Gen Z thinks your marketing is bad: Here’s what you can do about it

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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According to a 2022 Knit Report, Gen Z makes up 40% of the global consumer population and has $600 billion in spending power. The report also states that 72% of Gen Zers think brands need to do a much better job marketing to them—especially if they want to win their loyalty.

Brands are failing to recognize what Gen Z values. As a result, brands miss the mark when trying to engage them through marketing messages. The worst part for brands? They are losing an audience whose buying power will only increase as Gen Zers get older and start making more money.

So, what should marketers do? In short, take advice from members of Gen Z themselves. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how to do this (according to Gen Z). 

1. Be genuine

By and large, Gen Z doesn’t trust larger institutions. In 2020, the average trust rating for 15 major institutions dropped from 56% to 46% amongst Gen Zers. This is because Gen Zers feel that many brands are disingenuous in their attempts at appealing to them.

A good way to combat this is to hire Gen Zers to market to their peers. According to a report by Morning Consult, Gen Zers trust social media influencers more than traditional celebrities. In fact, 88% say they learn about products they’re interested in through social media.

The language teaching app, Duolingo, does a great job collaborating with many relatable TikTokers from all around the world to promote learning different languages. For example, here they partnered up with @samandwendy on TikTok to demonstrate the Italian word “Abbiocco.” 

Image Source: TikTok

Duolingo also avoids the pitfall of inserting “cringeworthy” slang or inauthentic marketing ploys in a superficial attempt at being hip or “woke.”

A good example of inauthenticity is American Airlines’ 2021 marketing campaign. The campaign claimed to support LGBTQ+ members during pride month by painting the wings of its planes rainbow. But, only a year earlier, American Airlines donated over $500k to support anti-gay legislation.

Gen Z is a smart generation that cares about social causes. This generation rejects performative marketing, labels it as such, and demands brands do better.

Image Source: Twitter

Comparatively, Duolingo makes sure to use popular culture and trends that appeal to the Gen Z audience and also align with its brand. 

For example, Duolingo leveraged popular culture—including Game of Thrones and Comic-Con to promote language learning—even fantasy languages like Valyrian. 

Image Source: Instagram

2. Be transparent

To build trust, you need authenticity and transparency. No one likes the wool pulled over their eyes and—as we learned from American Airlines—Gen Zers will boycott a brand if they find out they’ve been misled. In a study by 5WPR, 45% of Gen Zers have boycotted a business that was not transparent. 

What’s more, Gen Zers are experts at finding information online. According to a peer-reviewed article published by Science magazine, Gen Zers are the least likely to share misinformation or fake news. And in a Versa Networks study, one in six Gen Zers admitted to creating fake profiles to view other people’s accounts, and three in five Gen Zers browse through people’s social media accounts multiple times a day. 

Take a look at the backlash Robinhood received from its 2021 Superbowl ad. The ad claimed to support regular people as investors all while the company was making self-serving moves. Namely, it was blocking Robinhood members from investing in stocks like AMC and Gamestop. 

This shady move was in an attempt to prevent WallStreetBets traders (regular people) from squeezing hedge funds on Wall Street.

Image Source: Huffpost

On the flip side, Ben & Jerry’s is an excellent example of a company that exercises transparency with its products and its values. 

It was one of the first companies to ever earn a B Corp rating. According to B Lab, a company can only receive a B Corp rating if it meets the “high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.”

Ben & Jerry’s also goes one step further and publishes a SEAR (Social Environmental Assessment Report) every year. This report outlines how the company’s operations are affecting the environment and what steps it's taking to support its environmental and societal goals. No wonder Ben & Jerry’s was the top-ranked ice cream brand in 2021.  

Image Source: Ben & Jerry’s

Patagonia is another B Corp-certified brand that Gen Zers support. In fact, YPulse reports that Patagonia is one of the top 15 favorite brands for Gen Zers. This is largely due to its complete transparency about its suppliers, waste, and goals to eliminate the company’s negative environmental impact. 

Image Source: Patagonia

3. Appeal to a generation of activists

Today, 55% of American consumers believe it’s important for companies to take a stand on critical social, environmental, and political issues. 

