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Gen Z Turns to Entertaining Ads

For marketers hoping to catch the attention of the all-important Gen Z consumers as the pandemic continues, humor may prove to be a great attraction. A study from Magid shows that after weeks of quarantining measures, roughly half of young people feel isolated and bored and now prefer advertising content that’s comical, engaging or fun. That represents a shift from sentiments prevalent in March, when younger demographics were motivated by purpose-driven ad campaigns showing companies helping people through donations or paid time off. And while such actions still resonate as meaningful, Gen Zers have likewise grown understandably weary of continuous Covid-19 coverage. Laughter is a proven coping mechanism during times of illness and anxiety, so it follows that levity was ranked among the most important qualities that Gen Zers now long to see in ads. Here’s how some brands are striking the right whimsical note.

Tap into the Zeitgeist
Denny’s has long used clever wordplay plus tongue-in-cheek guerilla marketing to attract customer attention. As concern over Coronavirus mounted in March, the company went quiet for a brief time. “No question in the initial days of Covid-19, it was important to stay silent,” Chief Brand Officer John Dillon told Adweek. Following that hiatus, Denny’s returned in April with a reevaluated social strategy that embraces its role to “feed people’s souls when they could use a smile or a laugh,” according to CEO John Miller. Playing on the fact that video meetings have become an essential feature of our socially distanced business ecosystem, the company created silly Zoom-style backgrounds to enliven mundane workdays. Denny’s also made it possible for fans to engage within the gaming sector as a virtual franchise owner on Animal Crossing, which was April’s most-Tweeted-about game. MoonPie followed suit, returning after its own absence by citing Mayo Clinic research that shows laughter is a panacea for stress. The dessert brand delivered ridiculous recipes and poked good-natured fun at its own product by tapping into an existing conversation comparing MoonPies to babies.

Address the Loneliness Factor
While health officials remain united in their call for isolation as an effective method of combatting the spread of the virus, the psychological effects of loneliness and social distancing are real. Budweiser responded to that challenge with an update of its iconic 1999 “Whassup” spot, which has been referenced in comedic shows like Friends and The Office since it first debuted. The newest ad features NBA star Dwayne Wade and actress Gabrielle Union, among other A-listers, and was created to elicit laughs while focusing “on human connection in a time when people may be feeling hopeless, uncertain and alone,” said VP of marketing Monica Rustgi. Budweiser also retooled its original “Whassup” with new messaging related to the pandemic. Both spots are part of a larger campaign that will air in the coming months. In similar fashion, Heineken emphasized the value of remaining connected via video calls—while simultaneously spoofing the inevitable photobombs, spotty WiFi service and additional challenges that come with it. The spot was filmed, as most ads are these days, in isolation and with improvisation, using roommates and family members in lieu of professional actors.

Make it Challenging
Social media challenges are proven to spark online conversations among younger demographics. Lucky Brand recently turned to Instagram for its #WinFromHome contest asking users to post pictures of themselves engaged in goofy quarantine tasks, such as “paint your dog’s toenails” or “power squat your pet.” The denim brand is expected to see an increase in its 200,000-plus followers on Instagram, thanks to this offbeat blend of fashion shots plus humorous posts that appeal to Gen Z consumers. Meanwhile, Wendy’s built on its longstanding cheeky internet persona by sending the Twitter sphere on a virtual scavenger hunt. The “Wendy’s Cyber Search” aims to keep homebound consumers entertained by giving away $5,000 in prizes to fans who follow clues online. Since approximately 45 percent of fast-food eaters are between the ages of 20 and 39, it’s a key way to connect with younger demographics.

While marketers strive to hit the right tone during these times, it bodes well to remember that even though Gen Zers value authenticity, they are currently showing more interest in light-hearted campaigns than in content that’s romantic, exciting or scary. By tweaking messaging, brand marketers can effectively address coronavirus fatigue while remaining respectful of ongoing public health concerns.