. The Environment, and 5. Terrorism.


How Teens Are Taking Action

When it comes to activism, teens in 2020 are focused on educating their friends and family – a decidedly less assertive type of action than in previous studies. By comparison, in 2018, more than a quarter of respondents said they had “attended protests or rallies” or “boycotted a company” in the previous year.

  • 32% Recently educated family or friends about a cause

  • 24% Recycle regularly or take other action to live more sustainably

  • 20% Regularly donate or volunteer time to a cause

  • 4% Have boycotted a company


Teens Say Companies Have a Role in Solving Social Issues

Teens’ views have shifted on who has an obligation to solve social issues. Teens feel that individuals (51%) and the government (39%) have the primary responsibility. While less than 10% of teens say corporations should play a role in solving social issues, 77% of teens say they are more likely to purchase the products of the companies that do.

When it comes to the type of corporate social activism, 85% of teens expect brands to donate money to a cause and communicate their support in their marketing and advertising campaigns.


Brands Whose Cause Marketing Efforts Resonate Most with Teens

In past studies, brands whose cause marketing efforts most resonated with teens included Ben & Jerry’s, Walmart, McDonalds, Chili’s Bar & Grill, Microsoft and the NFL. In 2020, three brands whose cause marketing efforts are getting teens’ attention include:


  • Tom’s Shoes, a company whose entire business model represents cause marketing, pioneering the “one for one” giving model in their ongoing support for children’s health, continues to broaden their efforts to include causes like sight, water, homelessness, mental health, equality, ending gun violence and more



  • Starbucks, a brand known for their inclusive, personable and communal nature, continues to win teens over with their cause marketing initiatives, from donating proceeds to support non-profits, including $3 million to COVID-19 relief efforts, to their commitment to sustainability, completely eliminating plastic straws globally in 2020 by launching innovative strawless lids

For more information about teen-centric cause marketing strategy and best practices, please contact us.