Gen Z Advertising Dos and Don’ts for Marketers

Every day, advertising trends are emerging. These trends and tactics are newly developed as a means to best reach a target audience, whomever it may be. As such, advertisers are utilizing new marketing methods to reach the newcomers on the scene of consumerism: Gen Z.

Every day, advertising trends are emerging. These trends and tactics are newly developed as a means to best reach a target audience, whomever it may be. As such, advertisers are utilizing new marketing methods to reach the newcomers on the scene of consumerism: Gen Z. Here are some vital dos and don’ts advertisers should take into account when advertising to the Gen Z audience.

DO: Seek to Make an Authentic Connection With Consumers

Authenticity is paramount to a brand’s success in selling to the Gen Z audience. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, making connections has a whole new meaning for Gen Z, with the rise of technology. Social platforms have allowed for connection to feel more personal and more real than ever. As advertisers, taking advantage of this can make all of the difference. The more personalized social media marketing tactics present today make it inherently easier to reach your consumer. As a result, brands are more closely connected to their consumers than ever. Using this close contact to maintain an authentic relationship will go far with Gen Z. Interact with us and stay transparent; keep it real.

DON’T: Stick to Surface Level and Hope the Consumer Comes Knocking

With the tools at hand, not only is it easier than ever to make authentic connections with consumers, but it’s also more important than ever. The deep-rooted marketing tactics that credible companies have long used must be challenged to continue on successfully. Unless a brand’s marketing efforts dive deeper and seek to strike a chord with the emotions of Gen Z, they’ll likely have little to no luck. Remaining surface-level with the message advertised, along with how and what marketers choose to share about their products, just won’t work for a Gen Z audience. As consumers, Gen Z will never resonate with a brand unless there is a deep connection or story that sells the relationship between them and your product. This can only really be done if the campaign messaging hits hard on the reasons why it will truly enhance the lives of Gen Zers.

DO: Genuinely Care About Social Responsibility

One of the more exciting trends Gen Z can’t get enough of is social responsibility. Gen Z cares about the world they live in and the people in it, and are hungry for change to make a better tomorrow. They crave equality and want to help. Though these initiatives going mainstream have inevitably created some misconceptions, the overall adoption of these ideologies by brands is still a positive change, and Gen Z is excited about it. Whether products are ethically sourced and sustainably grown, or a company openly expresses its pro stance for transgender equality or that of female women employees, Gen Z feels incredibly satisfied to see these topics being taken on and embraced by brands.

DON’T: Stretch the Truth About Giving Back

If a company is moving toward more socially responsible initiatives, but isn’t quite there yet, that’s OK. The one thing that’s important to keep in mind as brands work to adopt more sustainable and socially responsible initiatives is to not stretch the truth. Becoming a socially responsible company does not happen overnight. As consumers, younger generations understand that. But during the process, brands should not market their products as sustainable or beneficial to a social justice cause, unless they truly are. Doing so will cause brands to look inauthentic to Gen Z when they do some online sleuthing and quickly find out the truth, ultimately driving away their business. Companies should simply state they are working toward it, and continue to do so. Gen Z prefers and appreciates sincerity and transparency as companies work toward a better future.

DO: Tap Into Trending News and Pop Culture

Pop culture is basically determined by young people. What’s cool, who’s not, and what’s funny on the Internet are some of the things Gen Z have precedence over, as generations prior have also ruled during their adolescence. This is nothing new. Tapping into pop culture can be one of the easiest ways to appeal to the Gen Z audience. Newsjacking, which is when brands creatively tailor trending news stories to bring attention to their own content, has proven successful on a number of occasions. Taking advantage of a situation for a brand’s own benefit seems intuitive and a win-win, as both the story/topic and the brand gain more exposure. However, when specifically targeting a young generation, it is vital to have a deep understanding of the topic before applying it to a brand inaccurately or overdoing it.

