In the past, the recipe for marketing success was simple: add a few cute kittens here and there; talk about avocado toasts, artisanal coffee, and #adulting; glorify your product ever so slightly, and — boom — you have your Millennial consumer in a marketing trap.
Ah, the good old days, when everything was ‘easy-peasy lemon squeezy’.
Now that the largest consumer on the market is Gen Z — the 2-billion cohort that makes up a third of the global population — things have gotten… Stressed depressed lemon zest.
With their unique values, preferences, and communication styles, Gen Z is the polar opposite of every generation to ever exist. And companies scramble to understand how to market to this generation effectively — it’s a notoriously tricky task.
But the truth is, Gen Zers aren’t some sort of mystery crowd no brand can decipher. There are Gen Z equivalents of #adulting, avocado toasts, and adorable kittens, too — you just need to find them.
In this article, we’ll help you do exactly that.
At first, we thought about finding a Gen Z consumer to get more insight on the ins and outs of marketing to this demographic. But, conveniently enough, born in 2000, the author of this article (myself) is an exemplary Gen Z specimen: extremely opinionated, tech-savvy, and *ahem* chronically online.
So… If you want to learn more about marketing to Gen Z from an actual generation member, understand how to speak Gen Z’s language, tap into their values, and connect with them in a way that feels real, read this article.
Once you get all that knowledge, creating impactful Gen Z ads will become even easier — VistaCreate is always there to support your creativity.
Who are Gen Z?
Born between 1997 and 2012, Generation Z, also known as Gen Z or iGen, is the demographic cohort following the Millennial generation. At the moment, Gen Z is the largest generation in American history, comprising 27% of the US population.
With a spending power of over $140B, Gen Z is currently the biggest driving force behind market changes and the future of business in general.
They’re driving spending, are behind some of the largest behavioral and cultural shifts that we see today, and are also making decisions that will affect us for years to come.Liz Toney, co-founder of PRZM
Therefore, it’s particularly important for businesses to understand the unique characteristics of this demographic and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.
Here are some of the most notable features that define Gen Z…
Gen Z, the digital wizards
Gen Z is the first generation to have never known a world without the internet. They’ve grown up with technology at their fingertips, and as a result, they have a unique understanding of how technology can be used for connection, communication, and creativity. From TikTok to Instagram, they know the ins and outs of all the latest apps and platforms.
Gen Z, the solopreneurs
Gen Z values the flexibility and freedom to work on their own terms, and as a result, they are more likely to start their own businesses than previous generations. They are not afraid to take risks and pursue their passions, regardless of whether they have a traditional 9-to-5 job or not.
➡️ Check out our list of the best online business ideas to kick-start your career as an entrepreneur.
For example, many Gen Zers are using their creativity and tech savviness to start online businesses, such as selling handmade jewelry or digital products on platforms like Etsy, or selling e-books or video courses on platforms like Gumroad or Udemy.
➡️ UGC creator’s guide: Everything you need to know to get started with UGC creation
Gen Z, the advocates for diversity
Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to date, and they are known for their progressive attitudes on social issues such as LGBTQ rights and gender equality. They are outspoken on these issues and are quick to call out discrimination and prejudice.
For example, Gen Zers have been active in the Black Lives Matter movement, and many have used social media to spread awareness and advocate for change.
Gen Z, the global citizens
Unlike previous generations, Gen Z grew up in a world where global events and issues were constantly accessible through the internet and social media. As a result, they aren’t content to simply focus on their own backyard, but rather see the world as their playground. They value global awareness and understanding.
Gen Z, the social impact pirates
Gen Z is motivated by a desire to make a positive impact on the world. For example, Gen Zers have been active in advocating for climate action and many are choosing to study and pursue careers in fields such as sustainability and renewable energy.
Gen Z, the master adapters
Gen Z has grown up in a world of rapid change and instability, which made them master adapters. Whether it’s adapting to new technology, changing political climates, or shifting cultural norms, Gen Zers are comfortable with change and are able to quickly adapt to new situations.
For example, Gen Zers were some of the first to embrace remote learning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and many have continued to adapt to new learning methods and technologies as a result.
➡️ See a list of the top 10 pandemic ad campaigns and their takeaway lessons for business owners in our article.
Gen Z, the individualists
This generation is all about breaking free from traditional norms and expectations. Having always had a platform to express themselves in bold and unique ways, Gen Z isn’t interested in following the crowd or fitting into a neat little box. They crave individuality and self-expression like nobody’s business, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd.
➡️ Learn how brands can stand out from the crowd in our guide.
All the aforementioned characteristics shape Gen Z marketing trends — more on that in the next section of this article!
