May 16, 2022 / Thought Leadership

Keeping it Real: All Ro(ads) Point to Authenticity for Gen Z

Neal Malone, PR and Social Media Management Supervisor

Four hours. That’s the average amount of time that Gen Z users spend on social media per day.

Once you layer in working, eating, and sleeping, there isn’t a whole lot of time to do much else.

This isn’t a generation that spends time reading articles in the morning, they don’t watch a ton of TV…and the shows or movies that they do watch are through streaming platforms or YouTube. Heck, there’s even data out there now that tells us members of Gen Z are ditching their email in favor of social DMs.

Talk about a hard advertising target, right?! Let’s put it this way…if you’re a brand trying to reach Gen Z – a generation that is already playing a big role in shaping our society and culture – investing in traditional ad formats would be like setting a pile of money on fire. Sorry, it just isn’t going to work.

So that brings us back to social media – quite literally the epicenter of all things Gen Z. There are plenty of ad formats across the various social media platforms, but the more traditional ones are quickly losing their luster. Gen Z users are experts at sniffing out ads and will quickly scroll past anything that feels too promotional. Instead, these users gravitate towards edgy, raw, authentic content featuring real people, real stories, and very little “sales speak.”

Because today, consumers are tired of being sold to. They’re over logos flashing everywhere, voiceovers that cram in talking points, and hired talent that isn’t representative of them or their communities. Consumers in 2022 are savvy and the expectations they have for brands are at an all-time high.

At Social Media Week – a three-day conference hosted by AdWeek in New York City – PepsiCo Chief Marketing Officer, Todd Kaplan, may have summed it up best when he said that “brands should make consumers feel invited, not chased.” Now, you could argue that a company with the history, scale, and brand recognition of PepsiCo doesn’t really need to sell itself to consumers anyway, but Todd’s point is an important one – and all brands should take note.

It’s not that Gen Z (and younger Millennial) consumers are allergic to all marketing and advertising – they just want brands to engage them in a different, more personalized way. The word “authentic” was mentioned more than any other word at Social Media Week (to the point where it started to generate some laughs from the crowd), but the reason why it came up so often is because consumers today demand authentic, relatable content. If it’s anything otherwise, it’s not worth their time.

So what does this mean for brands who want to reach Gen Z and other like-minded consumers?

It means engaging with influencers who can bring a trusted voice to their products, it means leveraging user-generated content to power their brand channels, and it means using social listening to identify trends and keep a pulse on evolving consumer conversations. In a general sense, it means rethinking and modernizing everything we’ve been taught as marketers over the years.

Speaking at Social Media Week, Hootsuite Chief Marketing Officer, Maggie Lower, encouraged brands to be “courageously creative” with their social media strategies and campaigns. She acknowledged that it isn’t easy for some companies to take this leap of faith into a more organic and less buttoned-up content world, but it’s a critical step that brands must take if they want to grab the attention of younger consumers.

If one thing was clear at Social Media Week across all the companies and brands that presented (you may have heard of a few: Google, Meta, Twitter, Snapchat, Glossier, Anheuser-Busch InBev, PepsiCo, and others), now is the time to dive head-first into the world of short-form video, influencers, and creator-driven marketing. After all, Gen Zers will soon be the key decision makers and content curators at our favorite brands, and this type of content won’t be a choice…it’ll be an expectation.

Now, onto the Metaverse and NFTs…just kidding! Next time, maybe.