Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations, and their way of thinking is coming to the forefront of today’s society. Their passion for social justice, demand for authenticity, and short attention spans have forced brands that target Gen Z consumers to shift their advertising strategies accordingly.
Today, brands are starting to get better at picking up on what Gen Z values and learning to adapt. From a company structure perspective, this can mean implementing more corporate social responsibility initiatives; while in advertising and marketing, this can mean deploying messages, media, and strategies designed to resonate with Gen Z consumers. There are a number of one-off ad campaigns that have redefined success with this generation, as well as continuous campaigns and brand behaviors that are molding and shaping the way marketers and advertisers target this audience.
Here are examples of three very different ad campaigns that have resonated with Gen Z in unique ways, and how they did it.
Aerie ‘Real’ Campaign
Historically, clothing brands have promoted themselves with bombshell supermodels who possess unattainable beauty. It may seem simple, but Gen Z is challenging that paradigm by calling for and responding to ad campaigns that feature “normal” people, and by rejecting impossible beauty standards.
In the early ’00s, brands began receiving backlash for digitally enhancing the faces and figures of their models in noticeable ways and removing anything that might be seen as an imperfection. Once it became clear that this imagery was harmful to the development of young girls’ self-esteem and confidence, American Eagle’s intimates brand Aerie decided to connect with its target consumer, Gen Z, with a different approach — body positivity.
In 2014, Aerie’s “Real” campaign was born. American Eagle started by announcing that it would not only cease the use of supermodels, but would also refrain from digital retouching. That campaign received a flurry of attention as the first-of-its-kind and was a big success. Since then, Aerie has continued to expand the parameters by which it chooses lingerie models. Campaigns have included women with curves, cellulite, small chests, large chests, disabilities, medical illnesses, stretch marks, body hair, and more. Furthermore, the “Real” campaign has expanded by including Aerie consumers. The brand encourages people to feel positive, confident, and comfortable in their own bodies and show it off by joining in with the hashtag #AerieReal on social media.
Not only has this approach helped Aerie stand out in the market and build a positive reputation with Gen Z, but it’s also increased sales year-over-year, with a 38% increase in Q1 of 2018, alone. Overall, the “Real” campaign enabled Aerie to earn credibility in authenticity, diversity, inclusion, and body positivity spaces. Aerie was also ahead of the curve, and many brands are now embracing body positivity and inclusion in their own branding.
Casper is a new age mattress company that has completely shaken up its sector. A traditionally brick and mortar industry, Casper took a direct-to-consumer approach to mattresses that appeals to a younger-skewing audience. Casper has succeeded with this business model by incorporating selling factors that are important to Gen Zers.
Before Casper, the idea of getting a bed-in-a-box was unheard of and viewed as impractical. Casper, however, had a deep understanding of its target audience and realized a DTC approach could be effective, if the brand positioned itself as a master in the mattress space. To that end, Casper deployed a robust content marketing campaign. The company leveraged social media and retargeting to garner attention and create brand awareness. Once its audience was engaged, Casper established itself as the expert in the space, using product comparisons, customer reviews, and influencer marketing to move the consumer down the funnel toward purchasing a mattress they had never even touched before.
In addition, Casper invested in building a sense of community around its brand. Campaigns like Staycation Story Hacks, unboxing videos, “Waffle Crush Wednesdays,” and the publication Winkle were all geared toward giving consumers many different ways to engage and interact with the brand, and with fellow brand customers. Together, Casper’s marketing efforts have brought in upward of 100,000 video views; 2,000 to 10,000 likes per post; and increased its valuation to $1.1 billion, in just five years.
Revolve, an e-commerce clothing brand geared toward Gen Z, has targeted and engaged these consumers, not with traditional advertising campaigns (like Aerie), but by putting its marketing dollars toward a large group of Instagram influencers — 3,500 of the most successful fashion influencers Instagram has to offer.
When influencer marketing really began to take off, Revolve saw an opportunity to grow its relatively new brand and build buzz. The company established an ongoing relationship with Instagram’s most popular fashion influencers, including Kendall Jenner, and began throwing #RevolveAroundtheWorld events in popular destinations, including Palm Springs, Turks and Caicos, and the ever-important Coachella — a super hub for influencers and Gen Zers, alike.
These lavish trips and events are invite-only and create a space where influencers can come together and do what they do best — advertise Revolve’s products by modeling the clothing and publicizing them all over their Instagram accounts. An event exclusively filled with popular Instagrammers effectively gets the brand name out there and capitalizes on the “wish you were here” mindset that Instagram seeds in its users. Consumers have their attention grabbed by the glamorous photos and then may feel inspired to buy the trendy clothing they see. They both relate to and aspire to be like their favorite influencers. Clearly, this approach is working, as Revolve was recently valued at $1.2 billion.
Final Thoughts on Gen Z Ad Campaigns
In today’s world, it is vital that brands— old and new, alike — continue to evolve in the ever-changing advertising landscape. Brands that target Gen Z have to shape their marketing and advertising strategies to convey authenticity, relatability, consistent engagement, and progressive social values. American Eagle’s Aerie, Casper, and Revolve have each taken a highly distinct and unique approach, and each has succeeded in its own way. There are lessons to be learned from their similarities, and their differences. There are many ways to craft campaigns that resonate with Gen Z, but they won’t look like campaigns of the past.