How to reach Generation Z: 7 generation Z marketing strategies that will make your brand successful
Below, we’ll discuss the most effective strategies for advertising to Gen Z and take a look at Gen Z brands that just get it.
Real value above all
It’s not out of the ordinary for brands to go all out when it comes to presenting their products and services in the best light possible.
You know how it goes… Big bosses gather at the round table to discuss current problems that hinder business growth and brainstorm appropriate solutions to remove bottlenecks…
“Hey, I think we have a problem — our customers don’t think that our product is good.”
“What?! We need to find ways to convince them it is!”
What follows next? Brands attempt to change the audience’s perception of a product without truly understanding the reason why the problem occurred in the first place.
Sometimes, it involves hiring celebrities to promote the product or service and influence the audience into buying it.
Sometimes, it includes putting emphasis on the unique selling points of the product or service, slightly bending the truth here and there so that it looks better in the eyes of consumers.
And sometimes, it goes as far as faking social proof (reviews, comments, and testimonials) to make it appear as if your product or service is the best on the market.
The problem is… Neither of these approaches works when marketing to Gen Z.
Unlike older generations, Gen Zers have all the information at their fingertips, and they don’t mind getting their hands dirty digging through piles and piles of it to learn more about the product they’re looking to buy.
If they smell something fishy, they will make sure to get to the bottom of it. And if it turns out that your brand is a stinky liar (pun intended), they will hashtag cancel you.
Gen Zers don’t want to be tricked into thinking a product will bring them value. They want it to bring them value.
Here are some tips that will help you create Gen Z ads that work:
- Show your product in action
- Make use of user-generated content (UGC)
- Share real before-and-afters
- Raise a community of brand ambassadors that talk well about your product or service
Notice how we said “brand ambassadors” and not “social media influencers”? There’s a good reason for that.
Influencer marketing is predicted to become less effective (question mark)
According to research by GWI, an audience-targeting company for the global marketing industry, the number of consumers using social media to find new products for purchase has almost doubled (a 43% rise) since 2015.
According to a study from Oracle and Brent Leary, in 2022…
- 37% of consumers trusted social media influencers over brands. Gen Z consumers were twice as likely to trust a social media influencer than Boomers.
- 32% of Gen Z consumers discovered new products and brands through influencers.
- 84% of Gen Z had purchased products in direct response to social media content.
As a result, social media was flooded with social media influencers and B-, C-, or even D-list celebrities constantly telling people what to buy, what to wear, where to go, and who to look up to.
But in 2023, the tables have turned.
With the #deinfluencing trend soaring in popularity, it looks like influencer marketing as a Gen Z marketing strategy might be nearing its end.
Now, social media users (TikTok creators, in particular) are telling people not to buy things.
There are several reasons why de-influencing is such a huge trend among Gen Z at the moment…
- Influencers are gradually losing customer trust over controversies. For instance, TikTok makeup influencer Mikayla Nogueira was accused of wearing false lashes in a mascara review. She received lots of backlash from the community and it made people reconsider trusting what influencers have to say — and show.
- Gen Z’s disposable income is shrinking amid an economic recession. Mass layoffs, pay cuts, and inflation progressing at an alarming rate all contribute to the fact that Gen Zers have less money to spend on impulse purchases. As a result, they don’t want to be tricked into buying something they don’t need and can’t afford. But it’s not only about money…
- Influencer marketing leads to overconsumption. Trend cycles are getting progressively shorter. In the past, the lifespan of a trend would be measured in years if not decades (70s, 80s, and 90s fashion). Today, trends are much more short-lived; things that peak in popularity one month, go out of style the following month. This leads to over-consumption — and Gen Z doesn’t take this problem lightly!
One way or the other, the trend is getting bigger by the day, if not by the hour; the hashtag #deinfluencing and its variations have already racked up over 250M views on TikTok:
While we can’t be entirely sure whether or not de-influencing as a trend will stick around for a while, we still recommend playing it safe and finding alternatives.
If you want to continue influencing Gen Z consumers, make sure you get real admirers of your brand and your products to promote them. Real value and authenticity, remember?
Focus on social responsibility
Earlier in the article, we talked about Gen Z’s problem with overconsumption and how it might end the era of influencer marketing.
The thing is, Gen Zers condemn fast fashion; they don’t want to encourage companies to overproduce and have tons and tons of products end up in landfills. But that’s not the only thing that Generation Z cares about.
Some other topics that matter to Gen Z include…
- LGBTQ+ rights
- Diversity, racial and social justice
- Social responsibility
- Climate change and environmental issues
- Mental health
That’s why if you want to successfully market to Gen Z, you need to ensure your business supports an important cause, has defined values, and an established mission.