DON’T: Overdo the References in an Attempt to Relate to Gen Z

The easiest way to understand Gen Z is to pay attention to the media they consume. With that said, however, it’s important to remember that just because you’re in on a meme about Baby Yoda or Billie Eilish secretly being the same person as Lil Xan, doesn’t mean you can seamlessly relate to them. Though utilizing a pop culture reference can go extremely well in selling to Gen Z, it’s pretty easy to spot when it’s been done incorrectly by an older generational brand. This may seems like a simple way to get on the radar of Gen Z, but it’s really important to make sure it’s  done right. Don’t take advantage of pop culture references and don’t overuse them for the sake of a potentially easy connection. Only newsjack pop culture and trending news if it really fits in with your brand identity and if you really understand the happenings.

Brand Trust in the US May Hit Rock Bottom, So Be Authentic

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse. We may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse.

First, America’s air safety has been put into serious doubt due to delayed action regarding the Boeing 737 MAX ­and its potentially fatal programming. Then, we have reports that the rich and powerful have been bribing the pathway into America’s elite schools for their presumably unqualified kids.

While these news events seem unrelated, I believe they are pivotal events that will drive brand trust to near death levels in the U.S. Granted, brand trust has been on the decline for years, but we may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

How regulators and the airline industry dealt with 737 MAX safety issues is unfolding into a major fiasco. Most countries quickly recognized a pattern after a second 737 MAX plane crashed this month, and they quickly banned the plane from flying in their airspace. The FAA (the U.S.’s air safety regulator) provided Boeing the benefit of the doubt and continued to permit 737 MAX use for several days. Now, the FAA will be fighting the perception (or reality) that it was more interested in protecting Boeing and airlines than it was in protecting the public. On top of that, while the FAA dithered, some airlines made it difficult to cancel or change flights for passengers who, rightfully, no longer wished to fly on the 737 MAX.

If you think the brand trust deficit has been fueled by companies playing lose with customer data, playing loose with customer lives (or the perception of doing so) will be rocket fuel for said deficit.

While consumers ponder how much their lives are worth to regulators and the airline industry, for the vast majority, we found that elite university brands don’t believe we are worth enough to get into their colleges. News that the notoriously difficult and stressful college admissions process can be bypassed by those with the means to provide hefty bribes is retrospectively unsurprising and yet still shocking. Despite the pretentious branding, most everyone trusted that admission to an elite school meant that you were smart and worked hard. That brand trust has been diminished, and more stories of corruption in higher education are likely forthcoming.

What All of This Means for Other Brands

The sad reality is even if your company has not faced negative news, it is impacted — because the default level of brand trust is perhaps the lowest it’s ever been. The “2018 Edelman Trust Barometer” report (opens as a PDF) shows that the decline in U.S. of brand trust has been dramatic from 2017 to 2018 and can only be described as a “crash.” For 2018, among informed consumers, the U.S. ranks dead last in brand trust among 28 major economies (it was sixth place in 2017). Add recent news events and you can image where brand trust might be today. What makes these news events pivotal isn’t their transparent disregard for public trust, but that they involve historically trusted institutions. The FAA has been the reason we are willing to fly new airlines with no safety histories. As for colleges, we trust them with our still-developing young adults and pay ridiculously large sums to them to educate them. If we can no longer trust these institutions, then trust is in crisis.

The Brand Trust Solution

To address the growing trust deficit, it is unlikely more advertising or better content will be sufficient. Companies must learn to be authentic. Authenticity, however, can be very difficult to achieve and only comes together when the whole organization rallies around the brand purpose and the value propositions made to its customers.

Authenticity means saying what you will do, doing what you say and showing that you mean it. And American consumers desperately need it.

How to Lose an Audience in 10 Days

In the spirit of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” my colleague Caitlin and I came up with the following four ways to make your audience hit the road and run into the arms of your very handsome competitor.

A couple months ago, my colleague Caitlin and I were discussing marketing over Pad Thai, and she threw out the idea of a post themed after the Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey gem, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” There’s a reason I hang out with Caitlin … she’s a smart cookie.

If you’re not familiar with the film’s plot, advice columnist Kate Hudson pitches the idea of all the crazy things a woman could do to make a man leave her in 10 days. Across town, advertising playboy Matthew McConaughey makes his own bet: that he can get a woman to fall in love with him ahead of a major event. Antics ensue, and needless to say, Roger Ebert was not a fan of this romcom.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
You mean, like a decent movie script?

