Today’s youth – or ‘Gen Z’ as they’re also known – can be a tough crowd.
Well-informed, digitally-savvy, and particularly cynical when it comes to brand marketing – 16 to 24-year olds are an entirely new breed of consumers.
Part and parcel of this is of course digital technology, with 96% of Gen Z owning a smartphone, and spending an average of three hours and 38 minutes online each day.
It might be easy to assume then that growing up a digital native might result in a passive, perhaps even lazier generation, but in contrast, Generation Z is said to be more go-getting, money-savvy and socially-aware than ever before. A Lincoln survey found that saving for the future is a top priority for US teens, alongside getting a degree and a valuable job. Meanwhile, 80% of Gen Z is said to have a greater tendency to buy products that have a positive social or environmental impact.
So, with all this complexity, how can brands truly connect and engage with the youth of today? Here are a few examples of those that have succeeded, and the reasons why.
Vodafone & Voxi
Vodafone is clearly set on capturing the youth market, having specifically launched a new mobile network for people aged under 25. The idea behind Voxi is that young people use their mobile phones differently to other demographics, placing greater value on data rather than calls or SMS messages. As a result, the network enables users to access apps like Snapchat and Messenger without cutting into their data plan.
Unsurprisingly, Vodafone has utilised social to target a young audience, first enlisting the help of 50 creatives to create content for various channels. It also signed ad deals with both Snapchat and Twitter, and held events in UK universities during Fresher’s Week.
Voxi has a strong brand promise – one that is designed to give young people a way to connect to the things that matter to them, in the places that matter most. i.e. social media. But is it also in danger of stereotyping young people?
With the recognition that young people are diverse, both in terms of social and economic background as well as what interests them – I think Vodafone has been able to avoid this to a certain extent. By putting young creatives at the heart of its marketing, it hasn’t imposed its own perception about what young people of today are interested in, but instead let its audience dictate the message.
VOXI creators @lauren_mustoe_ Meg Jepson @lydiadique @charliepryorvisuals and @waynecreativ spent a day with our curator and founder of @wahnails @sharmadeanreid for a masterclass on creativity and entrepreneurship! #mentor #youngtalent #VOXIcreators pic.twitter.com/Z4OnDJfbEE
— VOXI (@VOXI_UK) December 15, 2017
Adidas and Stormzy
Brands often draw on popular culture to attract an audience, with the worlds of music and sport most typically being used to target youngsters. Adidas’s partnership with UK grime artist Stormzy is a prime example of this, with the UK grime artist being specifically used to market the brand’s sportswear range as more youth-focused and cutting edge.
Adidas’s affiliation with sport and music means that it has a unique opportunity to tap into both world’s simultaneously. In 2016, it took the opportunity to generate hype around the transfer window – specifically Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United (which also happened to be the most expensive football transfer in history). In response, Adidas created a music video featuring both Pogba and Stormzy, with its supposedly ‘accidental’ release on social media leading to viral success.
It was an incredibly smart move by Adidas, and one that ensured its name being involved in any conversation surrounding Pogba’s potentially imminent move. What’s more, by creating a splash online before the news broke in traditional media, the digital-first audience felt much more involved – almost as if they were in on the secret.
AXE and #PraiseUp
Recently, an increasing number of brands have been turning their backs on traditional gender roles to display greater inclusivity. This is largely due to changing perceptions among young people, with 56% of consumers aged 13 to 20-years-old saying someone they know uses gender-neutral pronouns. Similarly, J. Walter Thompson reports that one third of Gen Z survey respondents agree that gender does not define a person as much as it used to.
While brands like Cover Girl and Rimmel are striving to promote a strong gender fluid image, others are finding their own ways to be more inclusive. Earlier this year, Axe Canada launched #PraiseUp – a campaign designed to combat the outdated and harmful norms of male stereotypes. It was based on its own research, which found that men aged 15 to 25 are more inclusive and accepting, with a growing number also more inclined to express their emotions and affections. This is despite that fact that 70% of young men have been told that a ‘real man’ behaves a certain way.
In order to celebrate and reaffirm the notion that young men should be more open and complimentary, Axe challenged its audience to record themselves giving praise to their friends and post the video on social media. The brand also enlisted the help of popular Toronto sports stars Marcus Stroman and Kyle Lowry in order to maximise interest online.
— Kyle Lowry (@Klow7) May 19, 2017
By drawing on customer intelligence, Axe was able to show great insight into its target audience, and deepen its connection with consumers on a much more emotional level. This tactic has also worked for the brand in the past, with its similarly empowering ‘Find your magic’ campaign reportedly resulting in a rise to 70% positive brand sentiment.
— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) September 21, 2017
So, what do these examples tell us about marketing to a younger generation? Let’s leave you with some key takeaways:
Use insight – don’t impose
It’s clear that Generation Z hate stereotypes (perhaps even more than millennials). This is obvious from a consumer perspective – we’re all different regardless of age – but from a marketing one it’s more difficult to separate trends from typecasting. One of the best ways to avoid this is to display authenticity, namely by doing extensive customer research or utilising data. Or, in the case of Voxi, using the opinions and perspectives of young people themselves to inform content.
Tap into popular culture
While the term ‘popular culture’ might denote popularity across the board, it doesn’t mean it’ll always resonate with a brand or its audience. In the case of Adidas, however, its success stemmed from the fact that its existing target market is already highly engaged in the two worlds of sport and music. By combining this power, and using two high-profile personalities in a viral campaign, it ensured maximum engagement.
Reflect shifting attitudes
I think the biggest takeaway from these youth-focused marketing campaigns is how they all reflect the open and increasingly inclusive attitudes of the younger generation. With Generation Z being more diverse and even less willing to accept stereotypes, it is important for brands to shift their perspective accordingly, and reflect it in their marketing.