Coco Gauff’s progression to the final of the US Open this week was delayed by two things. First, the intransigence of her opponent, Karolina Muchova, who saved five match points. Second, by climate change protestors who forced a pause in the match when one of them glued their feet to the ground.
Afterwards, Gauff was sanguine about the event, saying:
“I always speak about preaching about what you feel and what you believe in. It was done in a peaceful way, so I can’t get too mad at it. Obviously I don’t want it to happen when I’m winning up 6-4, 1-0, and I wanted the momentum to keep going. But hey, if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it”
According to the BBC’s Russell Fuller, she also added:
“I 100% believe in climate change… [the cause is] a history defining moment.”
Gauff’s comments are captured in the full press conference video, below.
Gauff is 19 years old, and therefore smack bang in the middle of what most people would call Generation Z (born between the late 1990s and about 2010). Her magnanimity about the disruption contrasted with the angry reaction of the (presumably) much older crowd, who took to chanting ‘kick them out’ during the protest-induced delay to proceedings.
Gauff is one of the post-Serena, post-Federer wunderkinds that tennis will rely on over the next decade to bring more fans into the game. If her post-match comments are anything to go by, she’ll have no trouble fulfilling this awesome, unfair task. New data, collected by Trajectory this summer, finds that Gen Zs, like Gauff, are unique in their desire to see their personal views reflected by the celebrities (including sportspeople) that they follow.
This is a relatively modern phenomenon. We have access to the views and attitudes of celebrities like never before, and in an age of self-expression, personal branding and curated identity, it is little surprise that the outlook of famous people is a key determinant of our affinity to them.
But it is also a phenomenon largely confined to younger generations – especially Gen Z and Gen Y (born between the early 80s and mid-90s). Older generations, including the Baby Boomers (born late 1940s to mid-1960s), simply aren’t that fussed about what notable people think. They separate the art from the artist, the sport from the sportsperson. Younger generations are far less likely to do this.
What does this mean?
This isn’t going anywhere. It’s possible that strident views soften as we age, and also possible that we can’t fully leave behind the work of artists who’s views we can no longer stomach.
There will be plenty of Kanye West fans, appalled and disgusted by his views, who nevertheless can’t bring themselves to remove The College Dropout and 808s & Heartbreaks (really, you can do without the rest) from their throwback playlists. Perhaps this will be an example of generations learning to separate the art from the artist as they get older. But before that, notable people – whether leaders of businesses or individuals in the public eye as well as celebrities – will need to reflect the views of their audience to build one.
There will also be many examples of this individual-affinity causing headaches for businesses and platforms. The recent Gary Lineker affair – in which criticism of the government’s refugee policy led to the effective suspension of normal sports programming on the BBC for a weekend – is a great example.
Lineker knows what the people who follow him want to hear. He knows that to stay relevant among younger audiences he should speak out. He probably knows that older generations don’t care as much, and just want to watch the football without any fuss. It took barely three days for the BBC to enact a humiliating climbdown.
Most of all, this a key new dynamic in our Political Brands trend. So far, we’ve talked about that trend in the context of corporate activity, from changing your social logos to a rainbow for one month a year (everywhere except Saudi Arabia, of course) to the pitfalls of completely misunderstanding your audience, to authentic meaningful action that can engender support. In the age of the individual, this puts brands on the back foot.