It's fair to say that Gen Z has become cynical when it comes to traditional advertising strategy. Today's social media culture and the unlimited knowledge available in a few clicks on the internet means that this group of consumers is mistrustful of traditional advertising. They can easily see past an ad that is clearly a 'sell' without any real desirability, engagement or connection to them.
What is considered 'advertising' changes over time, as does the industry itself. Learning, evolving and embracing changing technology and social structure is an intregral part of advertising comms strategy. Gen Z’s use of social media has added to advertising and companies should be capitalizing on it.
Quynh Mai, Founder, and CEO of Qulture when asked to touch on the impact that Gen Z has on the industry said, “Gen Z has a world-weary perspective, having grown up with mass school shootings and climate change. They have a keen understanding of how things work – how fashion brands pay celebrities to wear their clothes and how the media is reliant and faithful to their advertisers. Thus, they have developed a lack of trust in institutions which includes corporations and brands themselves. So, when they see an advertisement, they immediately question its merits.
Instead of turning to advertisers, Gen Z turns to their peers. Using apps like TikTok, many Gen Z find a few creators they trust and have a parasocial relationship with, who give them recommendations based on their life experience. This has been shown multiple times on TikTok, with creators posting a product they use and the next day the product has sold out on every retail POP, whether that's online or in-store.
“The meteoric rise of TikTok has been fueled by Gen Z who prefer to engage with one another and buy products endorsed by “real people” and their peers. For brands to succeed with this generation, and the older generations that copycat their behaviors to stay young and cool, will have to re-think their ad campaigns to be more UGC focused (user generated content) and authentic and raw,” states Quynh.
Since the introduction of TikTok, Gen Z has made the platform its main social media platform. TikTok’s algorithm places users into categories and shows them influencers and other users with similar interests.
TikTok has over 1,000 million users, according to their statistics. On the platform there are content creators whose pages are dedicated to reviewing products and companies like @Theshoppingexpert, with 431,800 followers, who review all types of products. However, there are also content creators like @meeplessinseattle, with 2,385 followers, who create an account to browse the app and create one video that garners viral attention. In her first video @meeplessinseattle reviewed the Owala waterbottle and recieved 656,200 likes and 4.4 million views. Although this video did not make her account go viral, it did generate interest and hype for the Owala waterbottle. Since this video, and others, was published, the Owala waterbottle has been out of stock on Amazon multiple times.
Quynh Mai comments, “Years ago, when Millennials took over as the epicenter of pop culture, they abandoned Facebook for Instagram. When that happened, it was the end of the text post and the end of viral YouTube video ad campaigns (remember the dancing Evian babies anyone?). Today, Gen Z is abandoning Instagram for TikTok and giving rise to UGC, vertical video, and raw docu-style communications. For the advertising industry to engage with this next generation, we will have to think, act, and make brand content that aligns with their new worldview and aesthetic.”
As Gen Z gets older, their influence in the marketplace grows. There are approximately 65 million Gen Z living in the United States alone, with approximately 2 billion total across the globe. The purchase power of Gen Z grows every day, which is a huge incentive for advertisers to take their media habits into consideration.
"Gen Z is entering that sweet spot as the eldest of them turn 26 years old in 2023. As we know from decades of experience, the twenty-something is the epicenter of pop culture and will dictate how we all live, shop, eat and play. In addition, older generations – Millennials and Gen X – will aim to act like them to stay young and modern, so the influence of Gen Z attitudes and behaviors will ripple through society," according to Quynh.
Advertisers need to shift and grow with new generations as they come. The recent change of focus from traditional media to peer-to-peer testimonials and UGC needs to be acknowledged and responded by advertisers and brands if they want to connect with Gen Z consumers, both now and in the long term.
With our thanks to Qulture's founder & CEO Quynh Mai for her invaluable insight.