Want to Win Over Millennials and Gen Z? Vice’s New Study Says Brands Should Get Spiritual

The findings were revealed at the Cannes Lions festival

80% of those surveyed said they have a sense of spirituality and believe in some sort of cosmic power. Animation: Raquel Beauchamp; Sources: Getty Images
Headshot of Katie Richards

Religion is on the decline among young people—at least that’s what Vice and creative agency Virtue suggest in a new study, revealed today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

The study suggests that only 20 percent of millennials and Gen Z attend traditional, organized spaces for religion. There is, according to the study, another possible way for brands to find those connections they so desperately seek with young people.

“Millennials and Gen Z have all but rejected organized religion. They are extremely spiritual, but they have found a myriad of other ways to express and nurture that spirituality outside of religion,” Julie Arbit, vp of insight at Vice, said.

The answer isn’t necessarily to focus on what every brand seems to be focusing on these days, per the study—mainly politics and cultural moments (although there is nothing wrong with that). Instead the study suggests that brands should also think about incorporating a sense of spirituality into their marketing and overall brand ethos.

“At our creative agency, Virtue, we have always preached that brands should be virtuous—contributing to culture scenes and political discourses rather than interrupting them with ad messages,” explained Tom Punch, chief creative and commercial officer for Vice. “We now think brands should take a step further, thinking more broadly about what their role is in society and how they can truly be a force for good in people’s lives.”

According to the study, 80 percent of those surveyed said they have a sense of spirituality and believe in some sort of cosmic power, while three in four respondents said they did not want to impose any religion on their own children. When it comes to what matters most to young people, religion fell towards the bottom of the list, with just 24 percent of respondents noting it as an important part of their lives.

While religion may not be top of mind for younger consumers, it turns out spirituality may be on the rise. Vice points to companies like SoulCycle (with its cult following and the brand’s embodiment of finding your soul through cycling) and meditation studio MNDFL (which has its own chief spiritual officer) as examples of brands that have successfully tapped into this new trend.

Seven out of ten respondents look for spirituality in their lives. Organized religion, however, is not relevant to them. But what exactly is spirituality? It can be anything, really. The top answer to how young people take care of their soul was through listening to music and attending concerts and music festivals. That was followed by engaging in self-care (hello, Headspace), talking to friends, going for hikes or long walks and creating art or writing. Number 18 on the list was visiting organized spaces for religion.

There seems to be a lot of room for brands to find ways to connect with young people on some sort of spiritual level, as only 14 percent of respondents said they felt their sense of spiritual self is complete.

Fifty-four percent said they are looking to connect with brands that enhance their spirit and soul, while 77 percent said they want to buy from brands that align with their values.

“We need to work with these young generations to help them and provide the tools and resources they need to nurture their soul and wellbeing. While they have developed many of their own methods to practice spirituality, they have a ways to go to feel completely fulfilled,” Arbit added. “The identities of young people today are complex and fluid and they want to form their own opinions. Organized religion is too rigid for this mindset. Spirituality can be self-defined and flexible. They can adopt or create the beliefs and practices that make the most sense for their unique personalities and lifestyles.”

Vice partnered with Insight Strategy Group on this study and conducted both online surveys in the U.S. and U.K. as well as focus groups.

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.