Why reaching a Gen Z audience is crucial for your brand (and how to do it)

James Sawyer
By James Sawyer | 10 May 2022
(L) Circa 1987. At 17. First Road trip. Hydrogen Peroxide was trending. (R) Circa 2022 Fashion is definitely trending again as well as complementary hair and teeth and white Ts ( …. girls are popular too).

James Sawyer, Managing Director AUNZ, TotallyAwesome

Self-evidently (ahem) teens are more sophisticated these days when it comes to style and appearance, but the generational change runs much deeper than just fashion, beauty and a willingness to smile.

Unlike us, today’s teenagers are now an economic force to be reckoned with. They have a combined disposable income of $903 million a year in Australia (14-18yr old) to spend as they wish, with the average Australian teen earning $146 a month, and a third of teens earning $237[i].  This income is increasing at circa 4-5% per year and it doesn’t include the money that they get from parents.

They now also have significant influence on household purchases including holidays, groceries, and subscription services, making them the most important consumers in the household. Our TotallyAwesome Zoomer Digital research found that teens hold over 70 percent of the power when it comes to deciding the next family holiday destination, 80 percent sway about eating out and food delivery services and (perhaps unsurprisingly) have 75 percent of the power when it comes to the purchase of household tech items including video consoles and game applications[ii].

This means that marketers, quite literally, can’t afford to ignore this generation of savvy consumers. However, teens can be a tricky demographic to reach (much like my own teenagers at times). Regulatory requirements like COPPA (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule) combined with the fact that Gen Z teens are a complex and nuanced audience can make it a daunting proposition.

However, brand loyalty starts at an early age. With Kids breaking away from their parents’ influence and developing their own brand preferences between the ages of 13 and 17[iii].  Smart brands will start to make inroads with them at this time because it’s not only more expensive, but sometimes futile trying to convert them any older.  

There are three key considerations when trying to achieve this critical early affinity:

Think beyond social

So often in agency land when a brief comes in targeting under 20’s, the common response is “ahh great send that to social” but that doesn’t cut it anymore for a number of reasons. Firstly, recent changes in social mean Facebook are limiting advertisers’ ability to reach teens with targeted ads. With the changes they will no longer be able to use ‘interests’ or information from other services or 3rd party websites/apps for targeting. For this reason alone, universities are finding it harder to reach vital school leavers for early preferences and selections.

Secondly, while the popularity and usage of these platforms (Facebook, Instagram and TikTok) wanes, YouTube goes from strength to strength. But again, no U18 targeting options exist so you need specialist help in ensuring you reach your intended target and safely. In addition, teens are moving into the wider digital metaverse at pace – especially gaming and music destinations. Gaming for example now commands a major share of viewing with 66% of teens playing multiple times per week and 24% gaming daily[iv]. As the number of channels and platforms that teens access continues to multiply, the onus is on marketers to find a way for their brands to responsibly show up in the same places. My own company recently launched the world’s first programmatic solution to target under 18’s that uses contextual versus data to make it easier for marketers to reach this audience at scale.

Know your audience

It can be easy for marketers to rely on outdated insights and clichéd assumptions when it comes to communicating with a teenage audience. The reality is, this generation of teens (many of whom experienced the first two years of their teens coping with lockdowns and home schooling and smaller social groups) are far from being self-absorbed, social media addicted and slightly in their own world – they actually have plenty on their mind.

Our research tells us that their biggest concerns currently include Corona Virus (42%), mental Health (40%) bullying (33%), racism (27%) with Environment/climate change (Boys 27%) and Body Image (Girls 25%) rounding out the top 5. This generation also cares more about major global and social issues than ever before.  In fact, 25% will choose a food or drink product only if the packaging is good for the environment[v]. When I compare this to 17-year-old me who happily ate my Big Mac from a Styrofoam package and was fairly oblivious to macro social-economic world events, it’s clear that this generation is significantly different.

It's therefore vital to understand what is important to this group and what drives them to purchase products and have relationships with brands. 57% of teens are driven to purchase from a brand that stands for something important to them or represents their values. As well, 53% will buy a product if they feel it improves their knowledge or skillset and 45% will buy from a brand with eco-friendly credentials. To cut through, brands need to lean into their concerns and interests and ensure they show up with meaning and utility to form an emotional long-term connection with this audience. A connection that just might last a lifetime!

Be responsible

While marketers seek to create lifelong brand relationships with a teenage audience, it’s important that it is done in a responsible and ethical way. It’s incumbent upon marketers and their agencies to ensure that their creative and technical partners are fully aware of all related regulations and ask the right questions to make sure they have the appropriate guard rails in place.

For example, we employ dozens of human moderators (including teens themselves) and have an in-house child psychologist to continuously review our media supply partners. It’s a never-ending process that’s vital to augment technological review efforts. As we enter a cookieless and privacy-first future these guard rails become even more important and BAU across all demographics but – for obvious reasons - there is a heightened level of urgency with our kids and teens.

Connecting with a teen audience can be complex. It requires nuance and care, but it’s vital to create brand loyalty that can last a lifetime – and it’s much less of a headache (and expense) to start early than try to win them back in their next life stage.

i TotallyAwesome Zoomer Digital Insights, ANZ Teens, Nov 21
ii The Insights Family: teens 13-18: Sample size 1.9k, Jan –July 2021
iii Amanda Abel Paediatric Psychologist TotallyAwesome 2021
iv The Insights Family: teens 13-18: Sample size 1.9k, Jan –July 2021: Market: AU – Video Games/Time
v TotallyAwesome Zoomer Digital Insights, ANZ Teens, Nov 21

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