The Non-Committal Commitment …and What It Means for Brands

By Christina Posa, Director of Insights
February 14, 2024

For previous generations, the steps in a relationship were linear: you met someone, you got married, you had kids. For young people today, things are not so straightforward. But it isn’t just that youth are rerouting traditional relationship trajectories — they have an entirely new mindset when it comes to what commitment means in the first place. 

This new mindset is critical for brands to understand. 

Let’s explore a parallel concept. For our parents’ generation, the road to brand loyalty was also simple: you found a brand you love, you brought it home, and it lived happily ever after in your pantry — sometimes in bulk! (We all know the lotion our mother swears by). 

But brand loyalty is not as straightforward today as it once was, and we can start to understand it better by taking a closer look at how the next generation views commitment.

What is a “Non-Committal Commitment”?

The good news is, young people still believe in ever-lasting love. 90% say their ultimate relationship goal is to settle down and be committed. But they have very different ideas on what that looks like. 73% are open to non-traditional ways of being in a long-term relationship, whether that be being together but not living together (35%), opening up the relationship to other partners (27%), or never getting married (55%).

55% of young people are open to never getting married

But why the non-committal?

Young people are pioneers of self-expression and they work hard to continually push culture in the direction of accepting individuals as they are. It is no surprise, then, that they also do not want to compromise who they are when in a relationship. The No. 1 drawback young people see in being committed to someone or something is “becoming too reliant on that someone / something.” 41% also say that “lack of freedom or independence” is a drawback to commitment, +6 percentage points higher than reported 5 years ago.

#1 drawback to commitment: Becoming too reliant on someone/something

What This Means For Brands: 1. Lean Into Explorative Loyalty

Young people want to feel settled without feeling stuck. This means they may consistently choose a brand without feeling wedded to it. Brands must consider ways to expand the touchpoints of loyalty. Are there ways to partner with complementary, or even unexpected, brands to bring something new into the mix (e.g. Lego x BTS)? What about offering a different skew or including a surprise-and-delight to keep things interesting (e.g. Oreo Cakesters)? Or perhaps creating shoppability in new spaces (games, pop-ups, thrift shops – e.g. Madewell Forever via Thredup)?

What This Means For Brands: 2. Free Don’t Force

Young people don’t want to feel like they need a brand. Instead, they’d rather have the power to choose a brand that will add value to their lives. This is an opportunity for brands to evaluate communication and positioning strategies. Is the brand filling a void in the consumer’s life, or is it offering an opportunity for them to grow? In what ways can the brand complement something the consumer already has, does, or wants? At R29, we have tried and tested this shift in communications within our own content: stories that tell the reader what to buy are far outperformed by stories that simply provide options for readers to choose from.

Then how do they show their commitment?

Despite shifts in how they view relationships, the value that youth place on them is conceivably higher than ever before. Two in 5 young people have made resolutions over the past five years to feel more connected and build more meaningful relationships with those they love. This means they are demonstrating their commitment to the people they love by not only investing in time spent with them, but being more intentional about how they share that time.

Many are spending time with the people they love by creating things together, whether that be cooking together at home (56%) or making some form of art/music (26%). These types of creative hangouts foster a sense of teamwork and bonding — skills rarely honed in front of the TV or even out to dinner.

66% are engaging in creative hangouts (e.g. cooking together, making art/music)

What This Means For Brands: 3. Cater To The Multi-Motive Purchase

Young people are bringing the same level of intentionality and purpose to the way they purchase; they want the things they own to bring a deeper value to their lives. Does the food not only taste good, but also support their health? Can they bring the new sneakers they’ve been contemplating on their next travel adventure? Brands like Vital Farms are servicing the consumer’s life, in this case with eggs, but also with sentiment by including a QR code to the farm so that consumers can see and feel the impact of where their money is going. Brands must consider the multiple ways in which their product might service the customer’s lives, and make this prominent in the communication. 

The bottom line: Don’t get crushed if commitment doesn’t look like it used to. 

Like all else, young people are rewriting relationship rules. The way they think about and foster their connections with loved ones is done with more fluidity, more individuality, and more intention, and this new mindset will impact the way they relate to brands.  

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