Generation Z is a visual-oriented demographic, with high usage of Snapchat and Instagram Stories. According to a VidMob breakdown, young people are voracious consumers of digital videos. Out of every hour of digital engagement, members of Gen Z spend 25 minutes watching video, typically on social platforms. They’re also values-conscious. The popularity of Parkland survivors Emma González and David Hogg shows the extent to which young people now care about important issues and hope to affect change. Corporations have taken notice, and cause marketing is in vogue. In an effort to connect with Gen Z, marketers are trying to highlight the ideas that are driving their brands and not just the distinguishing features of their products.
There seems to be an acknowledgement that consumerism is evolving and ethics is increasingly part of the conversation. Sometimes, cause marketing tactics are transparently calculated and unforgivably crass. But products need to be contextualized. We use them in service to our lifestyles. If people are living increasingly ethical lifestyles, then they will understandably have a need for products that serve and speak to that.
But marketing to Gen Z isn’t always easy. And it comes with pitfalls.
Kevin Friel, a self-described “pixel wizard” with expertise in motion design and video production, told me that he’s often surprised by what works and what doesn’t.
Friel created content for a major shoe brand’s Instagram Story channels.
“I’d whip up these hyperactive motion graphic ‘feel boards,’ as I would eventually call them,” he explained. Friel took brand assets and then applied visual effects — “digital glitching/film burn outs/whatever transitional flavor of the week charmed the demographic.”
Friel was continually shocked when quickly formed pieces were enthusiastically received, with members of Generation Z proclaiming “fire or dopeness.”
“Coming from a storytelling background, I just felt like I was creating epileptic-harming wallpaper,” said Friel.
Friel pointed out that the idea of sensory stimulation is nothing new. But today, it’s more targeted and intimately consumed than ever before. Young consumers are engaged with a brand’s emotional narrative, he said, and they can quickly feel betrayed.
“If there is a hyper-marginal sliver of difference from the overwhelming emotional narrative that the consumer needs the brand to make them feel, the perceived trust in authenticity is shattered,” said Friel. He warned that a deluge of ruthless trolls will often follow. Although Friel never encountered that kind of fallout from his own work, he has seen other artists come under fire.
Gabe Gottlieb is co-founder and CEO of Pathmatics, a marketing intelligence platform focused on transparency. He also emphasized the need for authenticity when connecting with Gen Z and suggested that brands use short, visual, engaging content. Marketers can leverage campaign data to figure out what truly resonates.
Gottlieb said, “Brands like Doritos, Nike, and Oreo have done well with Generation Z, and if you drill down into these campaigns you’ll find that they’ve been quick to adopt innovative advertising formats – such as native ads, UGC, video, pictures, stories, and branded content. This generation barely remembers life before an iPhone, and marketers need to embrace Gen Z-focused platforms (Instagram and Snapchat) with a mobile-first strategy.”
Gottlieb also recommended that marketers pay close attention to generational differences.
“People might be quick to interchange Millennials and Generation Z, but it’s important that brands and marketers don’t,” he said. “Generation Z grew up in a post-internet world, and it shows. They’re tech-savvy, always on, and even more skeptical of advertising and marketing than their Millennial predecessors. Brands that don’t realize this will fall behind if they try to employ successful Millennial advertising strategies on Generation Z.”