➡️ Check out examples of brands with inspiring mission statements in our article.
82% of Gen Zers claim social responsibility is very important to them, and they’re more likely to trust large companies that operate in society’s best interests and show it through their actions.
Gen Zers are much more inclined to vote with our dollars, and believe a brand’s values are a reflection of our own.Larry Milstein, a Gen Z expert
Here are a few examples of brands that Gen Z consumers love because of their profound values…
Founded by singer Rihanna in 2017, Fenty Beauty shook the cosmetics industry to its core with its badass focus on inclusivity.
First off, let’s talk about the shade range. Fenty Beauty said “screw you” to the limited shade offerings of other brands and launched with a whopping 40 shades of foundation. From porcelain to ebony goddesses, they didn’t discriminate against any skin tone.
But it wasn’t just about the product offerings. Fenty Beauty brought the heat with their marketing campaigns featuring models of all ages, sizes, and skin tones. It was a refreshing change from the same old, same old, where only supermodels with unattainable beauty standards were showcased.
But it’s not just about the makeup, it’s about the message. Fenty Beauty empowered their customers to embrace their uniqueness and celebrate their differences. They made inclusivity cool, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
Our approach to inclusion marketing has always been about “showing, not telling”. Never once did we use the word “inclusive” in our messaging.Fenty Beauty
Fenty Beauty came in hot, slayed the game, and left a lasting impact on the cosmetics industry.
Another company that made sure inclusivity was front and center of their brand is SKIMS, a shapewear brand founded by none other than the queen of reality TV herself, Kim Kardashian.
They didn’t care if you were an XXS or a 4X, they had your back (or your booty) covered. And it wasn’t just about product sizing, they also used diverse models in their marketing campaigns, proving that beauty comes in all forms.
But let’s talk about comfort, shall we? SKIMS didn’t play around when it came to making shapewear that didn’t feel like a medieval torture device. They used soft, stretchy fabrics that hugged your body in all the right places, without making you feel like you were being squeezed like a tube of toothpaste.
And SKIMS didn’t just stop at physical comfort. They made sure to include models with stretch marks, scars, and cellulite in their campaigns, normalizing natural variations of the human body and saying “eff you” to the unrealistic beauty standards that have plagued the fashion industry for too long.
If you brand preaches body positivity, too, check out VistaCreate’s free design templates…
We’ve already figured out that Gen Z branding requires a strong mission. TOMS, a popular footwear and accessories brand, has a few.
With a mission to improve lives and create a better tomorrow, TOMS has established itself as a brand that values sustainability, ethical manufacturing, and charitable giving.
They’re best known for their One for One® program, where they would donate a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair purchased.
Since its launch, the program has transformed.
Now, the company donates one-third of its profits to grassroots campaigns, which resonates with Gen Z consumers who want to make a positive impact with their purchases.
We learned that giving shoes, sight, and safe water for over a decade was an amazing start— the right start — to creating meaningful change. But, the decision to give impact grants instead will enable our community to do even more. Rather than giving shoes, we’re giving 1⁄3 of our profits. In other words, $1 for every $3 we make, which is about as much as a company can give while still keeping the lights on.TOMS Impact Report 2019-2020
In addition to their giving program, TOMS has taken steps to reduce their environmental footprint, using eco-friendly materials and implementing sustainable practices in the manufacturing processes.
Patagonia is a brand that has always taken climate change seriously. They use sustainable materials, encourage customers to repair their gear, and have taken political stands on environmental issues. They’re not afraid to use their platform to advocate for environmental issues and inspire others to take action.
In September 2022, Patagonia took its commitment to combating climate change a step further. Yvon Chouinard, the brand’s founder, gave 100% of the nonvoting stock to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature.
On top of that, in its social media publications, the brand regularly emphasizes the importance of voting and reminds people to stay politically active:
➡️ Read more about social entrepreneurship and learn how to become a socially responsible brand to market to Gen Z more effectively in our article.
But simply being a socially responsible brand on paper isn’t enough. If you want to appeal to the Gen Z audience, you also have to be transparent about it and take accountability for any missteps you make.
Back your words with actions.
For instance, amid the resurgence of the BLM movement, the cosmetics brand Cocokind made a public pledge to regularly publish a report on the makeup of their team. This was so that the community could hold them accountable. Gen Z appreciated the gesture.
Personalization, customization, and creativity
Gen Z is the generation that doesn’t want to fit in. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s vitally important for them to be able to show off their individuality, stand out from the crowd, and express their creativity.
