Generation Z are digital natives. They’ve never lived in a world without the internet. This has shaped the way they see the world, and how they want brands to engage with them. Aalia Walker of SMACK tells us how we should be reaching out to this key group.

A stronger sense of social conscience

Unlike their Gen Y counterparts, who were born and brought up in a period of relative economic strength, Generation Z was brought up in an age dominated by the rise of technology, war, terrorism and the recession, all of which has left them feeling more socially responsible than their predecessors.

For marketers, this means that content must be finely calibrated to resonate with this strong sense of right and wrong. Using aspirational images of the woman you could be if only you’d lay off those biscuits has been used as a technique to sell weight-loss products used for time immemorial, however Protein World’s infamous 2015 campaign hit a dud note with its inference that only lithe and tanned physiques can possibly be ‘beach body ready’.

In contrast, Gen Z can be hugely receptive to campaigns that champion causes that are important to them. For example, our 2015 initiative with anti-knife crime charity the Ben Kinsella Trust proved very successful. We grabbed young people’s attention with real life ‘talking heads’ who had been affected by knife crime and made sure that if the story resonated, it was easy to like, share and spread the word among your peers.

A higher regard for privacy

While the press may portray the youth of today as having a predilection for sharing every aspect of their life on social media, actually, it’s the older generations who are more likely to fall prey to vague statuses and compulsive meme sharing. Gen Z are much more likely to use private platforms such as Snapchat. Of course, the very privacy of these mediums can make it harder for marketers to engage, but, as ever with this generation, the trick is to give them something they want in return for their attention. So, for example, Snapchat can be used to deliver previously unseen content to followers, to broadcast live events, as a platform for clever partnerships with key influencers or for bespoke content, such as Domino’s recent Dough to Door campaign.

Similarly, when Bucks County Council approached us to devise a digital activation to educate their hard to reach teenage audience on sexual health. We covered the topic in a playful and engaging way to determine the users Pulling Playlist based on a series of relationship questions. Mindful of the importance of confidentiality we ensured the app requires no Facebook permissions from its users.

They listen to their peers, not big business

While in the past, consumers had to listen to what advertisers said about products, and, if lucky, get the opinions of friends and family. These days, whether you’re buying a mascara or booking a restaurant, it’s easy to check in with thousands of your peers and check whether it’s worth the bother.

For business, this is a double-edged sword. Bad products and bad service have nowhere to hide. Good products and services, however, can bask in the warm glow of money-can’t-buy customer recommendations. Marketers can capitalise this by engaging with key influencers, such as bloggers and Youtube stars like Zoella who with just one enthusiastic review can ensure that the tills are alive with the sound of consumers parting with cash.

Instant gratification not long-term rewards

This isn’t a generation that is used to waiting. Gen Y-ers just about remember a time when finding the answers to tricky questions meant scouring libraries, photos took seven days to be developed and if you wanted to listen to a song any time you wanted, you had to get yourself down to Woolworths and buy it.

For Gen Z, these things seem as antiquated as no sex before marriage. This generation knows what it wants, and it wants it now, so marketers need to ensure the dopamine hit comes quickly before that short attention span wanders. This is exactly what we did recently for our client Ted Baker.

Our Valentine’s campaign, created an easy-to-use quirkily designed microsite where users ‘fished’ for a ‘solemate’ for the chance of winning a Ted Baker shopping spree. It was fun, fast and mildly addictive. And it quickly proved a catch, with more than 10,000 users playing the game in its first 24 hours. It got people interested quickly. Though primarily devised as an engagement and data capture exercise, the Solemates game also netted an uplift in sales that saw the project pay for itself.

They struggle to focus

This generation has grown up in a world where in which even time spent watching TV is marred with multiple competing demands on their time and attention, usually emanating from the direction of a smartphone. This means that if marketers want to grab Gen Z-ers’ attention, they need to do it quickly and skilfully, because something else will surely be along to claim it in a second. So striking visuals and punchy videos are the best way to get your voice heard, before you get shouted down by something else.


By Aalia Walker, Partner and Co-founder of SMACK


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