So in the spirit of “How to Lose a Guy …” Caitlin and I went back and forth a bit, coming up with the following four ways to make your audience hit the road and run into the arms of your very handsome competitor:

1. Sending Mixed Messages … Does Your Audience Even Know You?

Inconsistent messaging — across  your brands and/or channels — simply does not fly. It’s like dating a dude who’s all over the place. And you know what they say: If he’s sending mixed messages, he’s just not that into you.

When you let your audience know you’re just not that into them — unlike the 20-something woman who cries to her besties over ice cream that “He seemed so into me, but then he stopped calling!” — your audience is not going to stick around trying to figure out what went wrong.

2. Just Like Forgetting to Make Reservations, You Forgot to Optimize for Mobile

How many times do you have to read that mobile isn’t just the “future” anymore? HELLO! It’s here, and consumers expect your website and content to be mobile-optimized. Do you expect the mobile-optimization fairy godmother to show up, fix your site and then leave? Well don’t hold your breath.

Well you failedWant a concrete example? Then consider this year’s Super Bowl — so much of the Big Game played out on the mobile and social (I actually watched the game on my ancient iPad because I don’t have cable!).

And let us not forget Gatorade’s special Super Bowl Snapchat filter (which received 160 million impressions).

If that’s not enough, then take it straight from the mouth of Google:

In the USA, 94 percent of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones. Interestingly, 77 percent of mobile searches occur at home or at work, places where desktop computers are likely to be present.

3. Punching Above Your Weight

This never turns out well, and for marketers, this is more specifically the misstep of being inauthentic. Your audience can smell fake a mile away, so don’t be fake.

Sure, we all want to be relevant and timely, but if there’s a situation going on that your brand does not fit into, do not shoehorn it in. Because it never, EVER works (and then you get made fun of — or worse — on social media).

4 . ‘Please Stop Calling Me …”

“Thanks for the great date … I’ll call you,” she says.

Except, ok, she doesn’t right away. So … you call her. No answer, so you don’t leave a message. You call back later. Same deal, but this time you leave a voice mail … and then you do this 42 more times over the course of a week.

Stop It!No, really. Stop it. If you abuse your communication channels, be it phone or email, your audience is going to think you’re spamming them, when in your mind, you’re just really eager and excited. Like a puppy. Doesn’t everyone like puppies?

Set up a preference center and honor it. Communicate with your audience when they want it, and respect the fact that some people will be chill and accepting of all varieties of communication across channels, while other consumers are more selective. And that’s ok.

I love youIf you can’t manage to handle the four points above, well, I hate to say this, but your audience is going to wiggle out of your arms faster than that cat. And they’re going to take their money with them, too.



3 Speed Dating Tips for Marketers

The dating world is a scary and complicated place, but in an effort to find love, some singles try the speed dating route. Because, hey, at least if it’s going to be a bad date, it’ll only last three minutes, right? But when you think about it long enough, you realize marketing is a lot like speed dating. Scared yet?

The dating world is a scary and complicated place, full of poorly written online profiles, ghosting after an awkward first date and friends kindly dropping off copies of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

Gilmore Girls Paris Geller Speed Dating
Oh Paris … you scare all the boys.

In an effort to find love, some singles even try the speed dating route, because hey, at least if it’s going to be a bad date, it’ll only last three minutes, right? And when you think about it long enough, you realize marketing is a lot like speed dating. Scared yet?

Consumers are busy, and their attention spans are shrinking. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the average attention span in the US in 2015 was 8.25 seconds. Suddenly that three-minute speed-dating date seems like a lifetime to make a connection with a customer.Marketing Speed Dating

But never fear, while I’ve never braved the wilds of speed dating, I have seen it represented rather comically in film and television. And it’s not too much of a stretch to connect what works well in speed dating with what works well in marketing.

Fake It til You Make it1. Don’t “fake it ’til you make it.” People can sniff out a fake in an instant. So, just as it’s wise to not tell a potential date you’re a doctor with three sports cars — when in reality you’re a cubicle drone with a beat up `94 Nissan Sentra — don’t tell a prospective customer your brand is something it really isn’t, just because you think it sounds cool.