In a recent survey conducted by 5WPR, 51% of respondents believe the brands they buy from should share their beliefs. And a fifth of Gen Zers further stated strong agreement with that statement.

Consider Nike’s advertising campaign with Colin Kaepernick. Even though the ad was incredibly polarizing at the time, Nike's sales increased by 31% the weekend after the ad ran. And Nike has continued to be an avid supporter of equality, inclusion, and social justice, which is why it’s one of the favored brands among Gen Zers. 

Image Source: Guardian

A 2021 We Are Social report showed that 87% of Gen Zers believe companies have a responsibility to be inclusive in representing diverse and minority identities. That is why Gen Z loves Target.

Target’s marketing materials show diverse groups of people. It carries adaptive clothing for people of all abilities, and sections of its stores are dedicated to black-owned and founded brands. It also extends this inclusivity and diversity into its corporate structure and hiring practices. 

In short, Target is hitting marketing to the Gen Z nail on the head.

Image Source: Facebook

4. Use comedy and pop culture

According to a 2022 poll, 93% of Gen Zers get their news from social media every week. In comparison, 81% of older millennials reported preferring traditional news sources. Furthermore, more than half of Gen Zers follow comedians or comedic social media accounts and 72% of the content shared by Gen Zers are memes. 

These stats mean that Gen Z prefers information to be both comedic and informative. Just take a look at how news organizations like the Washington Post and Morning Brew have used humor to appeal to Gen Z.

Image Source: TikTok
Image Source: TikTok

According to TikTok’s @qilahrose_55 self-deprecation and whimsy are some of the key parts of Gen Z humor. In a recent interview with TheBeauLife, she said, “I would say Gen Z humor is very relatable content and, in a sense, quite self-deprecating. We tend to make fun of ourselves and the things that we go through and make it more lighthearted."

The healthy cereal company Surreal, puts Gen Z humor into practice with its marketing campaigns. This email marketing campaign for Surreal’s Berry cereal protests a positive interview the company received to assure its customers that unicorns are not used to make its cereal. And even includes a one-star review from Surreal’s “Dad.”  

Image Source: Really Good Emails

5. Provide opportunities for Gen Zers to engage with your brand

39% of Gen Zers report wanting brands to engage with them more online. Customers now want personalized attention and consideration, and in return, they offer customer loyalty. In fact, over 50% of Gen Zers will click on your Instagram ads on purpose, and 30% follow their favorite brands' social media accounts. 

Wendy’s has been very successful in engaging its audience online, especially on Twitter. Wendy’s is known for staying current and on-trend with news stories and pop culture and readily replies to tweets. Its free fries campaign is a good example of engaging with Gen Z online.

Image Source: Twitter

Companies must also remember that many Gen Zers are creators themselves. They have their own social media followings and even create content like unboxing videos and reviews. Another benefit of allowing your Gen Z customers to engage with your brand is the opportunity to turn them into partners who will actively promote your brand instead of only consumers. 

You don’t have to only rely on big name influencers to promote your brand. Engaging your every day Gen Z consumers can turn every purchase into a marketing opportunity on social media. 

Savage X Fenty is one brand that uses customer posts that tag the company as part of its social media marketing.

Image Source: Instagram

Reviews and feedback are another way to collaborate and engage with your Gen Z audience. A study conducted by Curiosity at Work found that Gen Zers used shopping websites (51%) and social media (47%) as their main sources of research before purchasing a product. 

According to a Trustpilot survey, 86% of customers are more likely to make a purchase if a business homepage has positive reviews and star ratings. And 85% of customers reported being influenced by reviews on product pages. 

This tells us that Gen Zers aren’t looking for branded content. They want honest reviews from real customers. Yitty, Lizzo’s shapewear line, understands this and even includes reviews and unboxing videos posted by customers on the homepage of its website. 

Image Source: Yiity

Want to reach Gen Z? Be real.

If you want to market your brand to Gen Z, meet them where they are—and be open, honest, and authentic. Your Gen Z customer wants to be entertained and wants companies to help them make the world a better place. 

Tracy Francis and Fernanda Hoefel said it best in their McKinsey & Company article when they said, other generations wanted things or experiences, “for Generation Z, the main spur to consumption is the search for truth.”

And, brands that get this are winning over brands who aren’t adapting to younger generations.

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