The ‘Greta Effect’ and what it means for brands
It was hard to watch Greta Thunberg’s UN Climate Change Speech without getting goosebumps or, at least, feeling something. Her unique blend of emotion and fact creates a somewhat chilling effect, which at times, makes for uncomfortable listening. But whether you’re a die-hard Greta fan, or eye-rolling sceptic, not listening is increasingly becoming less of an option; her voice provokes emotion and action however you feel about her.
Greta currently has global talkability and ‘muse’ status for Gen Z tweens and teens. 7.3m followers on IG is not bad for a girl who quit school to hold up a sign. We believe the rise of her influence is extending beyond both environmental issues and in fact beyond Greta herself. By using her voice to demonstrate humanity and crush endless boundaries, she epitomizes a shift: it’s a flipped dynamic between adults and children served up with an undercurrent of ‘we can’t rely on adults to make the best choices for our future’. This is the memo today’s kids have received.
Greta has taught them that childhood status is irrelevant, by blowing experience and hierarchy out of the water with her passionate rallying cry for action. Does she have all the answers? No. Is she going to keep going until we get some? Yes. And to get there, she is demonstrating that change is coming from the youngest of the generational ranks and climbing upwards. It’s a movement about denouncing order, acting with purpose, being accountable, ripping up the rule book and making decisions with long term consequences. And it’s this effect we think Gen Z and beyond are going to expect to see more of from brands.
So let’s put the DNA of what makes Greta so appealing and unique under the lens, and consider what it could mean for brands looking to future proof or lean into cultural shifts amongst today’s youth:
Greta isn’t in this for status, accolades or even the experience (though no doubt she’ll be abundant in all). She is unwavering in her command and need for action. She’s talking and thinking about the long-term, and about collectiveness, and with that ushering in a reticence to the opposite; short-term & individual.
Opportunity: Talking in goals and acting on them is better than an expensive flash in the pan campaign. Rolling out longitudinal goals with a collective attitude and bringing people into that journey is compelling, motivating, and a viable route to loyalty.
Threat: A lot has already been said and done in the area of social purpose. Time is running out on dabbling in this space with no conclusive action. Details will not go unnoticed, progress will be expected to be seen and communicated. This is no longer a space to carefully dance around the political and nail the right ‘execution’. You’re either fully in or you’re not invited.
Spirit of Possibility
Despite the seriousness of her tone of voice and message, Greta does not linger only in the doom and gloom. She brings hope and light to a dark subject; her point of view is, it’s bad, but it can get good again. But this is not to be confused with passive optimism, she’s not ‘looking on the bright side’, but instilling a spirit of possibility via action at all levels. She does this pretty effortlessly because of her child-like state of mind which focusses on ideals not practical barriers.
Opportunity: The spirit of possibility is not an entirely new brand tone of voice, but is certainly one that could be revisited and updated through a Greta lens. Adopting a child-like point of view has new possibilities when considered in the context of the Greta effect and how it’s possible to turn optimism into inspired motivation.
Threat: Are you already an optimistic brand? A brand that looks on the bright side? You might want to watch out you don’t suddenly find yourself frivolous and becoming an ‘eye roll’ within the context of everything else going on around you. Context has always been everything, but now it’s a deal breaker.
Greta has no problem staring down Trump, presenting to intimidating committees and even opening herself up to online criticism and trolling. For a young, female child her actions could be seen at times as inappropriate, even dangerous. But she sees no boundaries and does not dwell here, often referring to her generation directly as ‘children’ talking about how they have been underestimated and will no longer be ignored.
Opportunity: The kids’ industry is built around more design restrictions than any other with age and gender frequently leading the brief. The shattering of boundaries opens up possibilities to innovate in new ways. In a world where kids and adults game online against each other, where kid-activists hold court with the government and where Millennials flock to follow Insta-grans, we no longer need to keep designing to such rigid demographic specifications. It is possible to hone in on shared beliefs, values and needs, whoever they belong to. The demographic shackles are coming off, freeing up innovation teams to blur boundaries in exciting new ways.
Threat: If you strongly represent a certain demographic, expect to be increasingly in the firing line for criticism for how you go about that. The hunt for authenticity and sniffing out what’s been misrepresented or assumed is only going to increase in intensity. People have never liked being put in boxes, but today they are shredding every box they find themselves put in.
Greta represents a generation with a high EQ and does not hold back with putting that on show. We’ve seen her cry, scream and let her emotions pour out of her in the most public of spaces. Some have said this is sign she’s been pushed too far. Perhaps. We think it’s a sign of Gen Z feminism, where there is no shame or need to hide feelings; they are intuitively felt, and they are relevant in the moment.
Opportunity: Emotional brands win, we all know the Apple rise to fame. But that’s no longer just about creating an aspiration wonderland for someone to buy into. Emotions are currency and there’s a broader spectrum to play with. The dynamic is open to be shifted. Brands usually aim to make consumers feel a certain way, but consumers equally need to show brands displaying emotional vulnerability and having a human reaction to the culture they are part of creating.
Threat: With increasing expectation on brands to choose a side and have a point of view, there is heightened risk of missing the mark. The need to please the middle and majority is getting harder and that could throw up some big decisions to make about commercial impact.
One of the unique aspects of what makes Greta Greta is her Autism. But this is almost a footnote in her story, the aha moment where she reveals her superpower, it’s not the defining thing about her or a ‘need to know’ advance warning before engaging with her. She truly embodies an intersectional identity; she’s a child, girl, has Asperger’s Syndrome, is Swedish, a daughter but none of those are her headline, they’re all a mix of who she is. This is the future and next level of representation.
Opportunity: Mental health is now a part of identity and that’s going to be interesting to play with in content, character design and representation of people in communications. We are moving well beyond a diversity ‘box ticking’ exercise into something much more nuanced that people want to see and experience, and that opens up a chance to close the loop on authentic storytelling, bringing intersectional identities into the spotlight.
Threat: The ‘back of house’ of businesses is increasingly becoming a more visible part of a brand’s identity. Working culture, diversity and hiring policies are becoming part of how people evaluate a brand’s ‘customer service’. Having a refreshing and radical approach to embracing all kinds of ideas and input from those who power the brand is going to require some fundamental cultural shifts.
Want a thinking partner to mull over how Greta-proof your brand is or could be? Get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +44 (0) 207 826 9903.