Marketing Pulse Blog

Reaching Gen Z: Teaching Old Brands New TikToks

Written by
Zlata Faerman

As the oldest members of Gen Z come into young adulthood and the youngest approach their teens, the Zoomer cohort is the new hot target for many brands. The original “digital natives,” Gen Z generally refers to those born between 1997 and 2012. All of their life experiences happened during the internet’s existence, and they have almost always relied heavily on technology and devices. Technology is an integral part of their daily life, much of which they spend online. This group also has different personal, professional and social priorities than their parents and previous generations, with equality, sustainability and inclusion leading the way. 

With an estimated buying power of about $143 billion, reaching Gen Z is an attractive prospect for brands. With these behaviors, preferences and priorities in mind, brands everywhere are reshaping their marketing strategies to reach the young generation. 

1. For Gen Z, high-quality video is a must.

While older generations enjoy the trope that “kids these days” love their screen time, research shows Gen Z particularly loves one type of platform: video. Video should be the primary format in virtually any campaign targeting Gen Z. Otherwise, there is a good chance they’re not going to see it. 

This is likely one reason TikTok has been so successful with this group in particular. The video-only platform is highly engaging, and its content creators tend to focus on quality production — two big wins for the generation that grew up online. According to Forrester, in 2021, TikTok surpassed Instagram in popularity. Among surveyed youth, weekly usage went from 50% in 2020 to 63% in 2021. On Instagram, however, weekly use declined from 61% in 2020 to 57% in 2021. (Snapchat remained flat at 54%, if you’re wondering.) 

Interestingly though, while TikTok is undeniably on the rise, it’s not king quite yet — 72% of Gen Z reported using YouTube at least weekly in 2021. Will TikTok take over? It’s still too early to tell, but with its video format, quality content, and increasing popularity, TikTok probably has the best chance of any platform.  

2. Gen Z has values, and they will judge yours.

Perhaps more than any generation before them, Gen Z puts money where their mouth is. Some researchers suggest this is because they see purchasing decisions as an extension and representation of their own personal brand. Sustainability, racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights and human rights are high priorities for Gen Z shoppers. Brands like Patagonia and Levi’s have seen a resurgence in popularity among the younger set, thanks in large part to sustainability campaigns that serve up messages in their language. 

Abercrombie & Fitch is listening. Before jumping into its latest marketing strategy, Abercrombie recognized it had to pass the authenticity test with Gen Z. Since 2017, the brand quietly expanded its clothing sizes and worked with more diverse models to build more inclusivity around the brand image. In 2021 it dove into TikTok and began working with platform creators. 

Growing up on social networks, Gen Z is also adept at building a consensus among peers and will often use this strategy to explore products and brands to evaluate their options. They view this exploration as a way to make informed buying decisions that align with their own values. Again, we see another reason platforms like TikTok are a go-to destination for Gen Z. The highly effective For Your Page (FYP) algorithm delivers, constantly pairing content from like-minded creators (and the brands they work with) with users who have similar values and interests. 

3. Entertainment is not just appreciated; it’s expected.

Whether it’s because of their acute awareness of mental health or just a preferred way to pass the time, Gen Z likes to laugh. In the Forrester survey, respondents repeatedly said they preferred “fun” and “funny” videos and content. 

With its endless scroll, short-form videos and sprawling variety-show style of creativity, TikTok again emerges as a category leader with this generational set. Feel-good dances, humorous “challenges,” and viral video effects create a user experience that feels almost custom-made to produce dopamine. 

Gen Z will often reward your campaign efforts if you can deliver humor authentically. Just remember they have spent their whole lives online and can easily sniff out a brand that’s trying too hard. Don’t be cheugy, as they might say.  

With their collective concerns for mental health and the environment and a distinct appreciation for joy and humor, Gen Z will forge a path far different from their predecessors. To reach them, marketers should deploy a strategic approach that considers Gen Z’s typical priorities and find creative ways to be part of those conversations. For now, TikTok and YouTube’s video formats command much of the younger generation’s online consumption. But, as they always do, things can change with the times. 

Looking for help with your brand’s Gen Z strategy? We are here to help. Explore the blog for more insights and get in touch any time. 

Featured image by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash.

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Written by
Zlata Faerman

Zlata is a full-time publicist, part-time writer, and round-the-clock ambassador to wit and humor. As a publicist for over 15 years, she helps launch products with creative ideas and garner press coverage that drives reputation and sales. She also contributes to a variety of lifestyle publications in the areas of food, parenting, health, beauty, marketing, travel, and home. When she’s not crafting kitchen concoctions for her food blog @lifeandthymez, Zlata can be found spending time with her family, having #zlatathoughts, and fantasizing about being a Real Housewife of New Jersey.


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