Written by Emily Pagano
Public Relations Executive @ MOJO Ad

In today’s political climate, marketers must walk a fine line. This is particularly true when your target market is an elusive group: 18- to 24-year-olds. It may seem as though marketers are one poorly-placed Pepsi can away from a Twitter storm, unfriendly SNL skit and eternal shame. But are college-aged consumers really more likely to penalize brands for unintentionally offending someone?

As a college student, much of my development has occurred in a tense political climate inside and outside the classroom. I lived 20 minutes away from Ferguson, Missouri, the day protests broke out over the death of Michael Brown in 2014. Over Thanksgiving dinner in 2015, I was interrogated about the Concerned Student 1950 protests on my school’s campus at the University of Missouri. I’ve seen my peers live-tweet while getting pepper sprayed. Are all 18-to 24-year-olds destined to be a valiantly vocal, protesting bunch? According to our research, this isn’t the case.


At our agency, MOJO Ad, we call 18- to 24-year-olds the Youth and Young Adult (YAYA) market and see them as a life stage rather than a generation. As YAYA consumers are currently part Millennial, part Generation Z, there’s a lack of research for advertisers and marketers who want to target these college-aged consumers, which is why we conduct our yearly State of the YAYA national survey. Here’s what we believe marketers should know about us, and how they can avoid the mistakes that earn them a spot in the Twitter Hall of Shame:

  1. We think before we speak.

Just as brands worry about unintentionally offending someone, the YAYA consumer does as well. This year, we found that roughly half (53 percent) of YAYA consumers are concerned about inadvertently offending somebody. This sentiment reaches across political divides, as 37 percent of us identify our political affiliation as neutral, 43 percent to some extent Democrat, and 20 percent to some extent Republican.

  1. We’re divided on attending Politically Correct University.

This leads to an interesting tension, as our research indicates that half of YAYA consumers agree that there’s too much political correctness on college campuses. However, our tolerance lessens for certain microaggressions, as 69 percent of students believe campuses should have the ability to restrict slurs and 63 percent believe ethnically stereotypical costumes should be restricted, according to Gallup.

  1. We’re likely to boycott brands that don’t share our beliefs.

According to our research, 54 percent of YAYA consumers agree they would not purchase products or services from companies whose social and/or political views don’t align with their own. However, this number is lower than that of millennials, of which Edelman found 66 percent make purchasing decisions based on brand beliefs.

  1. We’re skeptical of your stance on social issues…

A majority (60 percent) of YAYA consumers agree with the statement: “Brands pretend to care about social issues so that I will buy from them.” This is particularly true when a brand’s social stance doesn’t ring true for their product and mission. If your senior leadership team consists of 12 men and 2 women, perhaps gender equality isn’t your niche.

  1. but we still want you to take one.

Nevertheless, a majority (60 percent) of YAYA consumers claim they like when brands take a stand on social issues. If your cause is authentic, reflects your brand’s internal values, and fits seamlessly with your product or service, prepare to be rewarded.

Regardless of your target demographic, marketers should carefully evaluate whether social issues present an opportunity to demonstrate their company’s values. But if your consumers are college students, make sure you’re basing your decisions off holistic research that encapsulates this entire life stage. We’ll thank you for it.

Learn more about YAYA consumers, MOJO Ad and the 2018 State of the YAYA webcast here.