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Why Gen Z expect interaction and authenticity for ad engagement

It almost goes without saying that there has never been such a wide disparity in how different generations – who exist all at the same time – consume media. While some of our parents may engage with social media, those who are 50 lived forty years without it so their behavioural patterns in terms of media consumption have been cemented. 

For example, my fifty-three year old Chilean-Italian mother doesn’t necessarily use social media to check up on anti-royalists infographics on capitalism and the fact that the Queen’s funeral means food banks will shut. She reads some of that in the paper or watched BBC News on her TV and then scrolls Instagram for Nigella Lawson recipes, puppy videos and the latest update on what JLO wore this week. 

Back in the 80s, the way my mother consumed media as a late teen wasn’t all that different from how her mother was consuming it all at the same time. They read the family newspaper and watched TV – probably different channels when it came to entertainment but when it came to news there really were only two or three channels to choose from. 

A big step, introduced in the early 2000s, that really gave us a glimpse into the way media is consumed today was telephone and radio interaction. Calling up on the landline to root for Alexandra Burke on the X Factor or calling in the radio for the chance to win £1000 really manifested today’s obsession with interaction in media. Interactivity is becoming the baseline for many Gen Z and millennial consumers. When surveying members of the community, Twitch found that three in five viewers report that they interact with rather than simply consume content when visiting Twitch, and nearly three-quarters of viewers agree that interactive tools help make advertising more interesting.

Thanks to social media, stars that were once out of reach are now a direct message away from you, and events people once took planes and trains to attend can be attended from virtually anywhere. For many of us, especially Gen Z and millennials, consuming media has become a fluid experience.

In the past, the images people saw in media were aspirational and out of reach for many of them. More recently, consumers have become wary of meticulously curated and perfectly polished content. Consumers are now searching for genuine, human connections and the accompanying imperfections: A selfie without makeup, a look behind the screen or a vulnerable moment with fans.

At the same time, we must be careful to not overgeneralise. The balance between relatability and aspirational status is one that varies in ratio from artist to artist. Doja Cat’s brand works when she takes a makeup-less video in a pool on holiday but for a more mysterious artist like Kali Uchis, Solange or Frank Ocean the chill relatability message comes through a curated form of sometimes glamorous silence. 

When speaking to Gen Z and younger millennial consumers, the best thing a brand can be is authentic, relatable and conversational. Nearly two-thirds of Twitch viewers surveyed agree that advertising doesn’t need to be as perfect as the commercials seen on TV every day. Consumers want to see moments of real emotion, and 71% of young adults who watch Twitch report that live streaming allows brands to show a more human side.

Working with streamers, creators and other influencers offer brands a chance to connect authentically with communities. However, it’s important that agencies and marketers find the right influences for their brands. In the research, Twitch found that viewers are more likely to consider brands that streamers recommend, and even more likely to consider brands and products they know streamers actually use.

Younger generations are reshaping the way we consume and engage with media, and the trends they create have become fixtures in our culture. Savvy brands are leaning into the is leaned-in generation. You might make mistakes along the way, but younger adult consumers are expecting effort, not perfection.

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