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The key strategy for brands in the Middle East — align with Gen Z

Gen Z holds brands accountable for their actions and values

The key strategy for brands in the Middle East — align with Gen Z
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

In December, Zara pulled back an advertising campaign featuring mannequins with missing limbs and statues wrapped in white from the front page of its website and app after calls by pro-Palestine activists, mostly Gen Z, for a boycott of the fashion retailer.

Zara’s Instagram account saw tens of thousands of comments posted about the photos, many with Palestinian flags, while “#BoycottZara” was trending on social media platform X.

The reaction highlights the heightened sensitivity brands are navigating. 

Gen Z is an informed, tech-savvy, and authenticity-seeking generation, forcing businesses to rethink how they interact with them and their evolving values, expectations, and tastes.

In an age of brand fatigue and oversaturation, Gen Z, fueled by digital fluency and social responsibility, demands transparency and action, seeking brands championing meaningful causes and translating their values into tangible, positive change.

For 22-year-old Hadeel Yehia, brands must take a stand on social issues, and she has recently started seeking brands that support certain causes, which has led her to support more local brands.

According to the IBM Institute survey, Gen Z seeks transparency and authenticity from the brands they support. “If your brand leads on sustainability but images of child labor appear on social media, then Gen Zers are likely to feel betrayed,” the report states.

The demand for authenticity and transparency has significantly increased, especially when targeting younger generations, says Digital and Social Marketing Expert Ahmad Yaseen.

“Digital transformation and the evolving social media scene have provided a virtual space where brands and consumers interact closely, creating a responsibility for brands to always maintain a positive image and a relevant persona.”

He says younger generations are value-driven, expecting brands to put more effort into developing narratives that represent their own values and beliefs.

Amr Kawashti, In Your Shoe Co-Founder and Managing Partner, says messaging and causes are necessary if brands want to set themselves apart in a competitive industry like fashion.

“We find ways to stand out and differentiate ourselves from other brands. We try to develop a unique brand messaging that aligns with our objective of allowing new generations to express who they are through fashion.”

Kawashti says aligning with specific causes resonates more with younger audiences compared to traditional marketing tactics. For example, he says fashion is more than clothing to younger generations; it is a form of self-expression to communicate their beliefs and what they stand for. 

“They are more likely to support and engage with brands that align with their values and actively contribute to causes they care about. Traditional marketing tactics often focus only on promoting products or services without emphasizing the brand’s larger purpose,” Kawashti adds.


According to a Statista report, 54% of Gen Z favor social media over online search as their primary method for discovering new products. 

A 2023 Snap Inc. and Havas Media Network survey, The Next-Gen Social Commercial Playbook, revealed that 64% of Gen Z and Millennials have purchased through social media in the past year. 

The survey also found that 54% of respondents discovered new products and services using online platforms. Similarly, 50% shared that product reviews and recommendations on social media influenced their spending behavior. 

Yaseen explains that social media has broken down the barrier between brands and consumers, enabling real-time interaction and engagement.

“This has enabled brands to further amplify their messages, extend their reach, and boost engagement. Additionally, social media has facilitated the implementation of advocacy programs to help brands deliver on their promise of making the world a better place by fostering collaboration among like-minded individuals and organizations.”

He adds that social media has become an indispensable brand platform due to its advanced targeting capabilities, effective call-to-action mechanisms, and ability to oversee communities aligning with shared values.


Gen Z also wields its consumer power as a force for change. More than ever, they are holding brands accountable for their actions and values, not just through vocal criticism but through impactful boycotts, making brands all the more scared to make one wrong move.

Yehia says she’s boycotted brands due to their stances on certain issues. “Why should I give my money to certain brands, knowing I might support individuals of questionable ethics? I’d prefer to explore alternative brands that don’t endorse problematic figures.”

Now, brands often have to toe the line of balancing their demonstration of alignment with significant causes and social issues while avoiding the perception of being performative and disingenuous. The more sensitive the cause, the greater the caution these brands require when discussing or incorporating them into marketing specific products.

Yaseen talks about maintaining that balance. “First things first, actions speak louder than words, and that’s the key to gaining the trust of “woke” consumers. Brands should implement tangible initiatives that yield tangible results.”

He emphasizes the importance of brands having a long-term vision when deciding to amplify their purpose through participation in socially responsible conversations. This approach helps them avoid the trap of sounding opportunistic.

He says partnering with well-established organizations can be an effective way of helping brands stay authentic in their efforts, aiding them in achieving their goals.

Mostafa Magdy, Founder of Egyptian local brand Palma, says he likes to avoid jumping on the bandwagon of different trends and causes to gain traction. Instead, he says it is more important to define your core beliefs and values as a brand and work hard to maintain those beliefs amid fluctuating trends.

“Sticking to our brand’s core values while innovating specific elements related to our products and design over time is important. For instance, our designs strive to blend international fashion trends with local art, prompting a natural evolution as we aim to stay current,” Magdy adds.

Magdy says his brand strives to connect with the target audience by ensuring the products meet their needs and evoke a sense of empowerment. “We ensure that our content, including campaigns, is crafted to resonate with them, featuring relatable locations and models.”


In the next few years, the demand for authenticity and causes alignment will increase as brands operate within highly competitive environments. “They will continue to put more effort into delivering value-driven initiatives beyond merely selling their products.”

The rise of social consciousness among consumers is opening their eyes to an increasing number of social and environmental issues. Thus, the demand for companies to fulfill their social responsibility is here to stay.

So, how do brands navigate this new tricky landscape?

Consistency is key, according to Yaseen. “It takes more than a single attempt to gain trust, so focus on consistently delivering tangible results that prove the brand’s ongoing efforts. And as social causes evolve and change over time, brands must adapt and continue learning about the latest causes that capture the attention of “woke” consumers.”

Kawashti says building a connection with the audience is imperative, but it takes consistent time and effort. “Stay up-to-date with current trends, adapt your strategies as needed, and always be open to learning and evolving.”

“By understanding their values, communicating authentically, and actively engaging with them, you can build meaningful and long-lasting relationships with younger consumers,” he adds.

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