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A Fashionable Stamp of Social Consciousness

Two apparel players, American Apparel and Nike, are among the 10 brand names that college students view as the most socially conscious, according to a new survey.

NEW YORK — Two apparel players, American Apparel and Nike, are among the 10 brand names that college students view as the most socially conscious, according to a new survey.

American Apparel, which advertises its products as “made in downtown L.A., sweatshop free,” placed fifth, and Nike, backer of the Lance Armstrong “Live Strong” bracelets campaign, ranked eighth in a list topped by a brand whose visibility was long ago raised by its activist stance: Ben & Jerry’s. Body Shop and Coca-Cola tied for ninth.

The 10 socially conscious favorites with the campus crowd were rounded out by Newman’s Own, ranking second, Burt’s Bees, third; Yoplait, fourth; Starbucks, sixth, and Seventh Generation, maker of environmentally friendly household and personal care products, seventh.

The survey of 1,800 collegians ages 18-30 was conducted this spring by Alloy Media + Marketing.

“There’s a penchant for attaching socially conscious brands to your personal brand” and how you project it to peers, said Samantha Skey, senior vice president, strategic marketing, Alloy Media + Marketing, referring to the college crowd. Roughly one in four college students surveyed by Alloy, 24 percent, said they’ve bought something this year because they saw the product’s brand as socially aware.

At stake is $46 billion in discretionary spending among 18- to 30-year-old collegians, up 12 percent from $41 billion in 2005, and $182 billion in the group’s overall spending power, up 3 percent from $175 billion last year. The $46 billion in purchases include spending of $5.7 billion on apparel and shoes; $3.3 billion on personal care products; $1.3 billion on cosmetics, and $5.9 billion on entertainment.

Fashion brands accounted for two of the 10 favorites among the students, Skey said, partly because they afford the young adults a way to give back that’s accessible and easy. “They want to give back and tie in with their personal brand, but they don’t necessarily want to give time to a cause,” she noted.

Alloy found 45 percent of college students are active volunteers, with 55 percent of that cohort saying they do so simply to help out other people and 39 percent saying it’s to do their part as a community member.

This story first appeared in the July 12, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Socially conscious brand marketing has long had a presence in the American scene, one that Skey doesn’t expect to weaken anytime soon. Its usefulness for various brands, however, will probably depend on whether they take a step beyond a simple mention of a brand’s commitment to a cause in its marketing, she predicted. “I think what comes next is to show what you’re actually doing,” Skey said, as in substantiating those claims with facts and figures.