Marketing in the Age of Gen Z
February 21, 2019

By Olivia Ferrucci and Brooks Sullivan

The post-Millennial generation, commonly referred to as Generation Z or Gen Z, is the only generation that knows no other world than one consumed and powered by social media and technology - the first-ever digitally native generation. This grand exposure and access to content is creating a generation of very discerning young consumers, one that is said to account for 40% of all consumers by the year 2020.

How do we know? We are two members of Gen Z.

Fuse Marketing reports that 85% of Gen Z feels that companies have an obligation to help solve social problems. Similarly, if a brand is socially responsible, 85% of Gen Z will trust the brand more, 84% is more likely to purchase their products, and 82% would recommend the products to others. But why? We can start with the fact that we have a lot of information at our fingertips, we spend a lot of time online and we value transparency - we hold our belief systems very close and expect the companies we support to do the same.

Between Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, we and our peers consume content at striking rates. We have an infinite amount of content within arms reach and that gives us more room to learn—if we hear something or read something, we immediately go to several sources to fact-check. We spend a lot of time listening to what people and brands have to say and equally as much time giving feedback on what we don't like. We take time to educate ourselves about social movements and, just as quickly, we can create and share videos and memes to support what we think.

When it comes to marketing, advertisers either succeed or fail instantly. If there’s an ad we don’t believe in or don’t like, chances are we will never go near that product or destination. It’s very obvious when a group of adults have gotten together in a room to create something they think we’ll like, and authenticity is lacking in a lot of Gen Z advertising. Don’t forget, we grew up with this stuff. Content has surrounded us from birth, and if we’ve seen it before or if it feels forced or unauthentic, we swipe left.

That said, we like social activism. We are set-up to change the world and our consumerism is attached to that, which means that social activism plays an important role in marketing to us teens. Even Fuse Marketing says so. Studies show that teenagers value companies who support a cause, and 57% of teens say it’s important that those causes are aligned with their own. We see this as impacting our day-to-day lives and a method for holding businesses accountable. We have to walk the walk because our social following is walking with us - they can see everything.

Speaking of going against our belief systems - we don’t just not consume what we don’t like, we straight up boycott, loudly on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. In the past 12 months, 23% of Gen Z has boycotted either an activity or a company. News travels especially fast these days, so it doesn’t take long for controversy to spread through social media at lightning speed, awakening trolls, social activists, and upset teen consumers. These impressions are long-lasting. We feel so connected to our digital lives because it’s just a part of who we are. Our boycotts are well-documented for the whole world to see, so we can’t turn around on our word. We have no problem telling a brand, you can’t sit with us and being proud to do so. 

Remember in 2017 when Pepsi released its infamous commercial “Live for Now” featuring Kendall Jenner offering police officers a can of Pepsi amidst a protest? While the “crowd” cheered for Jenner as the “face of peace,” the spot sparked outrage in the real world. Pepsi was accused of taking advantage of the Black Lives Matter movement, and after the release of the commercial, Gen Z took to social media platforms like Twitter to boycott Pepsi and Kendall Jenner. Both Pepsi and Jenner quickly apologized and the commercial was taken off the air, but the soda brand suffered consequential backlash and a decline in sales. We can tell you that we’ll never drink a Pepsi again, and we wouldn’t even support something that involved Pepsi, at least not until they come around and show us that their values are in the right place.

Where are we going with this? We’re here to tell you that marketing strategies targeted at Generation Z need to be unprecedented, entirely unique and socially connected. We want brands to be much more transparent and we want them to understand the complex digital world that we live in—we are often accused of wearing our emotions on our sleeves and we want the companies we support to do the same. Morals and values are important to us and so is accountability. We are beginning to see a shift in how companies interact with our generation, but we think they need to do better. So when you’re coming up with your next campaign, ask yourself what would a teen think of this, or better yet, ask an actual teen.

Olivia Ferrucci is the 17-year-old Executive Editor of the Gen Z content platform Adolescent, handling copy-editing, publishing content, recruiting writers and creative advisement. A writer, editor, and high school junior based in New Jersey, Ferrucci is passionate about important topics facing her generation such as intersectional feminism, sexuality, politics, and the under-representation of minority groups in media. She also loves baking, Clueless, and Call Me by Your Name, and hopes to pursue writing while attending college in New York City or California. Olivia can most often be found reading other zines or running her own magazine, Lithium.

Brooks Sullivan is a 17 year-old filmmaker, model, and writer based in Atlanta, GA. Brooks currently writes for Adolescent Content and Lithium Magazine. Working in the film industry since she was sixteen, Brooks has already been part of several short films and has created her own films for the teen-run web series “No Comment.” Through her work, Brooks wants to empower those around her. She hopes to use her voice to inspire other teens who are told that they are “too young” to make a difference in the world.