#DistantButTogether campaign created to get Gen Z talking about pandemic anxiety

Kieran Mathew, the 24-year-old founder and CEO of Gen Z marketing specialists Amplify, took to Instagram this week to share how he’s dealing with feelings of anxiety during an incredibly stressful time.

“When I experience these uncomfortable states, I recognize that they are not unnatural, especially right now,” he wrote. “I also actively work to greet those feelings with compassion and non-judgement, resistance does not help.”

His post kicked off a new campaign, #DistantButTogether, inspired by recent Amplify research examining how Gen Z is feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey of 357 consumers aged 16 to 24 covered a wide range of topics about the Gen Z cohort—from how they feel about distancing and how the government is handling the crisis, to their online shopping habits, app usage and where they are getting their news (see more below).

It also asked about their emotional wellbeing. “They were basically very anxious and quite depressed unfortunately,” said Mathew. Scores for moderate to high anxiety and depression were up 22% and 17% respectively.

While that wasn’t unexpected in the middle of an unprecedented global health and economic crisis, Mathew said the research uncovered something else. “We saw that they were generally less willing to share how they were feeling with their peers. As a result, we want to find a way to kind of start that dialogue, which is why we launched this campaign.”

#DistantButTogether asks young people to speak openly about how they are coping as a way of normalizing the conversation and encouraging others to share how they are feeling. It also offers personal tips and a list of resources to help them stay happy and healthy at home.

Amplify will make a small donation to CAMH foundation, and is asking some of its clients to contribute as well.

The campaign was also shaped by some of the other findings in the Amplify research.

For example, just over half of respondents said they are okay with advertising, but don’t want to be sold to, said Mathew. They want to know what brands are doing to look after employees and help their communities. “Their biggest concerns are family and friends,” he said.

More than half of respondents (55%) say that the crisis has motivated them to want to do more to help in their community, even if they are limited in what they can do right now.

“It just shows brands that they can market very effectively to these consumers by treating their people well and working to do some sort of cause-related initiative in the community,” said Mathew. “If they find ways to actually engage Gen Z in some of these initiatives, there’s a very high likelihood that some of these consumers will actually want to participate.”

That’s the simple logic behind #DistantButTogether: figure out how you can help, and how you can make it easy for young people to participate. “We believe that’s where brands are really going to thrive right now because [Gen Z consumers] are looking for ways to connect with their peers in a deeper way,” said Mathew.

He points to Canadian fashion retailer Aritzia as a good example from the pandemic. In early April, Aritzia said it would do “absolutely everything” not to lay off or furlough staff, and that “all proceeds during this time go directly to the Aritzia Community Relief Fund—100% of which will be distributed to our people.” The fund has raised more than $9 million for its employees.

“They had a very thoughtful response when it came to committing to paying their people during this time, as well as supporting their community,” said Mathew.

That’s the kind of initiative that Aritizia employees—many of whom would be considered Gen Z—want to share on social media, he said. “It led to an employee-driven campaign where they’re basically sharing what Aritizia outfits they’ve been wearing around the house and to do quarantine-related tasks,” he said. It’s the kind of campaign that engages young people to feel they are helping a brand that is helping its employees and the community.

“They actually are kind of marketing their products right now in a way that is tangible and that people will want to buy—products people are wearing around the house—but it only is working because they really started by adding value first and prioritizing their people,” said Mathew.

    Other findings from Amplify’s “Gen Z—Responding and Adapting to COVID-19”
  • 52% said they’re willing to be advertised to, but only 27% said they don’t want to see advertising;
  • Asked about their preferred sources for news, 73% of those 16 to 20, and 64% of those 21 to 24, indicated social media, while 48% listed TV;
  • Males seem to have increased their online shopping much more than females, with 33% of men saying they are spending more and 27% saying they are spending less, compared with just 26% of females are spending more while 43% are spending less;
  • Nationally, Facebook is the most popular app, used by 60% of respondents. It is followed by Instagram at 59%, YouTube at 48%, video conferencing apps at 46%, Snapchat at 44%, Twitter at 37%, Linkedin and TikTok at 34%.
David Brown