How to kick it with the cool kids

Despite Gen Z entering the workforce and having disposable income, the marketing industry often faces a few challenges in effectively engaging with this demographic. We chat to experts about how to better reach this important market.

Defined as those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Gen Z audience have been defined as money-driven, ambitious, pragmatic but most importantly, digital natives. 

With Millennials considered as ‘Digital Pioneers’, Gen Z were born into the peak of technological innovation, preferring the use of social media and digital platforms over traditional media such as television, radio, and print. 

Unlike other generations, as digital natives, Gen Z are highly connected and therefore accessible, which has created new opportunities for the marketing industry to tap into. 

According to Gen Z industry experts, this generation has a few specific traits the marketers trying to reach them should consider. 

Sam Stuchbury, Executive Creative Director of creative agency Motion Sickness, says Gen Z “have quite a high and sensitive bullsh*t radar” but a “low tolerance to advertising or selling. [So] it has to feel really connected to the culture,” he adds. 

Maddie Youngman, Marketing Manager at MONDAY Haircare and winner of the Up-and-Coming Marketer at the 2022 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards is a Gen Z herself and knows many of her peers are ‘inherently digital and socially adept’. 

The want and need for authenticity is at an all-time high, with Maddie saying that Gen Z are handpicking influencers for “genuine reviews”.

But amidst all this, Robin McDonnell, CEO of Phantom Billstickers – a company founded on advertising to young people – says one thing that has not changed is the desire for real-life experiences. 

“Despite social media becoming a tool that extrapolates that exposure and finding new things, there’s still that appeal of the real,” adds Robin. 

However, understanding the landscape that Gen Z operate in, is just the beginning of successfully marketing to them. 

Sam of Motion Sickness has had a successful 2023 working on a number of campaigns that have connected with this demographic. 

One of those campaigns is ‘Rep Your Suburb’ – a campaign that worked on boosting census participantion within Māori and Pasifika communities which has been recorded as being very low. 

In order to boost those numbers, Motion Sickness created a pop-up store with merch in collaboration with TikTok creative @southsides, branded with local post codes, allowing young people to represent their local area. 

@southsides identified that Gen Z liked to represent their postcode number, which was a key part of making this campaign successful and engaging younger audiences. 

“What we look for is those campaigns should feel more like an interesting thing you actually want to be involved with rather than advertising, so it is kind of disguising the advertising a bit and making sure that it connects with stuff that this audience likes,” says Sam. 

Disguising an advertisement is even more important now where for Gen Z it is very easy to hit ‘Skip Ad’ on YouTube or scroll past it one second in on platforms like Instagram or TikTok.

A prime example of this tactic by Motion Sickness is the humorous ‘You’re Cooked’ campaign, in partnership with Fire and Emergency NZ which gained immense popularity on TikTok. 

The campaign put intoxicated members of the public in the spotlight, creating unusual recipes to reinforce the message that cooking under the influence is a leading cause of  house fires. The campaign also included a cookbook made up of recipes that can be made without using the stove. 

Sam says the campaign came to fruition because they wanted to create something that people would organically see on TikTok rather than a video with the logo right at the start. 

“It was more hooking people in with that humour of people that looked a little bit blurry-eyed, and then the recipes, because we knew recipes were very popular on TikTok. So once again, hijacking that space so it didn’t feel like advertising,” explains Sam. 

Subtle advertising is even more important for Maddie at MONDAY Haircare, the most followed hair brand on TikTok, where sponsored reviews by A-list celebrities lack authenticity and are no longer considered relevant. 

Gen Z are more inclined to receive guidance from influencers who have  built an authentic and trusted △ personality over time and this trust is carried over to their purchasing choices. 

This includes aligning with influencers such as Alix Earle who has gained immense popularity because of her honest and down-to-earth reviews of products that have caused items to sell out. 

The success stories of these authentic influencers have motivated MONDAY Haircare to start its very own creator community to represent its Gen Z audience. 

“MONDAY ‘Creator Studio’ is where we brief members from our social community who’ve engaged with the brand previously. We work closely with them to create engaging and authentic content showcasing how they incorporate MONDAY into their routine, how the brand aligns with their personal values,” she says. 

“This has encouraged wider engagement from Gen Z who can see people they relate to and resonate with represented through our brand.”

But it is not just authenticity that appeals to Gen Z, it is also inclusivity and transparency says Maddie. 

By ensuring your audience can feel seen and heard from initial product development to what they see from the brand to the future and the continuous communication of what your brand stands for, Gen Z are bound to see your campaigns as more than just marketing. 

Brands need to seek visibility and engagement in a two-way dialogue, and Maddie says brands such as Starface, Versed, Kosas, and Milk make-up are prime examples of brands that are creating a community within their audiences to feel connected. 

As a whole, Gen Z want to be informed and are more inclined to do research before making a purchase, so for brands it is important to engage with the audience by being transparent, clear, and honest. 

“You don’t necessarily have to speak in ‘Gen Z language’, it just comes back to giving people what they want to see, acknowledging what they expect from a brand in 2023 and relating to them in a personal, human way,” adds Maddie. 

Robin of Phantom Billstickers agrees, saying it’s not about trying to talk or act like Gen Z, but about providing them with experiences to walk away with so they don’t feel like they wasted their time watching an ad. 

“It’s that emotional ownership of things where people actually feel like this is mine. You can’t create that in a digital sense,” says Robin. 

“There’s definitely a movement where Gen Z are paying attention to the world around them and see posters as something that they can souvenir and something that’s part of their identity.”

Phantom Billstickers, which has the luxury of connecting with Gen Z through locations with a high index of youth (Karangahape Rd, university centres etc.), has noticed a trend of Gen Z audiences stealing posters and posting videos of them on social media sites like Instagram and TikTok. 

Robin says rather than being worried about this theft, he views it as a sign that they have “struck gold”. Recently, posters of touring pop stars such as Lorde and Olivia Rodrigo have been stolen from their locations. 

Having a campaign message that Gen Z are putting up on the walls of their flats and bedrooms and posting it on social media feeds is marketing that money can’t buy, he says.

“They’re not trying to get something for free, they’re going for it as part of the experience.” 

Posting videos on social media is giving the campaign a second life, says Robin who looks at it as the crossover of online and real life. 

Printed campaigns that get on social media are the ones where creativity flourishes and goes beyond normalcy to create a one-of-a-kind experience. 

“What Gen Z want are little micro experiences to actually experience life and then share that with the world,” adds Robin. 

Sam agrees, saying that creativity is the biggest challenge when it comes to connecting with Gen Z. On one hand, the fact that they are globally connected makes the reach much larger, but on the other hand, capturing and retaining attention becomes much harder. 

“I think having Gen Z members on your team, especially your social team, is an advantage,” adds Maddie. 

So, when you find yourself at your next meeting about how to target younger generations, just remember the best work is authentic, creative and allows for Gen Z to walk away with an experience.  

This article was first published in our December/January 2023/2024 issue.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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