Generation Z are a bit of a mystery to many marketers. Those who were born in the mid nineties onwards are not behaving like previous generations, and there is concern among industry experts that businesses are going to miss out on revenue opportunities as the under 20s gain greater spending power. This mobile-savvy, digitally native group are a challenging tribe, according to a panel at Cannes, hosted and sponsored by Teads and moderated by Marketing Week.
Panel host Justin Taylor, managing director at Teads UK, believes that we are entering a new era of advertising where marketers and brands will need to tear up the rule book and rethink how they engage with this audience. “Generation Z is becoming one of the most exciting words that we’re using when we’re looking at targeting audiences and reaching new audiences,” he says.
“Generation Z has never known a world without being connected, without being digital, without the mobile phone, without superfast internet. They use video in a non-linear way. They use video in the same way that they use text – that’s where the differences are coming and it’s important to find ways of standing out for these audiences, finding ways to target them that are relevant.”
However, the five panellists on board the Teads yacht at Cannes Lions believe that many marketers are misinformed about this tricky group, and risk alienating the under-20s by applying old-school advertising techniques to the tech-savvy generation.
During the debate, chaired by Marketing Week editor Russell Parsons, the panel debunked several myths that are holding back marketers and brands from advertising to Gen Z in an engaging and effective way.
Myth one: Generation Z has a shorter attention span than a goldfish
Creatives and marketers often trot out the line that the under-20s have a worse attention span than a goldfish. But being dismissive about the younger generation’s ability to focus their attention on anything for more than a few seconds is a dangerous misunderstanding of the their ability to process information, argues Mimi Turner, marketing director at The Lad Bible.
She says: “People talk a lot about this generation having a short attention span. That’s exactly what grown-ups say when they don’t understand something. This audience are extreme navigators of superior efficiency. They are machines at knowing what they want. They are highly sophisticated decision makers. They are efficient and marketers and brands need to catch up with that.”
Rather than using this well-worn misconception to patronisingly dismiss the younger generation as too difficult to engage with, marketers need to adapt the way they advertise to this audience.
Kayee Cheung, head of global trading at Spotify says: “It is important to make sure the message is relevant – they have a high propensity to explore and flick through [their mobile phones], so having ad formats that cater to that [is important] because if it’s not interesting,
they move on.”
Myth two: Generation Z will conform to the habits of the older generation as they grow up
For generations, the teenage years were a time when people would experiment and rebel, and then slowly as they moved into their 20s and 30s they would settle down, get a job and have children. This life pattern is what advertisers fall back on to understand the habits of a particular age category.
However, Generation Z are not going to conform, says Tim Elkington, chief strategy officer at the IAB UK. “Some people think that as this generation grows up they will change and become much more like their parents but I don’t subscribe to that. The habits that you form during your formative years will stay with you for life, so we’re kind of looking at the future.”
Instead of looking to the older generation to understand what the younger generation will become, marketers should be looking at this audience to understand what the future is going to be like. “It’s important and a big challenge for advertisers to get to grips with,” adds Elkington.
One such habit that marketers will be aware of is Generation Z’s huge consumption of content via mobile phones but it is markedly different to that of millennials, says Adam Meshekow, executive vice-president of strategy and national sales at SITO Mobile.
“Gen Z is not mobile-first, they are mobile-only,” he claims, and that is flipping the media model upside down. “You are seeing earned media outweigh paid media. [US presidential candidate Donald] Trump, who has spent very little in paid media, has overturned every single election model that existed,” explains Meshekow, as a recent example of this changing use of media.
Myth three: Generation Z are multi-screening
Following on from the myth of the goldfish attention span, many advertisers wrongly believe that the younger generation concentrate less on a given piece of media because they are spreading their focus across multiple screens at any given time. But IAB research shows that this is also a myth.
Elkington explains: “People think they are multi-screening but what they are actually doing is having tiny nano-moments as they move from one device to another.”
This is a different challenge from that of multi-screening, where marketers might be tempted to simply repurpose adverts for different screen formats. Instead, marketers should be focusing on honing the advertising message so that it’s immediately compelling.
He says: “What this means for advertisers is that you have got to capture people’s attention quickly with a compelling message, and once you have got it, you’re going to have to hold onto it. Because if all of a sudden the message over here is more compelling, then that’s where I’m going.”
Advertisers need to change the way they think about screens because the old rules simply do not apply anymore, he adds.
“The really important thing for advertisers is that there’s no natural hierarchy of screens anymore. It used to be that old people like me would [consider] that TV was the first screen and [mobile] was the second screen. That just doesn’t apply anymore. For advertisers you have almost got to start again; you have got fragmentation, nano-moments of attention, where all screens are equal.”
Myth four: Generation Z can be targeted as a homogeneous group
Although the younger generation has developed common habits, such as their heavy consumption of content via mobile phones, that does not mean marketers can target them as one group.
Nico Lutkins, EMEA marketing director at LinkedIn, says it is a mistake to look at Gen Z as a “cohort”. “We have so much data beyond their age bracket, so it’s a lazy approach to say we are going to do something that is aimed at this block called Gen Z,” she explains
Instead, marketers need to look at interests and the environment in which the younger generation live to create advertising that meets their needs.
