Bouncing from one hot new thing to another, post-Millennials, Centennials, the iGeneration, Gen Z, terrible teens (call them what you will), these constantly connected consumers are paving the way as today’s cultural leaders. Like generations past, they want to be independent and look cool. They want to feel validated. And they still want to “hang out.” What has changed is the way Gen Zers are staying connected.
Defining generational cohorts, from Snapchatting to Shazaming, they’re a permanently switched-on, multiscreening, multitasking tough bunch for brands to reach.
At one time, taking these epoch-defining moments and innovations would offer brands a better understanding of their core target, but this generation is different. Having grown up “on the record,” with nearly everything they do archived, quantified and tracked for life, means their preference is for more private forms of communication; they tend to shy away from parent-riddled platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. For Gen Z, the ephemeral nature of Snapchat continues to reign supreme, by constantly ushering in an ever-changing suite of new features, along with interfaces designed explicitly to perplex older eyes. For brands, this means navigating a more intimate social media landscape where permission to participate is harder to win.
It’s the twin themes of pace and greater privacy that are posing interesting new challenges. Poised and playful-filter ready, one thing’s for sure: this generation doesn’t sit still for long. Whether in-store, app-based, video or experiential, there is the opportunity to tap into their desire for creative control and discovery of the rare and unknown.
It was said that, whereas Gen Y was the sharing generation, Gen Z is the making generation. Being creative is an important aspect of their lives, so it’s important for them to be given the creative tools and control over how brands come to life for them.
An ambitious execution from Old Spice used the Twitch video streaming platform to engage users in controlling content. Old Spice Nature Adventure showed a man in the woods for three days whose movements were controlled by Twitch chat. Users would tell him to climb a tree, wrestle a bear, bury his shoes, etc. Over the course of the video, there were millions of chat commands; if accepted, the user’s name and command would show up on the screen, so that there was this satisfaction in being recognized for controlling the content. The wacky outdoor gaming experience netted Old Spice almost 100,000 unique views per hour, plus millions of views of the highlight replays. Users were really invested in the content. Old Spice did almost everything right here. Its demographic was on point and it genuinely understood the audience and successfully connected on an emotional level with them.
What’s better than entertaining content? Content that you can personally affect while watching.
Authenticity of the highest order
For a generation that is all too attuned to spin and Photoshopping, authenticity is particularly prized. In a recent survey ranking celebrity popularity amongst Gen Zers, it would appear that the Belieber’s have flown the nest. A surprise not to see Justin or Swifty in the top spot, but instead a Swedish YouTube star, Felix Kjellberg. Better known (perhaps to some) by his affectionate handle PewDiePie, Kjellberg doesn’t sing or act, but films himself playing video games in his bedroom. Laughing, swearing and generally goofing around, this raw, unedited approach fosters a closeness that borders on friendship.
For companies, there’s a variety of ways to leverage such forums to convey their brand messages. Famous faces no longer resonate: 81 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds relate to brand campaigns more if they use “real” people, as opposed to celebrities and models. Influencer marketing is a £156 million industry—no wonder it’s one of the fastest-growing marketing mediums in the past five years.
Be mindful, though. Gen Z can spot sponsored content a mile off, so if influencers are working with a particular product, the brand needs to give them the leeway to speak in their own voice and not be overly scripted. Old Spice, with its quirky brand attributes and humor-laden offering, had no issue falling in line and playing nice with the community. But any brand trying to come in with a hard sell is likely to be met with severe opposition. It takes a great deal of authenticity to win this crowd over, and toning things down with an informal approach is a great way to build trust and goodwill.
Judging the zeitgeist is hard
But it’s clear that identifying the latest cultural trends among this generation should act as a springboard for generating content that truly connects. If we were to distill an approach down to three simple steps, it would be:
- Decode their needs.
- Deconstruct their habits.
- Dissect their communities.
The hard and fast truth is that Gen Z is nascent and evolving. They tend to go against trends. The best way for brands to sidestep FOMO is to have someone within the team who is part of this target group. Brands need to look at emerging platforms— what the next Twitch or Snapchat might be‑making sure they are ready to use them as soon as they are brought to market.
But that’s the beauty of culture. Its changing tides shift how brands connect to consumers. And just when you think you’ve got Gen Z all figured out, it’ll be time to make way for the new kids on the block. It moves so fast, especially in younger hands, that we can only watch, learn and try to predict.
Before you know it, it’ll be time to start all over again with Generation A.
Nichola Seeley is senior marketing & communications manager at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @