The Crunch: Businesses are struggling to reach 18- to 25-year-olds who tune out traditional marketing. But studies show that younger consumers prefer brands that are committed to social causes. DoSomething.org — a nonprofit organization that encourages simple, impactful actions through Cause Campaigns — helps brands authentically connect with 5.5 million teens and young adults around issues that reflect their core values. Partnership with DoSomething.org campaigns enables companies such as Johnson & Johnson, 3M, and H&M to accomplish their brand goals while engaging — and mobilizing — the world’s future consumers and leaders.
One of the biggest challenges for brands today is connecting with young consumers and employees. The 18- to 25-year-old demographic is digitally inundated, averse to typical marketing, and looks for authentic approaches and personalized connections.
Brands are having success deploying young brand ambassadors and experiential product activations in stores, but the next generation of consumers is also looking for brands with a visible commitment to social causes.
That trend is supported by feedback from the 5.5 million teen and young adult members of DoSomething.org. “When we survey Generation Z, 73% say they’re more likely to buy something when they know the brand gives back socially. Only 5% go searching for that information, so if you don’t make it obvious, they aren’t going to know,” said Samra Brouk, Director of Business Development at DoSomething.org.
Many companies that publicly prioritize their social impact were founded on this premise. But a growing number of other brands are realizing the importance of social involvement to brand image, Samra said. Those businesses want to avoid being overlooked by Generation Z and seek to improve their bottom line while still making a positive impact on society.
At the same time, brands must be authentic in the way they demonstrate their values — which is why sponsoring a DoSomething.org campaign can be helpful.
Johnson & Johnson is a brand name synonymous with baby products, but the company wanted to support a campaign championing healthcare disparities, in which racial equality plays a key role. “This was an issue they wanted to get involved with, and they were looking for an authentic way to enter that conversation,” Samra said.
The DoSomething.org Campaign Team identified a need that correlated to the company’s image and designed a campaign with multiple levels of impact. Give a Spit About Cancer — a drive to motivate 18- to 25-year-olds to sign up with the Be the Match bone marrow registry — brought the topic of health and saving lives to the forefront. And, to initiate a conversation about racial inequality, the campaign highlighted some statistics.
“A majority of people who need to get a bone marrow donation have to look outside their family. The average white American has a 97% chance of getting a match, but this drops to 66% for other ethnicities,” Samra said. “When we found this statistic, it became something very interesting and complex that spoke to the direction they wanted their brand to go.”
Over two months, the campaign drove nearly 3,000 bone marrow registrations and engaged another 90,000 young people in the cause.
The Johnson & Johnson story shows how sponsoring a DoSomething.org campaign can help brands create a connection with the next generation and express their core values in a way that drives both social change and brand awareness.
“Our unique platform offers brands the ability to do something different than cause marketing and enables them to point to the impact they’ve created through their efforts, rather than just the number of impressions,” Samra said.
Helping Young People Drive Change Through Achievable Action
DoSomething.org is a nonprofit organization founded by Andrew Shue and Michael Sanchez in 1993 with the mission of equipping young people to be active leaders in their communities — and showing them it can be fun. “Everything we do is based on trying to drive change in young people’s attitudes and actions,” Samra said.
The organization focuses on teens and young adults ages 13 to 25, who are still forming their identities, passions, and belief structures. Those qualities will impact the kinds of consumers, employees, and leaders they’ll become.
Teens see things in their communities that they want to change, but many feel powerless. Young people want to make a difference, they just need to know how,” Samra said. “Our job is to give them the resources and the tools they need to take those actions.”
Young people can visit DoSomething.org to view popular campaigns or search the organization’s full list of Cause Campaigns — by category, time commitment or type of action — and easily join in. Today, over 5.5 million members from the US and 131 countries across the globe are participating in the DoSomething.org movement.
All campaigns involve actions teens can accomplish on their own. “A Cause Campaign is a simple call to action that impacts a specific cause and makes a change in the person doing it. No campaign we create will ever require adults, vehicles, or money. We believe that teens have the tools within themselves to drive change,” Samra said.
Teens for Jeans — a campaign that asks teens to run a jeans drive in their school or community and donate them to a local homeless shelter — shows how viral Cause Campaigns can be. In one year, Teens for Jeans participants donated over 1 million pairs of jeans — enough to clothe more than half the homeless youth in the US.
