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Insights & Innovation: Where Vox Media’s audiences fall on the spectrum of advocacy

Meet the Social Advocates, Active Defenders and Modern Benefactors

Research has shown us that the Vox Media audience firmly believes in being active participants for change and supporting causes.

In a recent study of our audience, where we set out to understand why equality matters, we also discovered a spectrum of advocacy amongst our audience, defined by the social issues they are interested in and their approaches to being change agents.

We’ve found the majority of our audience falls into three groups of advocacy personalities: Social Advocates, Active Defenders and Modern Benefactors.

Together these three audiences comprise a balanced spectrum of avenues and messaging opportunities for brands. Notably for marketers, the data suggest Vox Media’s audiences are three times more likely to care about social causes compared to the general population. Almost 90% of the Vox Media audience is willing to advocate for social change versus 30% of the general population.


Social Advocates: 44% of the Vox Media audience

The Social Advocates are our youngest audience with half under the age of 30. A relatively high proportion identify as gender non-binary; most are childless and skew urban. They believe many aspects of society need to change, but are more passionate than other audiences about issues that impact an individual’s personal identity.

These citizens stand out for their willingness to be vocal about social causes; they have the highest participation in protests and demonstrations among our audience, and more than two-thirds have contacted government officials and advocated via social media. Social Advocates say the government is primarily responsible for ensuring equity in society, hence their voices are the weapon of choice.

Social Advocates have a low tolerance for brands that don’t align with their values, and 92% have stopped using a brand due to the brand’s action (or inaction). They believe brands have the power to improve society and expect them to take positions on social issues—regardless of whether the issue pertains to their line of business.

How Brands Can Engage Social Advocates

When looking to reach Social Advocates brands should show genuine support for a cause or individuals—particularly those impacted by discrimination that’s based on personal characteristics. This group has high expectations for brands and wants to see big ideas for helping people at the individual level.

Active Defenders: 27% of the Vox Media audience

The Active Defenders span all age groups, but two-thirds are between the ages of 25 - 44. The majority identify as female or gender non-binary and include the highest concentration of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color); they are generally childless and have an urban skew. Active Defenders believe many aspects of society need to change, particularly those things that form the foundations of an equitable society such as healthcare.

Active Defenders are vocal about social causes and have a high incidence of contacting government officials and advocating via social media. While they believe the government has the greatest responsibility for addressing inequities in society, these citizens also say individuals, non-profit organizations, the media, and brands have equally high responsibility for motivating change. As such, Active Defenders push all elements of society to change and not just the government.

They are very willing to stop buying a brand that doesn’t align with their values (91%). Perhaps more powerfully, though, Active Defenders will start buying a brand if it takes action in support of societal change (79%). Naturally this audience expects brands to take positions on social issues regardless of whether the issue pertains to their business, but the payoff is worthwhile given the purchase support Active Defenders provide in return.

How Brands Can Engage Active Defenders

Content that connects with Active Defenders must come with demonstrative ACTIONS; for example, a “how-to” for individuals on furthering one of their causes of interest. This group wants brands to give them tools and guides so they can drive changes in the basic systems supporting society—the clean environment, racial equity, democracy, healthcare, and safety.

Modern Benefactors: 17% of the Vox Media audience

Benefactors are an older audience with 45% over age 35. They are more likely to identify as men, one-quarter are parents, and they live equally in urban and suburban environments. The most outstanding characteristic is high household income, with almost half earning $100K or more. Benefactors believe many aspects of society need to change, but their level of interest in most social causes is moderate.

This audience prefers to motivate social change via their wallets (72%) and, to a lesser extent, putting their signatures on petitions. Benefactors say the government is primarily responsible for ensuring equity in society, with non-profits and individuals having some responsibility. Hence they prefer to financially support groups that are working toward the betterment of society, rather than serve on the front line.

Modern Benefactors are more forgiving of brands that don’t align with their values, compared to the other groups, and fewer have stopped using a brand due to its actions. While they believe brands have the power to improve society and expect them to take positions, their reaction to errant brands is less severe.

How Brands Can Engage Modern Benefactors

Modern Benefactors have top interests similar to Active Defenders; however they are less likely to advocate in a boots-on-the ground manner and are more likely to support causes through donations. They will be interested in content that educates them about social change, and will go easy on brands that take a softer approach to advocacy. If a brand is particularly interested in raising money for a cause, they should take note of this group.

With most Vox Media readers falling in the three most active advocacy personalities, brands have an opportunity to join with our audience as partners for change. In short:

Historically, our understanding of audience behavior and consumption has allowed us to be experts in content. What makes a powerful story, what moves individuals, what gets them to take action. Vox Media IQ leverages those same core principles, but focuses them on driving social impact. We’re working with our editorial, research and marketing teams to understand how content is galvanizing our audiences around social causes. Understanding who engages with what causes, where, and how allows us to work with brands to develop more purposeful brand strategies, in a time where our audience clearly demands it.

This report is by Nichole Becker, Director of Primary Research, Insights & Innovation