Remember what Ron Johnson did to JCPenney? He thought applying Apple-esque store-styling and dumping customers’ beloved discounts was the way to bring the retailer into the future. To make it cool. Unfortunately it was all offbrand.

I couldn’t say it better than this quote from Forbes:

Boutiques/streets, wi-fi, juice bars with smoothies and coffee; no long-term customer of JCP cares about all that crap. JCP got away from what it did best.

Sound of Music Confidence2. Confidence is attractive. Just like in romance, no consumer wants a product or service that’s marketed meekly. There’s a reason the Old Spice Man campaign was both a viral success — garnering almost 105 million views on YouTube and a 300 percent increase of traffic to (opens as a PDF) — as well as a sale success.

Old Spice, a Proctor + Gamble company, targeted both men and women with the campaign. For women, it offered the fantasy of a gorgeous man, and the possibility of their current beaus smelling as good as him; and for men, it offered the opportunity to become the Old Spice Man. P&G took a legacy product, infused it with confidence and sex appeal, and made it relevant to a younger generation.

But your marketing message doesn’t have to be as sexy as the Old Spice Man to be confident. Don’t believe me? Check out this Hubspot post that details five brilliant marketing campaigns for boring products.

Duckie’s ‘Pretty in Pink’ Lesson for Brands

Marketers, I’m not sure how you spent your Valentine’s Day, but I attended the 30th anniversary re-release of “Pretty in Pink.” And it was there that I realized brands can learn a very real lesson from the Duckman himself, Philip “Duckie” Dale.

Exclusive Pretty in Pink 30th anniversary art by Jeff Delgado for Fandango
Exclusive Pretty in Pink 30th anniversary art by Jeff Delgado for Fandango

Marketers, I’m not sure how you spent your Valentine’s Day, but I was dressed in a (mostly) pink dress with one of my best friends and her nine-year-old daughter for the 30th anniversary re-release of the 1986 Brat Pack classic, “Pretty in Pink.”

For the anniversary showing, there was a short feature at the end where the cast and director talked about how the movie was originally scripted with Philip “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) ending up with Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald). But Molly explained how she never really had that kind of chemistry with Jon; instead he was like a brother to her, and it showed.

When the movie, with the original ending, was shown to test audiences, they responded poorly. So six months after wrapping, the cast and crew got together again to re-film the ending, this time with rich-kid Blane McDonnagh (Andrew McCarthy) getting the girl.

As a kid, I never questioned it. Blane was cute and rich and Andie wanted to be with him, while keeping sweet and slightly overbearing Duckie at bay. But watching it as an adult — even before the knowledge about the original ending — my heart knew Andie should be with Duckie.

Why? Because Duckie was genuine. From the tips of his scuffed-up white pointed-toe shoes to the top of his pompadour and pork pie hat, this kid was always his true self.

He didn’t conform and try to fit in with the rich kids, because he had no desire to be like them. Duckie didn’t try to make himself more like Blane in order to win the affections of the girl he was so hopelessly in love with.

Duckie Dale prom quote from Pretty in PinkNow, brands, you may argue: “But Duckie DIDN’T get the girl! Why do we want to be like the King of the Friendzone?”

Remember: Duckie was supposed to get the girl … it was the actors’ lack of chemistry, and — let’s say, hubris — of the test audiences of the mid-80s that kept him from that goal. Nothing Duckie the character did.

If you want more proof, ask just about any woman who she would have picked. Or google image search “team duckie” and discover how many t-shirts there are proclaiming this sentiment.

Even Molly Ringwald’s daughter agrees.

Team Duckie TweetDuckie may have been the underdog, but he knew exactly who he was and never waivered. And think of other brands that started as underdogs: Apple. Ben & Jerry’s. Underdogs are relatable.

As Kathryn Wheeler writes in this excellent Hubspot post:

Underdogs are always a beacon of hope, a reminder that sometimes you can beat the odds.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself, brands. Be authentic. Be the underdog. Be relatable. And, just maybe, instead of getting the girl, you’ll get an audience of devoted and loyal fans.

And now, for your viewing pleasure … I dare you to watch this and not have the adorable Duckie steal your heart.