They expect brands to cater to their individuality and provide customized experiences that speak directly to their needs and desires.
Up until recently, Crocs had the reputation of being “the dad shoe”. You know, exactly the type of footwear your dad would wear to family BBQs and beach vacations. It had absolutely no appeal to the younger crowds — people under the age of 50 would frown upon the very idea of being seen wearing these rubbery shoes pretty much anywhere.
But then everything changed. With one bite-sized alteration, Crocs found their way into the hearts (and onto the feet) of Gen Z consumers.
According to research, 75% of the Gen Z audience is more likely to buy a product if they can customize it. And that’s exactly what helped Crocs skyrocket their sales to this cohort.
Crocs’ secret formula to Gen Z marketing success were “Jibbitz” — funky shoe charms Crocs owners can add to their shoes to customize them.
Today, there are countless variations of Jibbitz — anyone can find a charm that fits their vibe. Considering that each Crocs pair holds up to 26 Jibbitz, you can be sure that your shoe customization is like no other.
Crocs speaks to the brand fans’ uniqueness and creativity . . . Crocs secret sauce lies in iterating on trend-driven styles and accessory options without alienating a core fan base attracted to the shoe’s function and comfort.Morning Consult’s report
The music streaming service Spotify is known for delivering its users an extremely personalized music listening experience. So, there’s no surprise that Spotify is so popular among Gen Z.
According to research, almost 2 in 3 (63%) respondents aged 25 and under use Spotify to listen to music; over half of Generation Z (57%) say they are likely to pay for music via Spotify in the future.
But there’s one thing in particular that makes Gen Z head over heels about Spotify.
If you’re thinking about Spotify Wrapped, you’re absolutely correct.
Spotify Wrapped is an annual end-of-year marketing campaign by Spotify that provides users with a personalized summary of their listening habits over the past year.
Every December since 2016, Spotify users get a detailed breakdown of their most-streamed artists, songs, and genres, as well as insights such as the total amount of time spent listening to music on the platform, “music aura”, or “life soundtrack” — the extras vary to keep things fresh.
For the Gen Z crew, Spotify Wrapped is like a musical mirror that reflects their personalities and preferences. Music is a huge part of their lives, and Wrapped lets them express their individuality through their year’s review.
And let’s not forget about the visual design of Wrapped — it’s like a psychedelic explosion of color that’s tailor-made for social media. It’s the perfect way to flex your musical chops and show off your coolness to all of your friends and followers.
Bonus points for the language Spotify Wrapped uses; the brand’s marketing team is well aware of Gen Z slang and the hot topics this demographic discusses throughout the year.
Remember we talked about Gen Z’s obsession with creativity and self-expression? McDonald’s Canada took it a bit too literally and launched the “Inspired by Big Mac” marketing campaign to target the demographic.
The fast food brand collaborated with a bunch of Gen Z creators, each with their own skills in visual arts, to showcase how the Big Mac can serve as a source of cultural inspiration.
From crocheted dresses, cowboy boots, and grills to floral design, 3D characters, makeup, and nail art — all pieces had one thing in common, the Big Mac theme.
This campaign was all about bringing the Big Mac back as an icon by highlighting its versatility in various cultural contexts that are relevant to Gen Z.
Social media marketing and mobile-first approach
It’s no secret that Gen Zers are chronically online.
An average member of Generation Z spends roughly 9 hours a day on their phone; and almost 50% of them are online almost all the time, scrolling social media feeds, texting, shopping, or watching streaming content.
According to the Creatopy survey “What Clicks with Gen Z”, “nearly 90% of Gen Z adults spend more than an hour on social media each day, and nearly half spend more than 3 hours with the platforms.”
Moreover, the majority (61%) of Gen Zers follow brands that they like on social media.
So, when marketing to Generation Z, you need to make sure you adopt a mobile-first approach and go heavy on social media marketing.
Beware, though! Not all social media platforms are equally popular among Gen Zers.
As a rule of thumb, they favor YouTube (25.7%), TikTok (25%), and Instagram (20%), while Facebook and Twitter remain the haven for the older generations.
➡️ Learn how to use TikTok for business in our articles: Tips for using TikTok for business and TikTok Marketing for small businesses
➡️ Learn how to use Instagram for business in our articles: Instagram marketing for small businesses: The essential guide and Tips to grow your business with Instagram
Gen Zers’ favorite content format is video, preferably under a minute long. According to Hootsuite, roughly 61% of younger consumers don’t like watching videos any longer than that.
Considering that Gen Z is notorious for having an incredibly short attention span — Gen Zers lose active attention to ads after just 1.3 seconds, — it’s fair enough.
