Marketers are constantly obsessed with how to reach younger generations to stay relevant. This can lead to a lot of “cringey” marketing, to use a term my teenage daughters make fun of when older people like me use to try to speak their language.
Brand teams consistently make a couple big mistakes. First, they treat generations as monolithic blocks that think, act, and operate the same. Second, they assume that if brands just show up where younger generations spend time, they will be welcomed.
Jennifer Spaulding, head of marketing for Cheetos at Frito Lay recently shared at Advertising Week that she operates “burner accounts” on various social channels, posing as Gen Z to try to better understand Gen Z and how to reach them.
“You’re algorithm is not going to tell you what Gen Z is doing, I promise you,” she said. She went on to advocate that brands rely on influencers to know how to resonate in different channels: “Sometimes you have to zip it and let the artist or the celebrity tell you how to really communicate.”
So much of the attention is spent on which new channels to invest in, rather than how to show up in those channels.
Andy Bateman, US CEO of Sid Lee observed:
“Brands are too often thinking about my market, my position, what we uniquely own in the market. The whole language around brands and marketing has been ownership-based. The shift to make is: rather than consider this whole area in terms of ownership, consider it in terms of participation … Don’t behave like a corporation when you show up in those communities … Think about what you can do to add value and help.”
Or as Charlie Naus, co-founder of Gen Z agency Carson+Doyle, put it:
“Gen Z knows when we’re being bullshitted.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: