Reaching teens: how to market to Gen Z

This piece by Movement’s Managing Partner, Sarah Cantillon, was first published by WARC

Marketers are obsessed with Gen Z. Why? They don’t wield the most buying power – that honour goes to Baby Boomers, who reportedly control 70% of disposable income in the US. But they are coming of age, and the group is expected to account for about 40% of all consumers by 2020. What makes them particularly intriguing is how and where they consume content, both on and offline. They’re notoriously hard for brands to reach.

Gen Z falls between the rather wide age range of 9 and 23. While there are obviously big differences between ages, social groups, communities and more, there are some traits that are commonly found in the teenage and lower 20s group. We’ve worked hard to understand and communicate with this audience over the last few years, building a successful strategy for Fanta that’s delivered engagement and importantly, a significant increase in y-o-y sales. Here’s some of the key lessons we’ve learned along the way.

They are aware

Gen Z tends to be liberally-minded when it comes to race, gender, identity and sexuality, as well as socially and technologically empowered. Know how their values meet your own and make sure this is front and centre of your communications. They are also very savvy when it comes to paid-for content and have a low tolerance for blatant (and bad) advertising. Brands need add to their experience by creating something they can use, share or genuinely enjoy. A traditional broadcast message won’t cut it.

They behave differently

While people from older generations, myself included, might use social platforms in a pretty similar way across the board, Gen Z is more discerning. YouTube is increasingly becoming their platform of choice for long-form content. They use Instagram for inspiration and to show a curated version of themselves, while Snapchat is how they communicate with friends – it’s where they are at their most ‘real’. When creating a cross-platform strategy, a cut and paste job won’t work. Each needs to be treated differently in order to resonate.

They want control

Gen Z wants to be seen as creative, innovative and entrepreneurial and they will favour brands and products that allow them to behave in this way. Provide tools that allow them to express their identity – Snapchat is perfect for this kind of activity, with plenty of opportunities for brands to experiment with lenses and filters.  Involving teens in decision-making for your brand can be effective, it can tap into their creative side and help them feel invested in your product. Nike – a brand that dominates Gen Z approval ratings – uses this tactic on a regular basis, with campaigns like this year’s On Air. Work with influencers who already have a relationship or connection with your brand and let them put their own creative spin on your campaign. Authenticity might have become a bit of a buzzword, but it’s still an important consideration.

Low-fi is OK

It’s OK for Gen Z if things look a bit rough around the edges; in fact, it’s often better that they do. Brands can embrace a low-fi aesthetic and champion imperfections to speak to them on their level. But it’s also important to remember that there’s a big difference between unpolished and unfinished. It’s not an excuse to use glitchy content – if anything, a digitally native generation will be less forgiving of this than anyone.

They want experiences, not ads

A 2018 UK survey found that 77% of students would consider doing a no-social-media-month and 10% of those admitted that they really needed it. Gen Z is unlikely to throw away their smartphone, but marketers do need to think beyond the screen to provide real value. We’ve found that marrying experiential and digital activations can be very effective, particularly with a student audience who have been thrown into a new environment and need the opportunity to make friends in real life, not just online connections.


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