When teens participate in a campaign, they’re encouraged to share it with their friends and report back to DoSomething.org staff with a photo and caption about their experience. This feedback channel is one way the research and campaign development team gathers ideas for new Cause Campaigns.
The campaign team also looks to social media conversations, data from member surveys, and interaction with causes listed on the site. “If we think a cause might interest a young person, we’ll put it on our website, even if we’re not partnering with someone on it or marketing it. That allows us to see the organic traffic it gets,” Samra said.
A cause’s candidacy isn’t driven by how many members support it — but how they’re asked to respond to it. “When we work with brands, they often ask us what’s the most important cause for young people. We see that young people care about everything. What matters is how you’re framing it and it has to be accessible and relevant to this audience,” Samra said.
Building Awareness of Causes & Crafting Impactful Campaigns
DoSomething.org engages the next generation to drive change — which is also what brands need for business success. “Most brands realize that engaging in social change is essential in reaching a younger audience,” Samra said. “Through our model, we can offer brands unique relationships with young people via impactful social change actions.”
DoSomething.org partners with brands that demonstrate a commitment to impact, and brands regularly approach the organization for their expertise. “It’s either executives fulfilling corporate responsibility or marketers who want to invest in something that generates both impressions and offline action,” Samra said.
Brands can get involved with DoSomething.org by making donations or sponsoring joint campaigns in which they tap into the organization’s resources. “They get access to a new audience through a trusted partner, which is easier than doing it as a standalone brand,” Samra said. “We use marketing and media to share their message and get as many people as possible to take action.”
3M came to DoSomething.org with the goal of generating interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related careers and create more diversity in the growing fields. DoSomething.org worked with 3M scientists to design Science Sleuth — a text-message campaign based on a choose-your-own-adventure high school mystery.
“Every clue used STEM principles,” Samra said. “When you finished and shared the game with a friend, it unlocked a donation to help classrooms pay for STEM products. It introduced STEM to new people and was both engaging and social — but also had an impact.”
More than 190,000 young people played Science Sleuth over three years, and donations totaling $130,000 put STEM equipment in over 3,000 classrooms.
Brands have also looked to DoSomething.org to build participation in their own cause campaigns. H&M was the first fast fashion company to start a clothes recycling campaign, but, in 2013, US store participation lagged behind global participation.
“We created a national campaign called Comeback Clothes. It included celebrity involvement, in-store and college activations, a marketing strategy aligned with H&M, and an employee engagement program. Their employees overlap with our demographic, so we knew how to mobilize them,” Samra said.
Comeback Clothes got H&M employees involved with the campaign through fun themes and competitions. “In those eight weeks, H&M collected 340,000 pounds of clothes — three times what they collected in the previous year,” Samra said. H&M’s US clothing recycle program has kept its momentum.
These stories demonstrate the need for brands to think creatively about how to start conversations with the youngest generation, Samra noted. By sponsoring a Cause Campaign, brands gain access to a team that helps them learn how, when, and where to engage young people around social issues that support their core values.
Looking for Ways to Engage & Give a Voice to the Next Generation
DoSomething.org empowers teens and young adults with greater awareness of the simple things they can do to make a difference. The organization’s next focus is showing teens how to make their voices heard by taking civic actions.
“When we ask our members, 70% still feel like no one is listening,” Samra said. “Voting is one way that every young person can be heard.”
Businesses with young employees are poised to help. “We’ve talked to companies that have prioritized these issues for their employees, and now we’re looking for brands that show they care about giving young people a voice and equipping them to change their world,” Samra said.
Listening to young people and giving them a voice helps them become better members and leaders in society — and it’s another way brands can build awareness and loyalty.
Partnership with DoSomething.org on a Cause Campaign is an opportunity for brands to partner with the next generation and take action — whether donating clothes, equipping classrooms for STEM, or getting friends to sign up for a bone marrow registry. Those actions have impact on personal, societal, brand, and business levels.
“We should think about the impact of every action. That comes back to our mission — getting young people to see the power they have in taking these actions and becoming more empathetic individuals,” Samra said. “Organizationally, we’re excited to find brands that care about young people as much as we do to help us to bring that to market in a big way.”