INTERVIEW: Laurie Coots on reaching an 'equal-opportunity blaming generation'

Laurie Coots, TBWA's worldwide chief marketing officer, explains how social activism is becoming the fashionable "new black" among the younger generation

Aug 30, 2012 12:42:00 PM | Article | Campaign APAC Team


Coots, who said she grew up during times when one had to be arrested to call one's self an activist, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that social activism is now less disparate from marketing because today's younger generation considers it a moral obligation of brands to contribute to not just the economic well-being but also the social welfare of the communities in which they operate.

Sprinkling the interview with information about her own passion for the environment—reclamation, revitalisation, reuse, repurposing, and recycling—Coots said a recent TBWA global study reveals which social issues young adults around the world care about and how that will inform clients’ CSR strategies going forward.

The study, Social Activism 2.0, included more than 2,000 young adults in equal samples of emerging and mature markets including the US, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, Spain, South Africa, China, India and the Philippines. The 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed comprised a balanced mix of males and females, workers and students.

The study revealed three segments of behaviour globally: 33 per cent are 'inactives', 11 per cent are 'slacktivists' and 56 per cent are 'activists'.

'Inactives' are spectators on the sidelines of their own world. 'Slacktivists', a group never seen before, are those who are heavily involved in learning about an issue and sharing information about it with friends. 'Activists' are by definition actively involved in donating time or money, or participating in a fundraiser, rally or demonstration.

Additionally, the study revealed the emergence of a behavioural cluster labeled as 'global protestors'. This group is more active and much louder than the others in commanding attention from companies and governments, which Coots coined as the "equal-opportunity blaming generation". About a quarter of them are in China, with 5 per cent located in India and 4 per cent in the Philippines.

"The more active young adults are, the more likely they are to hold governments, individuals and corporations accountable for their role in social issues," she elaborated. "Two out of three young adults think companies have a moral obligation to help solve social problems. These expectations are even higher in emerging economies such as China and India. However, this generation also believes companies should use their knowledge and material resources to help societies solve problems, so are quick to include them in the solution after casting blame."

Social inclusion is the new frontier of activism in China, Coots added. The top six causes in the mainland are quality education at 89.5 per cent, preserving the environment at 88.5 per cent, access to healthcare at 86.8 per cent, energy conservation at 86.3 per cent and a tie between eldercare and sweatshop conditions at 85 per cent.

The Chinese are more inclusive, and why they are so has to do with identify formation. Social causes are a part of their identity: 62 per cent in China ticked “it’s important to who I am” in the survey.

Worth noting in India are literacy concerns at 99 per cent, access to healthcare at 98 per cent, freedom of speech at 97 per cent, anti-female infanticide at 96 per cent, and access to education at 96 per cent. According to Coots, India has an uncommonly high incidence of issue importance, signaling strong social discontent.

In the Philippines, Coots discovered hunger, as a hard-nosed economic issue, to be the number-one social cause.

"This is a new generation that is likely to vote with their rand, yuan, rupees and pesos. This means that companies need to be very conscious of buying trends as an indicator of consumer sentiment," Coots said.

While stating the obvious—that the ubiquity, connectivity and instantaneousness of social networks and geo-based technologies have changed activism, Coots made some suggestions in the video interview about how organisations can interact with young adults and align their social concerns with their brand behaviour with cause-related marketing campaigns.

For instance, China is much more interested in joining a collective to maximise social impact. They want companies to commit marketing profit dollars to create a non-profit foundation or donate proceeds from purchases.

'The video interview is available on, where this article first appeared.'