“It’s much more about interests. If you’re in Spain with a high unemployment rate, what’s on your mind is different from if you are at Princeton University in the US about to graduate and [become a consultant at] McKinsey. Those are the things where you can start thinking about reaching them on a meaningful level.”
Lutkins says many marketers have fallen into the trap of thinking about the age bracket rather than what their brands can offer. “You see brands veering off from their core brand values because they say: ‘We’re now running a campaign for Gen Z, how do we talk to them?’.”
She highlights the much-ridiculed House of Fraser #Emojinal campaign as a brand that went “off-piste” with its brand message in an attempt to capture the attention of the under-20s.
The retailer’s social media campaign hijacked popular hashtags and used emojis to promote Valentine’s Day. Many were confused by the campaign and some thought its social media accounts had been hacked as the messaging was so out of kilter with the store’s usual communications.
“It is clear that there were some brand managers out there saying ‘How do you talk to
Gen Z, what’s the lingo?’,” says Lutkins. She warns that is when you lose authenticity, because you stretch your brands into places where it does not belong.
Russell Parsons, Editor, Marketing Week (Moderator)
Kayee Cheung, Head of global trading, Spotify
Tim Elkington, Chief strategy officer, IAB UK
Adam Meshekow, Executive vice-president of strategy and national sales, SITO Mobile
Nico Lutkins, EMEA marketing director, LinkedIn
Mimi Turner, Marketing director, The Lad Bible
Justin Taylor, Managing director, Teads UK (Host)
Advertising not only needs to be relevant to an individual but it needs to be served at the right time and the right place, in order to resonate with the younger generation, believe the panellists at the Teads discussion on creating a sustainable advertising ecosystem for the younger generation.
“Moments is a big thing for Spotify,” says head of global trading Kayee Cheung. “Being able to target at the right moment is not only contextual, it’s a fleeting opportunity to be relevant to that [moment].”
Mobile is at the heart of ‘moment marketing’ but SITO Mobile’s executive vice-president of strategy and national sales, Adam Meshekow, says that marketers should not just be thinking about advertising around relevant content but being relevant during “serendipitous moments” in the physical world too. “If you go out to any of the parties [at Cannes] and look around at any of the young media planners, they all have their phones out and they’re all on Snapchat. It’s all about their experience. It’s important to somehow tell a story that’s associated with that.”
Being in the moment without being intrusive is a huge challenge but micro-format storytelling could be the answer to being both relevant and less interruptive, adds The Lad Bible marketing director Mimi Turner. Six-second video app Vine claims to have reached 1.5 billion views, or ‘loops’, of content every day, and this type of content is viewed predominantly by under-24s.
Turner adds marketers should be “accepting user behaviour” and replicating this short format in advertising. She says: “If person is able to tell a story in six seconds and a brand can’t tell a story in six seconds, then the creative behind the brand has a problem.” Many brands are making mistakes with their ad formats on mobile by using 30-second pre-roll videos, which are as frustrating as “eating your own hair”, she quips.
Combating the rising use of ad-blocking technology among Generation Z
Ad blocking is a concern among the entire advertising industry. But many are at a loss at how to combat the rising use of ad blocking technology among Generation Z.
Latest figures show that 22% of British adults use ad blocking software, according to the IAB UK’s Ad Blocking Report, carried out by YouGov this year. The highest level of ad blocking occurs among 18- to 24-year-olds, with almost 50% likely to block ads.
Marketers are deploying an ineffective advertising strategy that is only going to become even more inadequate as Gen Z grow up and become bigger spenders. “More often than not they’re taking a strategy of ‘yell louder’, and hope to break through by hitting someone over the head,” says Nico Lutkins, EMEA marketing director at LinkedIn. “I’m sure you have been on a mobile phone reading something from a publisher and you’re suddenly pushed into an app store for a casino. Or they are trying to get people to sign something that blocks access to content unless you turn off your ad blockers. Or they are trying to litigate or negotiate and explain why we have this model between publishers and advertisers.”
Although baby boomers understand this trade-off, the younger generation do not, claims Lutkins. That is not to say that advertising is an ineffective marketing tool. “But [today’s advertising is too intrusive and] that’s why sponsoring content is going through the roof – it’s part of the ‘native’ experience [of using an app, service or website]. That’s going to continue to accelerate.”
IAB UK’s chief strategy officer Tim Elkington says the way to stop ad blocking is to “listen to consumer feedback” and “to take that feedback seriously”.
“As an industry, we have overstepped the mark, over-monetised stuff; the ads are too interruptive,” he adds. The IAB is launching a new advertising programme, LEAN, later this year, which is designed to enable advertising choices for consumers and be non-interruptive in a bid to slow down the adoption of ad blocking technology.
SITO Mobile’s executive vice-president of strategy and national sales Adam Meshekow adds that Gen Z, more than any other age group, responds to personalised content. “If it’s part of their lives, they will be much less likely to download ad blockers.”
Meshekow adds that new types of native advertising are also going to stop Gen Z from downloading ad blocking software. “We are starting to see native be not just contextually native, but relevant based upon location or purchase data. If you do that correctly and at scale and you are building a personalised experience with the consumer, the [ad blocking] conversation goes away.”