March 12, 2024 / Thought Leadership

Navigating the Gen Z Universe

Ashley Campbell, Brand Director

From their social media habits to purchasing behaviors, Gen Z, as with any emerging generation, is a dynamic and mysterious audience for most of us in advertising. I, for one, was shocked to learn that my 6 and 3-year-old are considered Gen Alpha. While the name is fitting for the role they play in our household, I am not quite ready to consider them as a target audience for advertising! 

Generation Z has been a hot topic for many of my clients, especially as we continue to see TikTok rise as a top-performing channel. I was lucky to recently attend the Ad Clubs’ In the Now: Marketing to Gen Z Event, where we explored trends, preferences, and the unique ways brands are adapting to stay relevant.

The Evolving Demographics of College-Age Students:

According to the recent GenZology study by HerCampus, women currently outnumber men in college. Windsor Western, HerCampus Co-founder & President, and Katrina Campanale, HerCampus SVP Sales & Business Development, also noted that contrary to the seasonal emphasis on “back to college,” Gen Zers have discretionary income to spend year round and that 77% of them make their own spending decisions. College-age young adults (ages 18 – 24) are the halfway point of the generation which spans 14 – 28. This middle-aged group sets the stage for a generation with a powerful influence, with many of them wielding unprecedented digital native prowess.

Social Media App Usage Habits:

Gen Z’s relationship with social media is intricate and ever-changing. Despite being precious about in-feed posting, they share stories multiple times a week. The once-coveted live event social presence has shifted, with platforms like TikTok and Instagram taking center stage. But also, Gen Z females and Gen Z males use social media very differently. According to HerMedia, Instagram is the app with the most commonality across both genders. Having an account on TikTok is more common for Gen Z women than Gen Z men, 92% and 60% respectively. Also, Reddit and Discord are very popular for men, but less so for women.

When it comes to shopping, TikTok emerges as a powerhouse for product discovery among women, while men gravitate towards Instagram. The buying journey often involves scrolling, with a significant number claiming to make purchases after seeing products on TikTok. However, trust issues arise as HerMedia notes that only 34% of users have actually made purchases off of TikTok Shop directly. This is a crucial detail that brands need to consider when identifying the KPIs associated with each TikTok campaign.

Influencer Marketing Has More Influence Than Traditional Marketing:

In the era of Gen Z, traditional marketing is not breaking through. Authenticity is the linchpin, and influencers play a pivotal role. Leading brands are adapting their strategies to cater to Gen Z’s unique sensibilities. The Ad Club’s panelists Andrew Grillo, Director of New Product Revenue at Boston Globe Media / B-Side, Sarah Morgan, Director of Media at Fidelity, and Lindsay Sutton, SVP of Strategy and Connections Lead at Digitas, spoke about the trends they are seeing. The use of green screen formats, the incorporation of influencers and modern storytelling showcase the versatility of adapting to Gen Z’s language and preferences. Also, it’s still critical that brands tailor their messages to ad formats. Understanding that one size doesn’t fit all, brands continue to find success in tuning messages to specific channels rather than a blanket approach. While also keeping in mind that Gen Z is extremely privacy-conscious. So, if you are too customized or they feel like they are “being followed” there could be a lapse in trust.

As I reflect on this event, it’s evident that understanding Gen Z requires a nuanced approach. Brands that prioritize authenticity, leverage influencers effectively, and adapt to the rapidly changing social media landscape will undoubtedly thrive in this dynamic and influential generation. The future belongs to those who can decode the intricate dance of Gen Z preferences and values.