Marketers are continuously seeking new, meaningful ways to connect with Gen Z consumers, which are defined by Pew Research Center as those born from 1997 to 2012. That’s partly due to their estimated $360 billion in buying power, making them a cohort worth getting to know. “As Gen Z’s influence on commerce and culture continues to grow, brands that learn to connect with these subcultures will thrive,” said Maxine Gurevich, SVP of cultural intelligence at Why Group, a unit of Horizon Media. Here’s the latest on how to reach this all-important demographic.
Rethinking Cultural Norms
Gen Z never knew a time prior to the Internet, so immediate interconnectivity is ingrained in the ethos of this demographic. As such, they’re able to pursue niche interests while feeling confident in their ability to connect with likeminded groups who share those hobbies or passions. A new report from Horizon Media called “The Gen Z Field Guide: A Marketer’s Manual for Following the Niche Over the Norm,” explains this new paradigm and the way it’s affecting Gen Z’s online presence—which may pose fresh challenges for marketers. “They’re showing up on different channels and different places than other generations,” said Gurevich. “They’re hard to pin down.” A single unifying truth seems to be that when it comes to general tastes or culture at large, there is no single theme uniting this diverse group. The new research shows that 91% of Gen Z members believe mainstream pop culture is dead, making it imperative to reach them via varied subculture channels. “The trends are changing so often, there really isn’t a ‘mass culture’ anymore,” said Gurevich. “Subcultures are the new demographics as members of this generation connect and respond to the things they are most passionate about.”
For example, “Gamer Girls” ranks as a sub-category within the larger world of entertainment, consisting of over three million Gen Z women who are challenging the traditionally male-dominated online gaming world by taking place in tournaments while advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Denny’s picked up on this undercurrent in August and did its part to promote e-sports equity by partnering with Complexity Gaming to sponsor a team of female content creators. In a similar attempt to break down gender barriers while appealing to Gen Z subcultures, companies that make feminine care products are pairing with e-sports groups for the first time. Case in point: Procter & Gamble’s Tampax and Always brands partnered with Gen.G and Galorants, the largest community of female-identifying nonbinary players, to promote equality, attract a larger audience—and, of course, have fun. Bottom line: Gen Z craves diversity and authenticity. Successful marketers are ones who spend real time getting to know the members of this unique, disparate group. “You have to be deeply embedded in the culture,” said Gurevich. “You can’t just open TikTok one day and know what will appeal to these consumers. There’s a lot of noise, and Gen Z is looking for more intimate ways to connect. That’s how we have to approach these subcultures, by looking at the passion behind them.”
Connecting via CTV
It’s no secret that connected TV (CTV) has enjoyed exponential growth in recent years, prompted in part by the pandemic that forced everyone to stay home and spend more time on devices. In fact, according to a recent IAB report, CTV ad spending is projected to spike 39% this year, reaching a new $21.2 billion record. That’s 57% higher than last year, marking a figure that’s more than doubled since 2020. All of which is to say, CTV is an important place for marketers to focus when it comes to targeting digitally native Gen Z members. A staggering 92% of Gen Zers report spending over four hours watching TV content every day, as per recent data from Horowitz Research. And contrary to some popular misconceptions, not all of it is done on mobile devices. “While there’s this perception that Gen Z are only using small screens—certainly they spend more time with smaller screens than older people— but it doesn’t mean that they’re only watching on the small screen,” said Adriana Waterston, Horowitz CRO. Among the time spent viewing content, the bulk of hours is dedicated to streaming services, with eight out of 10 Gen Zers saying they stream television programs or movies at least weekly.
The types of platforms vary, ranging from SVOD (Netflix, Disney Plus) to AVOD (Peacock, Hulu) to FAST channels (Roku, Tubi), which presents a unique challenge for marketers: how to reach Gen Z consumers across a fragmented media landscape. What’s more, members of this demographic often use more than one digital or tech device at a time. Samba TV data shows that one in three Gen Zers have used their phone to click a QR code that appeared on a TV ad, while 38% have used a connected voice device like a Bluetooth speaker or Amazon’s Alexa to make a purchase seen online. Roughly 45% of Gen Zers also report regularly shopping on their phones while watching TV. As such, the continued evolution of CTV might include a shift in advertisers’ perceptions: treating CTV as a digital channel rather than a one-size-ad-fits-all approach, especially when targeting Gen Z. From the ability to localize ads to using QR codes for extra personalization, to engaging consumers in a way that doesn’t interrupt their viewing experiences, Gen Z’s online preferences and digital proclivities offer intriguing insight into what CTV – and other platforms — might look like moving forward.