By Rebecca Rom-Frank, Creative Researcher, iStock
With increasing awareness around mental health for Gen Z and Millennials, brands have a distinct opportunity and also a responsibility to connect with younger consumers by more accurately reflecting the realities of how and why these generations prioritize their mental wellbeing.
The secret isn’t so secret anymore: Health has officially re-established itself as a core tenet in our lives given the countless challenges of the past 12 months. Mental health has risen from the somewhat murky “taboo” waters to become a topic that we, as a society, are increasingly encouraging each other to speak out about. Surprisingly, this is true of all age groups and demographics, although it’s safe to say that younger generations have played a crucial role toward reshaping how we collectively think about mental wellness, how often we think about it, and how openly we talk about it.
Data from Getty Images’ Visual GPS report shows that nearly 80% of Gen Z and Millennials prefer to see visuals in advertising, which is nearly double that of Baby Boomers. But the problem for brands when it comes to visualizing mental health? They rely too heavily on images that perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas of weakness or hopelessness, when instead, they should be focusing on imagery that frames mental health in a positive light, as a natural topic of conversation and as an important part of our general wellbeing.
Roughly six months into the pandemic, 34% of Gen Z and 19% of Millennials reported that their mental health was worse than it was during the fall of 2019 (compared to only 12% of Baby Boomers), meaning that mental health is top of mind. So it’s not a far leap to suggest that getting health and wellness visuals right for younger age groups is also important.
No matter what brand you are or field you play in, here are three ways to break visual stereotypes and create content that resonates with younger, health-conscious consumers:
- Select positive imagery to visually represent mental health for younger generations. What visuals come to mind when picturing mental health? If you’re visualizing emptiness, loneliness, a person with their head in their hands in despair, you’re probably not alone. For too long, the advertising and creative industry has relied on images that perpetuate the harmful stereotypes associated with mental health. As a brand at this moment in time, you have a chance to break that.
The pandemic has had a massive impact on our lives, but the impact on younger generations has been nuanced—and it’s important to reflect those nuances. Of course, many young people have experienced hardships over the past year; but Gen Z and Millennials have also inspired themselves to turn this “pause” in life into a new perspective of wellbeing. Instead of only representing mental health with negative, literal visuals, brands need to shift some of their focus to how Gen Z and Millennials are redefining wellness on their own terms: taking walks outside, participating in teletherapy, enjoying new hobbies like knitting and baking, kickstarting side hustles, and more.
- Show how technology fits into—and out of—the lives of younger generations. Gen Z and Millennials are known to constantly be on their phones—but ironically enough, they are actually using technology to find ways to unplug: Gen Z and Millennials are 2x as likely as Baby Boomers to use technology devices to remind themselves to disconnect and support their mental wellbeing. Additionally, Gen Z and Millennials have grown up relying on a hybrid of online and in-person care. When it comes to visuals, be sure to include the content of younger patients engaging with their health in both traditional and tech environments—be it an image of a young man participating in a virtual yoga class, or an image of a woman engaging with her doctor at a preventive health appointment.
- Approach wellness imagery with intersectional diversity. There isn’t one image that represents mental health experience and journey for all of Gen Z and Millennials. We are intersectional human beings after all, and too often, images of depression or anxiety only focus on middle-aged white men and women, whose experiences are completely different than those of Black men or transgender youth, for example. The onus is on brands to expand beyond these trite, singular profiles of mental health, and showcase the journeys, trials, and experiences of all types of consumers—not just one. Keep in mind that 4 in 5 Gen Z and Millennial consumers say they prefer to buy from companies that celebrate diversity of all kinds, compared with just 3 out of 5 Baby Boomers.
Overall, younger generations respond to a holistic, more representative approach to wellness—because that’s how they themselves feel about it. By mirroring back to them their own health and wellness hopes, needs and experiences as elements of your visual storytelling, you can authentically connect with them, and make Gen Z and Millennials feel seen in what your company stands for.