Why Gen Z’s Trust Is So Difficult for Brands To Come By

A new report on consumer trust highlights widespread skepticism brands should expect from Gen Z
June 25, 2024 at 4:13 pm UTC

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The data in this analysis stems from Morning Consult's Most Trusted Brands 2024 report

Key Takeaways

  • 95% of consumer brands tracked by Morning Consult have lower trust ratings with Gen Z compared to all U.S. adults. 

  • For the average brand tracked, net trust is 10 points lower among Gen Z when compared to the general adult population.

  • The trust issues appear in part because of more general skepticism towards corporate America and broader consumer preferences, a reality most brands will have to confront as the young consumers grow in purchasing power.  

Gen Z has trust issues.

Morning Consult’s recent Most Trusted Brands report analyzed the reputation of roughly 1,700 consumer brands* in the U.S. This includes major established brands like Band-Aid and UPS and as well as up-and-comers such as ChatGPT and Fenty Beauty. Across the list, Gen Z adults registered lower trust scores for a stunning 95 percent of brands when compared to the general adult population. 

This trend cuts across all major industries and is impacting even the brands that perform best with the young generation: 13 of Gen Z’s 15 Most Trusted Brands have trust scores lagging behind all adults, including nine by double digits.

95% of brands have lower trust ratings with Gen Z compared to all adults

Each line represents the difference in net trust between Gen Z adults and all adults for a given brand.
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Source: Morning Consult Intelligence

On average, Gen Z’s net trust score is about 10 points lower than that of the average U.S. adult. Much of this stems from defaulting to a negative response. Gen Z is just as likely as the general population to say they don’t have an opinion on a given brand, but they are four points more likely to say they don’t trust a brand and five points less likely to say they do. 

Gen Z is also the only generational outlier: Millennials, Gen X and Boomers all have similar average net trust ratings, hovering between 20 to 22. 

It's essential for brands to understand this landscape as they seek to make heads or tails of their own position with Gen Z, understanding why these young consumers are less trusting and what — if anything — can be done about it. 

What’s driving Gen Z’s trust issues?

To start, we can cross off two plausible explanations that don’t hold water:

First, the data doesn’t suggest this trend is driven by a lack of familiarity. These are newer consumers, yes. However, Gen Z is no less likely to register an opinion — positive or negative — than older generations. Some of these opinions are likely less well formed and more shapeable given their age, yet the conclusion is still that Gen Z’s default position is more negative. 

Second, there isn’t clear evidence that this is merely a reflection of shifting consumer appetites. It’s reasonable to assume that Gen Z trusts legacy brands less but trusts emerging brands built to cater to them specifically more. While there are certainly examples of this idea bearing out, it doesn’t hold up universally; Gen Z’s trust deficit extends across a wide range of sectors, including ones entirely composed of newer services such as video streaming, food delivery and dating apps. Additionally, a recent Morning Consult analysis found that Gen Z distrusts online-only retailers at higher rates than any other generation. 

A more likely driver is Gen Z’s broader predisposition to distrust corporate entities, and institutions in general. A Morning Consult survey from late 2023 found Gen Z to be the least trusting generation of corporate America, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the news media, and Wall Street. This was also the case for a number of other institutions, including the health care system, the military and the Supreme Court. This explanation aligns well with the finding that Gen Z is distrusting of brands across the board and suggests a more foundational skepticism is in play. 

Gen Z is less trusting of corporate institutions

Shares who report having “some” or “a lot of” trust in the following institutions:
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Survey conducted Dec. 5-8, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

A related cause of distrust is Gen Z’s wider negative exposure to media coverage of consumer goods. A recent Morning Consult analysis found that Gen Z is more likely to think product quality is getting worse and the culprit for this trend appears to be a higher propensity to seek out information on social media or reviews on the product’s site. Gen Z is far more attuned to social conversations happening around brands, and negative stories tend to gain traction more than positive ones. This steady exposure not only harms individual products that are singled out, but could give Gen Z the impression that there’s a broader issue of products and goods not being sold as advertised. 

Finally, Gen Z is more likely than older generations to want to try new products across a wide range of industries. For example, Gen Zers are more than 20 points more likely than all U.S. adults to try new beauty and personal care products. This habit means less brand loyalty, which translates to fewer opportunities for brands to deepen trust with the young generation.

How brands can earn trust with Gen Z

The frustrating reality for many companies is that this dynamic is foundational and therefore not easily dislodged. If the negativity bias was more concentrated in specific sectors, the path out from this trust deficit would be clearer. But our research indicates more broadly that lagging numbers with Gen Z don’t necessarily reflect misfires in strategy from individual brands, so much as broader factors outside their control. Even the most trusted brands among the cohort have to confront this dynamic. 

But it is instructive to look at the select number of brands that are over-performing with Gen Z. The six brands that have the highest net trust scores with Gen Z relative to all adults are all digital platforms that are heavily integrated in Gen Zers’ daily lives. Brands like TikTok have earned outsized Gen Z trust through repeated, consistent use — despite negative headlines. 

The brands with the highest Gen Z trust scores relative to all adults

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Source: Morning Consult Intelligence

While not every brand can bank on getting Gen Z’s attention multiple times a day, this suggests it’s possible that brands could begin to see their trust scores rise as repeat usage ticks up over time. 

One example outside the digital space is Little Caesars. The pizza chain has found success with Gen Z by meeting them where they are, including buzzy new menu items that drive interest, and establishing partnerships with relevant brands like Mountain Dew, and high-value offers that appeal to younger consumers. 

We wrote last year that, “Coming of age alongside social media with unlimited access to information at their fingertips, younger consumers can get to know brands more intimately than generations that came before them. This behind-the-scenes view can make consumers more skeptical of marketing efforts. It can also open the door for two-way communication and interaction.”

To close with one silver lining for brands: Gen Z shops a lot, shops often, and has fun doing it. The anti-corporate bias doesn’t mean they won’t buy from you. Just don’t bank on their trust to come easily.

*This list includes sub-brands and products that are not eligible to make the public ranking. 

A headshot photograph of Nick Laughlin
Nick Laughlin
Head of Content & Audience Development

Nick Laughlin is the Head of Content & Audience Development at Morning Consult. @nick_d_laughlin

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