Gen Z, defined as those born between 1997-2012, are now in the work force and about to become the largest group of consumers. This 20% of Australia's population is a conundrum for advertisers and brands.
Terminally online, yet constantly craving connection. Tapped into the latest trends, yet jumping from one flash-in-the-pan fad to the next. Prioritising authenticity, yet in possession of a different persona for each social media platform they’re active on.
On the flipside, they’re a generation focused on diversity, inclusivity, mental health awareness and sustainability among a myriad of other issues, the vanguard of a progressive nouvelle vague attempting to hold those in power and politics to account for actions they deem as mortgaging their future before the said future has even begun.
For media agencies, they must follow this audience where they hang out. And that won’t be in traditional media. Can many members of Gen Z even name a free-to-air channel or know what a local newspaper is?
What platforms are Gen Z using and why?
Meta – short-form video content resonating strongly
Helen Black, head of connection planning for Meta Australia and New Zealand, said that Meta – which owns Facebook and Instagram – reaches the largest number of Gen Zers, with 94% of all 16-24 year olds in Australia accessing Facebook or Instagram on a monthly basis.
“They come to Instagram and Facebook for both entertainment, connection, and expression, just as other generations do, but how they use our platforms is different,” said Black.
“Instead of a huge friends list of strangers, they express themselves through curation of tight circles of friends. Instead of following trends, they reappropriate them. Instead of posting a carefully chosen single photo they post a ‘photo-dump’ collection of photos that conveys a story or mood.”
Black said that Gen Z are also redefining search and how they obtain information, being more likely to visit a social platform when looking for information about brands than they are to use a search engine.
“Gen Zers also absolutely love short-form video content like Reels, with our research showing 76% have used it within the past 7 days. Reels are short-form videos full of energy, highly relatable and users feel they can fit more into their viewing time. The comments on the videos also form part of the entertainment,” she said.
“You may not automatically think about Facebook when it comes to Gen Z, but Facebook Groups are also really popular. They know they will find an answer to something quickly and often communicate in groups in an ongoing chat session.”
Pinterest – providing positivity to the ‘manifestation generation’
Melinda Petrunoff (pictured right), Pinterest’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, said Gen Z is Pinterest’s fastest growing audience – not just an audience who come to the platform to be creative, but who also have high commercial intent.
“We're winning with Gen Z as our biggest driver of monthly active users and engagement because they see Pinterest as an oasis from the toxicity of social media. They are coming to plan and to manifest rather than to come to passively scroll,” Petrunoff said.
“’Manifesting’ is both a mindset and a life practice that empowers you to become the very best version of yourself. Insights tell us that Gen Z is the manifesting generation. We’re seeing this in our search insights — Gen Z are currently manifesting their next European summer trip, clean skin aesthetic and even a new house checklist for how to decorate.”
Petrunoff said Pinterest is very deliberate about cultivating a positive and inspiring platform, and it knows that Gen Z are seeking these types of spaces online for their emotional wellbeing.
“We recently collaborated with UC Berkeley on research that focused on the mental health benefits of inspiration. The highlighted daily interaction with inspiring content on Pinterest helped Gen Z students to buffer against negative conditions such as burnout and stress,” she said.
Snap – keeping family and friends close
Matt Coote, head of enterprise ANZ at Snap Inc., said that Snapchat reaches a community of 7.5 million people in Australia – which includes 90% of people aged 13-24 – and is ranked the #1 happiest platform when compared to other apps.
“Staying connected with friends and family is the #1 global reason for using Snapchat,” said Coote.
“They love the fact that they can have fun and express themselves in lots of different ways and that messages disappear, allowing them to be real and spontaneous. They organise their life through it by looking at the Snap Map to see where their friends are, and they also watch content on there.
“Traditional social media is all about being pretty and perfect; we have always made decisions to create a more positive space (no likes or comments, no pressure). That’s one of the things people love about us.”
Personalisation, video and social media as a search engine
As digital natives, Gen Z have grown up in the internet age and thus prefer video over text-based content, prioritising interactivity with brands over the traditional one-way communication usually employed and seeking a way to stand out from the crowd rather than blend in among the mass of users on the platforms of their choice.
Similarly, identity is a key driver for Gen Z, whether that’s in the platforms they use or the products they buy. How can they cultivate a unique persona and will that translate from online to offline? How does the content they post, where it’s posted and who interacts with it build currency in their communities? How do they decide which platform should receive the bulk of their sparse yet valuable attention?
Suzie Shaw, CEO at We Are Social Australia, said Gen Z lean into more visual and entertainment-led platforms, where they can connect with their peers around shared interests, so TikTok is their channel of choice in terms of time spent using the platform (with 73% penetration in Australia, and average usage sitting at around 2 hours per day), but YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat remain hugely popular.
“They love authentic, bite-sized content that they can consume on the go,” said Shaw.
“Gen Z favour platforms that allow them to personalise their experience and get tailored recommendations, based on their interests - from broad to hyper-niche, and so they 'educate' their algorithmic feeds accordingly.”
Ayaan Mohamud (pictured right), regional VP of Marketing for APAC at impact.com, said that increasingly, consumers will only buy brands, products and services they trust and for Gen Z, the people they trust are often creators with whom they feel an affinity.
“Content creators include social media influencers, micro and nano influencers, TikTokers, bloggers, gamers - essentially anyone who creates and shares content to an audience,” said Mohamud.
Mohamud said that this means brands are now putting even more emphasis on creator marketing efforts and there’s an upswing in social selling across multiple platforms, whether via well-known ones or via niche communities.
“For example, our client New Balance recently ran a successful ambassador campaign among university students in Australia, aiming to connect with students in a way that felt like a grassroots movement.”
Isabella Gonsalves, No Standing’s head of brand partnerships, said that Gen Z is leaning towards video-native platforms like YouTube and TikTok due to their authenticity and unique content discovery tools.
“These platforms offer personalised content recommendations based on user engagement and interests, allowing Gen Z to easily find and engage with relevant and tailored content to their interests,” said Gonsalves.
Lia Cain, commercial director of ANZ at Channel Factory, said that thanks to current powerful algorithms, social media platforms have evolved to deliver more personalised content, feeding Gen Z users a steady stream of videos, articles, and shopping opportunities.
“Channel Factory’s Social Effect research found that YouTube is the number one platform globally across all ages and markets in 2022,” said Cain.
“Not only is it the most ubiquitous channel but 96% of those surveyed said they feel better or the same after spending time on YouTube, when compared to other platforms.
“The same research determined that many Gen Zers access platforms like YouTube for informational videos on topics of interest. Others specifically turn to YouTube to boost their mood and relax.”
Out of home company JCDecaux recently released a report titled Gen Z: The IRL Opportunity, developed in collaboration with The Future Laboratory, which said that facing an uncertain future, the generation have stepped up to amplify their voices, champion self-expression and hold businesses accountable.
Max Eburne (pictured right), chief commercial officer for ANZ at JCDecaux, said that one key insight from the report is that Gen Z is the first generation to realise their desires can be fulfilled online, offline, and everywhere in between.
“As a result, their identities, needs, activities, and beliefs transcend boundaries, creating new expectations regarding how and where companies should engage with them,” said Eburne.
Eburne said that Gen Z no longer views their online personas as separate alter-egos or secretive identities; instead, they see their online presence as an extension or overlap of their true selves.
“They actively build a two-way street that connects digital and physical spaces, seamlessly transitioning from offline to online and vice versa. This means, Gen Z can’t be pigeon-holed into a particular channel. They curate their own digital and IRL journeys with their peers and are constantly jumping mediums.”
James Allerton, head of research & insights at Audience Precision, said that even if TikTok is their favourite platform, it’s important to recognise that Gen Z is active across multiple social media platforms.
“If your brand is only active on one social media channel, then you’re missing a big chunk of your audience. Looking beyond TikTok, Instagram continues to command high usage among Gen Z, while Snapchat still maintains a solid audience too,” he said.
“TikTok is where they find funny and entertaining content, while Instagram and Snapchat are used more for posting their own content (e.g. Stories) and messaging friends. Instagram and Snapchat have built trust over the years with features designed to give users more invisibility online such as content only viewable to “Close Friends” and messages that are only temporarily viewable.”
Allerton said a big shift Audience Precision has seen is with how Gen Z find new products and brands compared to older generations. The ‘zoomers’ are more likely to search for products and brands on social media than a search engine.
“Instagram is their top platform for finding information about new products and brands, however TikTok is growing in popularity as brands increase their footprint there,” said Allerton.
Eb Yusuf, head of strategy at Yango, said that Gen Z are leaning into digital, most notably TikTok - where Instagram for Millennials was about building a fantasy, TikTok feels more off the cuff and chaotic.
“It offers a more authentic and less filtered experience where Gen Z can see real people being themselves,” said Yusuf.
“In addition, TikTok is more interactive than Instagram. Users can comment on and like videos, and they can even duet or stitch other users' videos. This makes TikTok feel more like a community than Instagram, which can feel more like a competition.”
Video killed the radio star – and everything in between
Why bother racking up tens of thousands of dollars in HECS debt and studying for a years-long degree when you can film yourself doing everything from singing, dancing and performing comedy to playing video games, sharing workout advice and dispensing makeup tips - all from the inner sanctum of your bedroom with a chance to go viral overnight?
Whether it’s in the United States, the United Kingdom or New Zealand, children across the world now want to be an ‘influencer’, ‘creator’ and/or ‘YouTuber’ in droves – and Australia isn’t immune from it. Whereas previously the youth may have aspired to such vaunted professions as actors, musicians or sportspeople, the celebrities of yore have been replaced by the digital stars of tomorrow.
Gen Z aren’t just using video to project themselves out into the world, however – they’re also using it vociferously as their main content source for consumption.
Thomas Clapham, partnerships director at Initiative, said that through their thirst for short, snackable video content, Gen Z audiences are flocking to platforms that allow them to engage with content that is entertaining or educating.
“This is arguably the first generation that aren’t Facebook-first users, preferring the video heavy platforms of YouTube, Instagram & TikTok,” said Clapham.
“What these platforms do is a great job in capturing short attention spans and enable audiences to become creators, taking content into their own hands. This approach is partly the cause for TikTok’s rapid growth, meaning brands have had to take notice or risk missing a huge opportunity.”
Lauren Small (pictured right), MD of Carat NSW, said that as digital natives from birth, Gen Z have never known the world without the internet. Both Facebook and the first iPhone launched when even the oldest of the cohort were under ten, so having grown up with technology from their earliest days, this is a hyperconnected generation extremely comfortable with negotiating digital media.
“Whilst the likes of TikTok and Insta infiltrate the media diet, there are amazing platforms and personalities authentically shaping and showing up in Gen Z culture, such as LiSTNR, The Daily Aus, and Pedestrian Group,” she said.
Catherine Rushton, chief strategy officer at This is Flow, said TikTok is Gen Z’s platform of choice, not just because of its scale but its daily time spent, now sitting at 133 minutes per day for Australia.
“It’s important to think of TikTok as an entertainment source, not a social media channel,” said Rushton.
“In the same way older generations may sit back and relax in front of MasterChef or Queen Charlotte on Netflix, 18-24’s will turn to TikTok for the same switch off and escape moment.
“In saying that, Gen Z will prioritise spending on content they love - whether a Spotify subscription or streaming service. It comes back to this fluidity that defines this generation - it is about what they want, when they want it.”
Mat Rawnsley, UM’s head of planning, said that the critical paid media channels to reach Gen Z are TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch and a long tail of lifestyle, entertainment and interest-based publishers.
“Most advertisers are leaning into SVOD but new advertising opportunities are still emerging. It’s all about mobile-first video content, especially for the younger cohort within Gen Z,” said Rawnsley.
Chris Fraser (pictured right), MD of Intentional, said that while the trend towards TikTok continues to grow in the younger audience profile, its influence is changing all digital media with short-form, visually captivating and user (not brand) driven content becoming best practice.
“The reality for advertising is that Instagram continues to drive the best ROI even with Gen Z - so while TikTok ads exist, it’s the creative style from TikTok which Gen Z prefers and that is having the most impact,” said Fraser.
“For those around long enough, the similarities of when Instagram first launched ads, and brands rushed to embrace this platform, only to see their Instagram ads bomb - yet the Instagram-style creative has begun to become the best performing Facebook ad creative.
“We’re now seeing this for TikTok creative becoming the best performing ads on Instagram, plus YouTube Shorts - and we’re putting our money on CTV too!”
Paul Scarf, group strategy director at Alchemy One, said that in the realm of scalable digital platforms, the media agency is seeing that Gen Z's attention is significantly captured by YouTube and TikTok.
“We have seen a trend on both platforms for Gen Zers using TikTok and YouTube searching for products to offer them content to inform their purchasing decisions and provide relevant recommendations like older generations have been using search,” he said.
Both Rushton and David Lee, media director at The Pistol, echoed that social is the new search for Gen Z, as the likes of TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are reigning supreme as discovery engines over Google.
“A core reason for this is the ability to receive views or opinions from real people, making the content more relatable,” said Lee.
Scarf said that on average, Gen Z spends around two hours per day watching YouTube videos, viewing it as a “supportive learning tool”, with 70% of Gen Z using it to gain knowledge and develop new skills.
Scarf also said that TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity among Gen Z’s due to its innovative way of tapping into micro trends and scaling this through entertaining content, with the algorithm-driven content discovery enabling the rapid spread of subculture trends and challenges, capturing the attention and participation of Gen Z on a massive scale.
“The dispersion of subcultures and trends on TikTok offers Gen Z a means of self-expression and identity formation. They embrace unique content and celebrate diversity, creating a sense of empowerment and unity among Gen Z users,” he said.
Virginia Hyland (pictured right), CEO of Havas Media Australia, said that Gen Z can sometimes feel the weight of the new world on their shoulders, so they utilise social media to bring lightness, enjoyment and fun to their day to day lives.
Highly social, growing up in the era of mobile phones and social media, she said their platforms will continue to morph over time depending on where they will have access to richer experiences.
“Gen Z have a strong need to be connected, to have fun, to share their experiences, compare themselves with each other, to promote their image and to find inspiration in their life. We initially witnessed the rise of Instagram and now WhatsApp to connect with their various lifestyle groups across friends, family and work colleagues, has become a staple for communicating,” said Hyland.
“Video and gaming continue to be a powerful force in how Gen Z gather ideas and inspiration. 25% of accounts that they follow on social media are gaming experts. Entertainment in a stressful world is a core focus; bands, comedians and actors are all heavily followed to create moments of joy in their lives.”
Sophie Price, EssenceMediacom’s chief strategy officer, said that just last week, when talking to her daughter and a large group of 15 to 16-year-old friends, she was taken aback when only a quarter of them could name the three commercial free to air TV networks, and not a single one of them had visited a news site this year.
“The quantitative data substantiates this shift of course - but it made me realise that the pace of change in media consumption habits is set to accelerate even further as this generation matures and gains more independence,” she said.
Price said there are five key reasons Gen Z get their ‘everything’ from Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube: they’re a mobile first generation; they’re hardwired to want to belong; influencers have become more influential than traditional celebrities; creativity and self expression; and education and learning.
“Growing up with smartphones and uninterrupted internet access, they have cultivated an insatiable desire for visually captivating and easily digestible content that can be consumed on the go, on demand,” said Price.
“This generation's engagement with these platforms extends beyond entertainment alone; it’s where news, information and knowledge is shared. ‘If it's not on Tiktok it isn’t important’.”
Price said that the platforms offer a genuine sense of community and the ability to participate in conversations and trends in real-time.
“They are allowing young people from all around the world to develop shared perspectives, support each other, and combine their voices to form activist communities, enacting change,” she said.
Elliott Eldridge, Sydney head of strategy for Mindshare, offered a more holistic view, saying the big problem with finding a silver bullet or one platform that Gen Z is using is that it can sometimes feed into the stereotypes that exist within the bubbles we work in.
“While TikTok & Twitch are the big platforms that come to mind for a younger Aussie audience, if you look at Roy Morgan data, News.com.au has had more 14–21-year-old visitors in the last seven days than either of those platforms - probably something that most would assume would be the opposite,” said Eldridge.
“That doesn’t mean News.com.au is the silver bullet for Gen Z, as those numbers reference an Australian-wide audience. In our media bubble we tend to bring our own experiences into audiences, and Gen Z are people too, they are aging up and have access to a wide array of platforms like any audience.”
Eldridge said that Gen Z are obviously driven by a heightened usage of streaming, but as a group they are diverse.
“When planning against them, we should firstly be considering what the job we need to do and what the brand opportunity is, then find the right platform that could provide the necessary content or moment of connection to overcome the tensions the brand is facing.”
Put your money where your Zoomers are
With all this in mind, are brands actually investing in targeting Gen Z? Do they even know how to effectively market to a generation that, as cliché as it sounds, is unlike any before it due to both seismic technological and societal shifts informing so much of their thinking and spending habits?
Scarf (pictured right) said Alchemy One is seeing a “significant allocation” of advertising budgets towards targeting Gen Z, with approximately 15% of advertising spend of its overall budget dedicated towards Gen Z consumers.
Price said approximately 15-20% of EssenceMediacom clients are focused almost entirely on targeting Gen Z, with a much larger percentage (approximately 50%) ensuring that a proportion of their media spend is targeted to Gen Z as part of a broader reaching plan, either through addressable media and/or via the platforms that are proven to engage them.
“Gone are the days when a mass reach plan can reliably capture the attention of younger audiences as a byproduct. The media behaviours of Gen Z are fundamentally different, requiring a more targeted and tailored approach to effectively reach and engage them,” said Price.
And at Havas, Hyland said approximately 25% of expenditure is focused on engaging Gen Z audiences, “who are highly responsive to messages that relate to what inspires them to live the best life.”
On the other hand, Allerton said that while Gen Z are generating a lot of curiosity among advertisers, Audience Precision isn’t seeing this matched by spend yet.
“Older members of Gen Z are a couple of years into their careers so we’re starting to have conversations with premium brands around how to build awareness in preparation for when they have the income to spend. With more youthful brands, we’re seeing a lot of effort put into targeting Gen Z audiences through their owned channels, particularly social media,” said Allerton.
Clapham said that Initiative knows the buying power of Gen Z audiences pales in comparison to previous generations, but where this impacts spend is with the sophistication of AI algorithms within automated buying platforms targeting a higher value audience.
“The need for short term results for clients means that Gen Z’s aren’t the low hanging fruit; however smart marketers will recognise the need to start building their brand against these audiences in order to futureproof,” he said.
Yango’s Yusuf said that more and more advertisers are recognising Gen Z as not only an economically viable consumer to chase (given they are less impacted by consecutive interest rate hikes), but that they are also capable of shaping public opinion.
“Given this generation is at the forefront of emerging platforms, creating TikTok trends and accidentally selling out products is kinda their thing,” she said.
“Not only are they good at selling stuff out, they are also extremely politically engaged, utilising social platforms to set the tone for the conversations happening around them – sustainability, equity, inclusion and more. Smart advertisers recognise this and are shifting spends to try and create the next generation of loyal customers.”
Rushton (pictured right), however, said that with heightened economic uncertainty most established brands are searching for growth in new audiences, as the challenge is that many jump to 18–25-year-olds as the most lucrative pocket of opportunity due to the potential lifetime value.
“Yet in the short term, what we are seeing is that this is the group hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis and they are reducing their spending on most categories (Apparel, Utilities, Groceries),” said Rushton.
“Most brands really need a two-speed approach - cultivating a longer-term connection with these future consumers while focusing attention in the short term on audiences which can deliver results now.”
The platforms themselves have reported a strong response from advertisers targeting Gen Z.
Pinterest’s Petrunoff said its seen double digit growth of the Gen Z audience, which is a benefit to advertisers who want to particularly reach and engage with this cohort at the right time across the most popular verticals they’re most interested in such as fashion, beauty, art and travel.
“Advertisers should take note — the Gen Z audience is driving results for their campaigns,” she said.
“Contiki - a brand that targets Gen Z to drive sales on European summer travel adventures - recently used Pinterest to tap into the open-minded and adventurous Gen Z audience who are looking to make a purchase. Through a targeted campaign on Pinterest, they exceeded their sales goal by 80%.”
Meta was similarly positive, with Black saying its seen increasing numbers of advertisers lean in to building connections with Gen Z using Meta’s platforms. While the increased cost of living may be disproportionately impacting young Australians, businesses are keen to recruit their next generation of customers and capitalise on their cultural influence.
“We’re seeing this across categories from quick service restaurants, to fashion and beauty brands, to major financial institutions that want to improve financial literacy,” she said.
“While advertisers can target specific demographics on Meta’s platforms, we often recommend they keep their audiences broad to give our AI the freedom to find the people most likely to drive their desired outcome, so it’s often creative where we see brands experiment with different ways to appeal to Gen Zers, such as changes in style, tone, formats, and messaging.”
How Gen Z makes their buying decisions
It’s no surprise that both purpose and value alignment factor largely into Gen Z’s considerations when choosing not just what to buy but where to spend their money. Gonsalves said price sensitivity is also important to them, but what sets Gen Z apart is their stronger focus on social and environmental consciousness.
“They value brands that align with their values and actively pursue purpose-driven initiatives,” she said.
Shaw (pictured right) said Gen Z are more likely to research and evaluate a brand's values and actions before making a purchase decision, and consider factors such as ethical sourcing, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and social impact.
Social media is also an important tool for garnering recommendations and seeking out reviews, with content creators and influencers often the first port of call as social proof and user-generated content are utilised to inform and validate their choices.
Channel Factory’s Cain said that research shows over the past three years or more, 22% of Gen Zers have shopped via social video ads and 26% use social video platforms to find out information about a product or brand they are planning to buy from.
With authenticity and transparency at the heart of the decision-making process, Shaw said this is why their search habits are so different from other generations: when looking for information, from how-tos to the best products to buy, Gen Z are more likely to start their journey on TikTok than on traditional search engines.
“To this point, TikTok has recently launched mobile search widgets, to make this experience even more frictionless,” said Shaw.
JCDecaux’s Eburne said that Gen Z are acutely aware of the flaws and inadequacies in the institutions surrounding them, including political polarisation, climate crisis, and social inequality. In response, they desire a complete social reset.
“Gen Z identifies as activists who prioritise living according to their values. Research conducted by VICE indicates that almost half of the cohort (47%) globally consider their beliefs to be a crucial aspect of their identity, surpassing age (29%), gender, and sexuality (27%),” he said.
Eburne said that Gen Z is willing to back up their beliefs with their wallets - in Australia, nearly three-quarters (71%) of Gen Z consumers state that they would pay a premium for products and services offered by companies that align with their core beliefs.
“However despite their emphasis on personal values, Gen Z tends to prefer partnerships over complete independence. Unlike previous generations that rejected the power of organisations, Gen Z collaborates with companies to bring about change. They believe that radical collaboration is the most effective way to improve the future for everyone, leading the way in collectivism.”
JCDecaux's research indicates that 33% of Australian Gen Z individuals are members of both online and offline communities. Through these partnerships, they are amplified, whether it is through online brand fandoms that convert consumers into brand collaborators or through boycotts that hold sectors accountable.
“Gen Z is redefining how brand spending and opinions are expressed, leveraging their collective power,” he said.
“This demographic readily shifts their support for brands following the posting of an insensitive statement on Instagram or the release of a greenwashing policy. Their actions reflect their determination to align themselves with brands that share their values and actively contribute to the causes they care about – something few brands can afford to ignore if they wish to acquire their custom and their trust.”
A unique mindset and fresh perspectives
Coote (pictured right) said that Snapchat research into Australia’s Gen Z has shown that the generation has evolved their attitudes to wellbeing, work, identity, communication, and the pursuit of personal passions - and they expect brands to grow with them.
“Gen Z are pioneering a new era of communication and wants the world to follow suit,” he said.
Coote said that Gen Z is constantly evolving, so brands would benefit from accepting, embracing, and presenting them by helping them to tell their stories their way.
“This generation is keenly tuned into culture, but they look to brands to tap into deeper emotional and cultural values beyond fleeting trends. Advertisers should ensure they align with what makes them tick beyond just chasing the new and novel," said Coote.
“Only brands that act with honesty, intentionality and authenticity can successfully cut through and gain their attention.”
Black said that Gen Z are happy to see brands on Meta, but it does require advertisers to approach their communications with a fresh perspective as the Gen Z aesthetic can be quite different.
“They celebrate and embrace imperfection, compared to the Millennial aesthetic of perfection,” she said.
“Raw and unpolished content can often perform better for advertisers. Currently we’re seeing big macro trends around nostalgia, infotainment, and sneak peeks into people’s lives via Get Ready With Me (#GRWM) and #dayinthelife videos.”
Black said that a great way for brands to tap into this is to partner with creators. Creators have become the instigators and accelerants of Gen Z culture, enabling and giving expression to the many different sub-cultures that thrive among Gen Z – plus creators perfectly understand the language of Reels.
“I’ve seen brands like Carlton Dry do this really well. To increase the brand’s relevancy with a younger audience, they set up the Carlton Dry collective - a diverse group of four creators connected to Gen Z culture,” said Black.
“The interpretation and creative direction was left up to each creator, allowing their authenticity and language to shine through. This creator-led, Reels-first content strategy achieved a 5.5-point higher incremental lift in affinity compared to its usual campaign strategy.”
Cracking the code on what resonates with Gen Z is the most relevant opportunity for marketers at the moment, and Petrunoff said Pinterest believes the mindset of Gen Z users on the platform is unique — they’re more creative and are inspiring others on the platform to dream big.
“They’re using Pinterest to discover new ideas that are personal to them and then making plans for how to take action on what they find,” she said,
“Like no other platform, brands are additive to the experience. Brands can reach the consumers they care about most and drive them from discovery to decision to do.”
Petrunoff said that Pinterest recommends that advertisers tap into the unique planning mindset of users and start their campaigns early as Gen Z, as well as most Pinterest users, come to the platform early to start planning for their next purchase or action.
“We also suggest that advertisers diversify with more objectives across the funnel. The Gen Z audiences experience multiple touchpoints across their purchase journey, making it critical for brands to be present across the whole marketing funnel,” said Petrunoff.
“It’s important to remember the exciting opportunity to reach the Gen Z audience who are essentially “new independents”. Gen Z are buying their first cars, moving into apartments and homes for the first time, redefining their fashion and beauty as they reach a new era in their lives and brands can be there when they’re looking.
“There is a great opportunity to engage with them early on their purchase journey.”
Media agencies on what’s working
Clapham (pictured right) said that Gen Z have always had advertising present in their lives and with that have become savvy in tuning it out. For advertisers to tap into this audience, it comes down to them being present within environments where they consume content, communicating in a way that resonates and on topics that matter to them.
“Gen Z audiences create content like influencers, so once a brand can tap into this and create content like a creator, Gen Z will begin to take notice,” he said.
EssenceMediacom’s Price also said that traditional ways of advertising to Gen Z no longer suffice.
“This generation scrolls through vast amounts of content each day, akin to the height of the Statue of Liberty and they are prolific ad avoiders - so it is crucial that we EARN their attention rather than simply purchasing ad impressions,” said Price.
She said the obvious way to do this is to craft content and experiences that are exceptionally relevant to Gen Z; seamlessly integrated into the platforms that they frequent, and that are inherently entertaining and provide value to their lives.
“To breakthrough with Gen Z, we need to leverage these platforms (and the data they provide) as maps to understand this generation better - their behaviours; thoughts, feelings and actions,” she said.
“For example, once you think about Google as a map of human intention, Twitter as a map of human conversation, Instagram as a map of human passions, Spotify as a map of human moods, and TikTok as a map of human expression… then your ‘advertising’ or ‘content’ has the potential to become far more meaningful and relevant.
“An example of this was how KFC leveraged TikTok to recruit a buckethead army across a summer of cricket - by mashing up bucketheads and umpires’ signals to create their own TikTok umpire dance.”
Yusuf also said fit for platform content is key – if advertisers want to connect with Gen Z on Twitch, TikTok or any other platform they’re flocking to, they have to genuinely engage with the platform and understand its shorthand so they can speak to its audience with an authentic voice.
Both UM’s Rawnsley (pictured right) and Carat’s Small said content has to resonate with Gen Z's experiences but also be authentic for the brand.
“Gen Z are savvy around brands, advertising and media, and they get that the lines are blurred more than ever, so be genuine but also don’t forget to be entertaining and make them laugh or inspire them and you’ll win,” said Rawnsley.
“For this generation, the role of media and advertising is to create a value exchange, create a two-way dialogue that garners their attention, and adds value, whether that be educational, humorous or exploration,” said Small.
Lee said crafting authentic, transparent narratives that tell the brand's story and demonstrate its genuine commitment to social and environmental responsibility is crucial, as Gen Z values companies that align with their deeply held beliefs about sustainability, inclusivity, and activism.
“Adopting a personalised approach to advertising that tailors messages to individual interests, habits, and values, while respecting privacy, is key to resonating with this digital-native generation,” he said.
Authenticity is not just important in the messaging or where brands show up, however – it's also important to convey that ‘realness’ in the creative that advertisers choose to utilise.
Fraser said that with the loss of data on platforms, interest-based audiences are dying off in a time where Gen Z is full of hyper-niche interests. Using media audience targeting through social ads is evaporating, so instead advertisers must think about targeting Gen Z through ad creative.
“The most overused word in marketing - ‘authenticity’ - is critical here. It’s why we are seeing consistently that brands’ best performing ads for younger audiences are behind the scenes/B-Roll on iPhone style content rather than the perfectly lit and scripted brand video,” said Fraser.
“The idea of user generated content has expanded to be the umbrella term for lo-fi creative - the best advertisers are ensuring 50% of their ad creative is now content creator style, whether that’s truly “users” or paid actors or the brand itself producing that creative.”
Alchemy One’s Scarf said that with smartphones being their primary device for accessing digital content for Gen Z users, advertisers must prioritise mobile-friendly first content and formats. If a format doesn't feel like it's built for the platform, Gen Z users switch off and swipe to the next piece of content.
He also raised shorter story arcs as a way for advertisers to win over Gen Z, saying within the first few seconds, ads should hook Gen Z with captivating visuals and a clear value proposition, utilising trends like music, dance, or references to certain subculture references.
“Messaging should be concise and focused, emphasising key benefits and cutting out unnecessary elements. We are also seeing a shift towards low-fi creative that can be iterated on rather than large-scale, one-size-fits-all creative pieces that are harder to be optimised,” said Scarf.
Allerton (pictured right) said that exclusive events are a great way to successfully utilise influencers in a marketing strategy, as Gen Z are unlikely to click on a sponsored post or ad, and they’ll see right through a micro-managed brand partnership between a brand and influencer.
“Whether it’s a sports event, music concert, movie premiere, or your own product launch, content that lifts the image and reputation of the influencer will create genuine excitement between your brand and the influencer,” he said.
“It might seem obvious, but influencers need content so make sure content creation opportunities exist. It may be as simple as good lighting, an aesthetic backdrop, and your brand logo.
“We also see a greater openness to ad personalisation in this generation, particularly compared to Gen X and Boomers who can find it intrusive. Clothing, shoes, and in-home entertainment are the categories Gen Z are most open to personalisation with. They’re likely to respond well to brands asking for feedback after purchase too.”
Hyland said that Gen Z are attracted to fun and social interactions with brands that enhance their experience with the world, so brands need to focus on a multi-dimensional ongoing engaging presence with Gen Z audiences.
“Gen Z desires new experiences and new information. They appreciate creativity and lightness where brands make them smile. Interesting content that has a talkability factor utilising actors and comedians works a treat to engage Gen Z audiences and build consideration to purchase,” said Hyland.
How advertisers can tap into the elusive Gen Z
We Are Social’s Shaw said to effectively appeal to Gen Z, marketers need to not only communicate their brand values and social responsibility, but also act with authenticity and integrity, doing their part to address issues that are crucially important for this and future generations.
“Gen Z appreciates opportunities to contribute and actively participate in the brand experience, showcasing their creativity, and having fun with it. Encouraging user-generated content and involving Gen Z in a gamified co-creation process can foster a deeper sense of connection with the brand and drive preference,” she said.
Shaw said they also embrace individuality and proudly wear the badge of the niche subcultures and communities they are part of.
“They are more likely to gravitate towards content tailored to their specific passions and brands that speak the language of the subcultures they belong to. By catering to their specific interests, marketers can connect with Gen Z on a deeper level,” said Shaw.
“Partnering with influencers within these subcultures can be an effective way to build affinity and advocacy, but these partnerships need to be carefully curated to ensure they enable brands to truly connect with Gen Z and build genuine brand equity.”
Cain said that rather than being confined to only watching content related to their core interests, Gen Z and millennial consumers lean on platforms to serve a wide variety of interesting content that's unique to them.
“As a result, Gen Z media consumption habits show a higher standard for brand suitability, and associate brands with the content they appear with—whether it be an article, TV show, or YouTube video— if the brand misaligns with the content, Gen Z consumers will be more likely to skip the ad,” said Cain.
“This leads to a poor overall perception of the brand and negatively impacts the brand value amongst a Gen Z audience. In other words, putting ads next to pimple-popping videos might damage your brand image.
“According to the social effect research, 52% of users would share ads if they thought their friends or family would be interested in the product. And 50% of Generation Z would share ads if they thought the ads were creative and cool.”
Cain said that why and what people share does fluctuate from generation to generation. When compared with millennials and Gen X, where 11% of Gen Z is more likely to share an ad of something ‘I’d want to buy for myself’, 8% are more likely to share if the brand ad was ‘creative + cool’.
“This indicates that personalised and relevant brand ads play a crucial part in Gen Z building personal influence within their circle,” he said.
No Standing’s Gonsalves said that considering the increasing demand for authentic content and grassroots recommendations, user-generated content creators engaged through an affiliate program are a fantastic way to drive reach and generate conversions for a business.
“Collaborating with smaller creators on platforms like TikTok can be particularly cost-effective, as reach is democratised, offering equal opportunities for content to go viral regardless of a profile's following,” she said.
“By harnessing the creative potential of these content creators, advertisers can authentically connect with Gen Z and create impactful and integrated advertising campaigns that resonate with this generation.
Eburne said advertisers must understand their preferences and priorities. Gen Z has grown up in a digital age and has been exposed to a constant stream of content. They are also experiencing digital burnout and are seeking advertising that offers them a degree of independence and control.
“To resonate with this generation, advertisers need to adopt new approaches that align with Gen Z's values and capture their attention,” said Eburne.
“In this context, Out-of-Home advertising is emerging as a valuable touchpoint for Gen Z.”
According to a survey JCDecaux Australia conducted with 1000 Gen Zs, 64% agreed that brands should utilise more Out-of-Home advertising to engage them. Additionally, a significant 85% of Gen Z individuals reported taking action after engaging with Out-of-Home advertising.
“Public screens, including out-of-home, provide an egalitarian space that allows Gen Z to scrutinise businesses' social influence and community purpose. Advertisers are leveraging this social currency in real life by using Out-of-Home platforms creatively.”
Analytic Partners’ MD for Australia, Paul Sinkinson (pictured right), said there are certainly channels that work better for Gen Z - linear TV has regularly been reporting weekly reach in the 28-32% level for the 18-24 year old demographic, but with BVOD having reach of up to 20%, it’s true that free-to-air TV content has the least reach for this demographic.
“Our research shows that targeting even a millennial audience on Linear TV delivers an ROI 10% lower than average,” he said.
“A “screens” approach that is broader than TV (no matter Linear or BVOD) is vital for reaching Gen Z. However, this digital advertising should still be combined with a media channel that can build national reach and build it quickly, such as Out-Of-Home (OOH).
“This old faithful is still successful at reaching this group, and can provide the synergy that is vital to make sure you get the highest return from digital. Without TV or OOH, you could be halving the potential ROI of your digital advertising.”
Sinkinson said that using demographics as a targeting strategy is not the highest performing method however, as audience targeting consistently outperforms it.
“So rather than a strategy that assumes all people within an age band are essentially the same, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious belief, political persuasion etc, having a strategy that targets an audience within Gen Z is still a stronger data signal that will deliver a stronger result,” said Sinkinson.
He said that ultimately, it’s not just the media channels, it’s also the creative style that you use in the digital activity that will determine success.
“Rather than the traditional “TV style” creative with a Hollywood story arc, where you build to the great reveal or broad vistas, you need creative that can work on mobile as well as a computer screen. Think bright high contrast colours, movement happening quickly, tight framing, etc. You don’t need to have your brand around an interesting story, but make your brand interesting,” he said.
“Finally, even if you’re digitally heavy, still layer and mix your long form and short form content. Just because you’re talking to Gen Z doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be telling them an interesting and compelling story. Ultimately, that’s what they’ll pay attention to - something they find interesting. You can then use shorter duration content to remind people.”
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