Four lessons for brands from Gen Z

Campaign US' BIG awards revealed insight into how Gen Z wants to shape marketing and the workforce.

There's a lot to be learned from the next generation of marketers.

I had the pleasure of doing just that as I moderated two discussions for the Campaign US BIG Awards in September. We invited a group of 60 early-stage career marketers and agency employees, featured here, to help us judge creative work from the past year.

Marketers love to pontificate on Gen Z as an elusive, digital-savvy generation born into the world of smartphones and raised on social media. To an extent, this marketing folklore is true. Gen Z’s intuitive knowledge of the media landscape, desire for flexibility and humanity in the workplace, their low tolerance for BS and the many facets of their diversity was abundantly on display.

But there are things marketers also don’t understand about this generation, and frankly, won’t understand without asking and listening. That’s why we collected these responses; to give the future of our industry a platform to share their wisdom with us, for a change. 

In the midst of a global talent crisis, it's more important than ever to listen to the future of the workforce. I’m excited to reveal that Campaign US launched a Discord channel to keep the conversation going and to allow up and coming talent to connect, share ideas, network and build their careers. Most importantly, I’m excited for you all to join and listen to them as they discuss what makes them passionate about this industry. 

Here are a few things I personally learned from the next generation.

1. The desire for authenticity is real

With an ongoing global pandemic and impending doom around climate change shaping their futures, Gen Z has no time for brand BS.

Jurors showed their low tolerance for companies that quickly jump on the purpose bandwagon but fail to live and breathe their values internally. Being real, honest, self-aware, authentic, and not trying so hard were recurring themes of advice throughout the Q+A responses we collected from them.

Gen Z’s desire for brands to drop the veneer is reflected in how they feel about their peers. When asked what their least favorite social media trend is, a handful responded using facial filters, expressing the desire to be authentic. Which leads into my next lesson...

2. TikTok rules the world

TikTok is where it's at for Gen Z. A large majority of jurors said the app was their favorite, with many pointing to its unvarnished, silly and authentic vibe as the reason why.

Marketers are experimenting with TikTok, but not many understand how Gen Z culture lives and breathes on the platform. As Gigi Padilla, a copywriter at Campbell Ewald said, “Don't just pick a TikTok personality and expect us to come running.”

But getting it right on TikTok is tough, as Krista Jarwowski, an art director at Evoke Kyne, said. “Trends move fast, especially on TikTok,” she said. “So seeing any brand partake in an actual CURRENT trend and do it well is rare, but great when it happens.” In other words, you snooze, you lose.

It's not, however, just about TikTok for Gen Z. A handful of jurors said Twitter is their favorite app, and some also hat-tipped Instagram. But Gen Z is largely sick of the latter’s polished aesthetic. A few jurors said their least favorite social media trend is face filters, while others applauded “photo dumps,” which refers to posting an album after an event, allowing people to get offline and live in the moment.

3. Diversity is this generation's identity

The diversity displayed in the virtual BIG Awards judging room is a microcosm of the changing demographics of the U.S. It was so inspiring to see people from different cultures, communities and orientations debate the work. Undoubtedly, this mix of identities made for richer creative discussion.

It’s clear, however, that this generation, the most diverse in U.S. history, wants to see more progress from their companies. When asked how they would change the industry, a majority cited the industry’s diversity problem and voiced a desire for more women and people of color in C-suite positions. 

Others voiced a focus on sustainability and helping the industry and clients fight the climate crisis.

4. When it comes to Gen Z, Gen Z knows best

Gen Z simply doesn’t have time for brands that aren’t fluent in their language and culture. As Cécile Tousignant, a graphic designer at Sid Lee put it: “You can see right away if an ad targeting Gen Zers has been created by someone who doesn’t understand them or doesn’t speak their language.”  

Her advice? “Treat them as partners rather than as a billboard. Include them in your meetings and take their insights seriously.”

Gen Z employees may be just starting out, but what they lack in experience they gain in empathy, diversity, media savvy, passion and optimism for the future. One thing is for sure: the future is bright. 

Drop us a line on Discord and get to know the next generation. 


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