One of the major reasons that Gen Z is so “tech savvy”, is because the generation who had to sell the smartphone needed a target group.
And what works better than (subconsciously) branding an entire, young and immaculate generation as incapable of living without the product you need to sell? However brilliant this strategy worked, a problem has arisen. We are so deep in our habit of generational targeting when it comes to Gen Z, that we have no clue how to sell them anything at all anymore.
Let’s start with a description of the phenomenon, or rather problem, that we call a “Gen Z briefing”. The root of all of our trouble. It’s usually written by someone past the age of 35, and contains some, or when you’re really unlucky, all of the following aspects.
– Influencers. Lots of influencers.
– Make it woke
– Develop a filter/AR experience
– Avoid cringe
– Anything lasting longer than three seconds should be cancelled immediately.
The result is usually this: a mixture of collective sighs because we just got “yet another Gen Z briefing that we have no clue how to solve” whereafter a creative neither effective campaign follows. But nonetheless, a lot of creative directors and strategists just can’t seem to break free from the idea that this is the only way to apply to Gen Z.
When you search for “Gen Z marketing” on google because you’ve run out of ideas on how to solve your problematic briefing, ten out of ten articles that pretend to come to your rescue start with something in the lines of “Gen Z. The hardest generation to market to yet”, followed by “solutions” caught out of thin air, such as:
– “Take a stance on societal issues”
– “Be sustainable”
“It’s no surprise that it’s so hard to make creative work for Gen Z when the generalised box they’ve been put in is so very limited.”
There are several problems with this mentality. Almost everything stated in those articles is nothing more than the very broad, basic rules of advertising that we’ve already been handling for decades. It’s stuff we have to keep in mind when developing any campaign for any target group, and practically the first thing we learn in ad school. However, when it comes to Gen Z, we’re suddenly re-branding those rules as the magic way into the hearts of an entire generation, and throw in an influencer because “that’s what they like”. That’s not only unproductive and lacking of strategy, it’s lazy. As Lucie de Closets from Sid Lee stated: Can we really trust that several million people, whose one commonality is the era they were born in, all form a homogenous group?
Take a look at Kaleb Cooper, the young farmer in Clarkson’s farm. He’s been away from the village where he was born twice in his life, has played with Playmobil tractors until he could drive an actual one himself and the only tech that interests him is the kind that tells him how many yards he’s ploughed already. And yes, he’s gen Z as well. How will you reach him if the only way you can think of is a snapchat filter on the phone he probably doesn’t even own? It’s no surprise that it’s so hard to make creative work for Gen Z when the generalised box they’ve been put in is so very limited. Yes, a lot of us scroll through reels for hours on end, but that’s a bit like our version of boomers collectively watching the 6 o’clock news. Just something we do, definitely not an interest.
Now you’re probably thinking: data suggests otherwise. Oh, the data, which tells us just about everything there is to know about a target group, no matter how niche or impossible to know. And it’s true; it’s an amazing tool to back up your already good ideas and it provides insights far beyond our usual search engines. But when we try to turn this tool into an idea just because it’s a great tool, it all goes south. If not provided by a good creative idea, social media campaigns, no matter how well targeted, are useless. We should look it as though it’s an empty wall next to a high school. Data suggests that a lot of teenagers walk past it every day, but a shit print ad for a hip new clothing brand is still a shit print ad and putting it on that perfect wall won’t magically make it a good one.
For every other generation, briefings look like this: create a campaign for people around 40, living together with kids in a two story house, because the product that’s sold is probably relevant for them. We find an interesting way to appeal to them, in a place where they will probably come across it. But when it comes to Gen Z, we hit the “tech savvy” button, and with the speed of light squeeze out a sponsored post that, with the help of some numbers and algorithms, will hopefully reach target someday soon.
Yes, it worked to make it unable to live with a smartphone for our whole generation, but that was a one time trick. Please stop trying to repeat it, and for gen z’s sake, hit refresh on your internal creativity button.
Role: Jr. Copywriter