Cause-Related Marketing and the Millennial Mindset

Millennials have surpassed simply wanting help in supporting causes to demanding that others, especially companies, do their part.

activism millennials

Millennials consider themselves civic-minded and active participants in today’s world, and that it’s up to them to assume the responsibility of making a lasting, positive impact on the future. Millennials have surpassed simply wanting help in supporting causes and are starting to demand that others, especially companies, do their part.

According to IPG Media Lab, one of five key millennial behaviors coming out of CES 2014 is: “Millennials look to rework – not reject – the rules and status quo in order to put their mark on the world.” Giving them the power to co-create with brands and products, in their own way, builds ongoing trusting relationships.

“As a millennial, I can attest to this – I have bought multiple pairs of TOMS shoes at a premium price because for each pair I buy, the company donates a new pair to a child in need. If this wasn’t TOMS’ policy, I would think twice before buying them,” wrote Nicole Stavola for

Stavola recommends brands “give back with passion,” which entails carefully defining who you are and what you deliver. “If customers’ perceptions and experiences don’t reflect your claims, your authenticity flounders.”

  • Show that you care by demonstrating the difference your organization is making.
  • Consider an authentic investment in a relevant cause that engages and excites millennials.

How brands can tune into the pro-social mindset of millennials

Unlike previous generations, the millennial definition of community extends beyond local neighborhoods and schools to a broader group that is not defined by location, but by mindset. Millennial interests go beyond specific causes; they are interested in the world on a broad scale, and expect companies to support major world issues.

What is motivating millennials to initially get and then stay involved is less important than the fact that they are engaging in these activities and feel responsible to make an impact; therefore, millennials are the very definition of pro-social.

The “Cone Millennial Cause” study found that just over 80 percent of survey respondents volunteer (either weekly, monthly or once or twice a year). As a result of this involvement, millennials possess a strong desire to positively affect change. Sixty-one percent are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference.

While millennials tend to volunteer for environmental and social causes, they feel as though there is something important and vital missing from their efforts. As a generation that expects immediate gratification and feedback, millennials need to learn about and/or see an immediate benefit from their actions to feel that they are making a difference.

millennial in-post image


The 2012 Kony debacle made many cause-conscious millennials think twice about what giving means beyond slactivism — posting updates, sharing and signing online petitions without being truly dedicated to making change happen or, as Clay Shirky characterizes it, “ridiculously easy group forming.”

Even so, the slactivists behind the viral video Kony 2012 had “achieved more with their 30-minute video than battalions of diplomats, NGO workers and journalists have since the conflict began 26 years ago,” wrote Mathew Green for the Financial Times. A poll suggested that more than half of young adult Americans heard about Kony 2012 in the days following the video’s release.

Kony 2012 also prompted millennials to consider what is required of them to gain a deeper understanding of the issues. Invisible Children, the makers of the viral video, were criticized on several fronts and it seemed clear that while bringing Joseph Kony to justice would be commendable, it was implausible his capture would do much to bring stability to conflict-ridden East Africa.

Millennial Spending Power

Millennials have been described as the ultimate consumers, accounting for approximately 30 percent of the population and spending an estimated $200 billion annually.  They have money and are willing to spend it. While this power in and of itself is not that different from past generations, what is different is that millennials believe they can help change the world for the better through their spending habits.

Recommended articles