That being said, if you plan on posting videos longer than 1 second, you need to make sure they’re dynamic. That’s where the rule of 2 seconds comes in handy.
🔥 VistaCreate Top Tip: To keep your Gen Z video viewers engaged, you need to change frames every 2 seconds.
Be fun and be funny
Gen Zers are known to have a weird sense of humor — and they aren’t afraid to let the world know about it. Being silly and goofy online is nothing out of ordinary for an average member of Gen Z; and they expect the same sort of laid-back approach from the brands that target them, too.
There are several reasons why it’s important for brands to be fun (and funny) if they want to reach Gen Z:
- Humorous ads are the perfect way to grab attention and make a person stop scrolling for a hot minute.
- Humor creates an emotional connection with Gen Z.
- Humor makes brands seem way more relatable. Gen Zers are all about authenticity, and nothing screams “real” more than a brand that’s not afraid to have a good laugh at themselves.
- Humor encourages social sharing. Gen Z loves to share funny content with their squad. So if you’ve got a hilarious ad, it’s more likely to be shared all over social media, giving you that sweet, sweet brand exposure.
But the best thing about humor? It sticks in your brain like glue! When a brand makes you laugh, you remember it. Simple as that.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of brands that are extremely self-aware, humorous, and totally crushing it with Gen Z.
A textbook example of stellar Gen Z marketing — Duolingo (and the social media marketing manager behind the brand) is doing the absolute most.
In this case, “the absolute most” includes…
- Threatening followers to do unspeakable things to them if they don’t do their language lessons (a few years ago, someone pointed out that Duolingo’s push notifications are pretty aggressive, and it’s been a running joke ever since)
- Having a massive crush on Dua Lipa the singer
- Actively using the most popular Gen Z language (has the word “rizz” even existed before Gen Z?!)
Honestly, when it comes to Duolingo, a video is worth a thousand words.
Another brand that isn’t holding it back on TikTok is Ryanair — and people love it! Ryanair pokes fun at themselves and their audience, and gets absolutely drowned in likes and positive comments.
Perhaps, slightly less unhinged than the previous two, but Netflix, too, knows how to take a joke and stay relevant on social media.
Simply being attentive to conversations online brought Netflix 125K likes on a single TikTok video:
Be flexible with your marketing
Having your marketing strategy all figured out and your marketing calendar planned out months in advance is a great thing. It brings order to your marketing processes, it gives you a sense of direction, and it makes it easier to track your progress.
But, unfortunately, planning things too far ahead is also something that can drive your brand away from the Gen Z audience.
Spontaneity, quick-paced environments, and 180-degree turns are Gen Zers’ cups of tea. They’re fast adopters times 100. If you want to reach them, you need to keep up. This includes…
- Keeping up with all sociocultural events
- Staying on top of your meme game
- Spotting trends early and hopping on them while they’re still on the rise (BeReal marketing anyone?)
Here’s a limitation, however. Because a lot of gen Z marketing trends are based on current pop culture and internet memes, their lifespan is very limited.
So, if you do want to run a Gen Z ad that references a pop culture moment or uses a popular meme format, you need to be quick.
There’s no room for bureaucracy. You can’t afford to waste time on approving the creative with an array of managers before posting the TikTok, Reel, Tweet, or post. Because by the time your idea gets greenlit, it might become irrelevant.
For example… Right now, publishing a TikTok video with the two dogs from the Barbie movie or placing your product on the Titanic can bring you millions of views and thousands of likes. But in just two weeks’ time, the trend will likely be a thing of the past.
Build a community around your brand
If relying on trends to reach Gen Z sounds too risky, you can always resort to more robust methods of showing up on your target audience’s radars. Community building.
According to multiple studies, Gen Z is the USA’s loneliest demographic. With the entirety of the world at their fingertips, they still struggle to find a space where they can belong and connect with like-minded individuals.
As a marketer, you can offer them a space like that and get their undivided attention and brand loyalty in return:
- Regularly engage with your followers on social media
- Host events, both online and offline
- Provide your customers with a platform to share their experiences with your brand
- Encourage User-Generated Content
For example, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty allows anyone to get featured on the brand’s website. All you need to do is upload your Fenty Beauty look and become the Fenty Face!
Spoiler alert: The most successful online communities become targets for haters and Internet trolls. Check out our article to learn how to handle negative comments on social media.
Now you should have a much better understanding of how to reach Gen Z, as well as make your brand visible and likable among the members of this quirky bunch.
It’s time to put your newly acquired knowledge into practice and create a campaign your Gen Z audience will love. With VistaCreate, it’s easy. Choose a template you like and customize it for your project.