3 Ways to Connect with Gen Z Audiences Without Getting ‘OK, Boomer’ed

In a recent webinar, VLMY&R chief creative officer Ryan McManus and Disco Creatives’ Candice Hatting and Refiloe Gava dished some of the actionable secrets behind their successful Gen Z-focused campaigns. Here are three of them.

  • Genz

In 2021, young audiences are savvy and more plugged in than ever before and they’ll call out insincerity faster than you can say “cancelled”. So how do you make your brand “cool” enough to resonate with Gen Z? By achieving the right mix of purpose and creativity.

1/ Be authentic.
“There are so many people doing amazing things, there’s no need to fake it,” says McManus. A prime example: If you’re shooting an image of someone playing the guitar, use a real guitarist, not a model who’s never strummed a chord.
“It’s allowing creators to give more of themselves than just how they look,” says Hatting. “Advertising has been very destructive for the youth for a long period of time. Our purpose is to make people feel good enough.”
VMLY&R and Disco Creatives put this thinking into practice when creating the Vodacom #NXTLVL campaign, which went live on Youth Day last month. They partnered with young creators to produce content that was real, relatable and exciting for Gen Zs and young millennials, who saw their peers being recognised for their talents and responded with an infinity scroll of fire emojis and praise hands.  

2/ Don’t be the hero.
A brand swooping in to save the day is not a plausible story. It’s also way too narcissistic to be viewed as anything more than what it is: a cheap trick. Instead, create a platform for someone else to be the hero.
In their Big Ads for Small Business campaign, Hollard shared their ad space with small South African businesses – but that wasn’t the story. Hollard took a back seat and provided a platform for the small businesses to tell their own stories and it was that willingness to play a supporting role that made the campaign successful.   

3/ If you go to a party, show up to party, not to pitch.
The key to connecting with an audience is understanding the audience and speaking their language – without a condescending accent. VMLY&R in the US conceptualised a campaign for their client Wendy’s which involved the team playing Fortnite for nine hours straight as a character that looked like the Wendy’s mascot (seriously, you need to watch this). Yes, they were 100% pushing the Wendy’s agenda the entire time (and tweeting about it!) but because the, ahem, game plan was fun, accessible and, importantly, non-preachy, the audience raced to engage. The campaign won Grand Prix in the inaugural Social & Influencer Cannes Lions award – and the respect of thousands of burger-eating gamers and their friends.

Ultimately, being cool in 2021 is about being a craftsman, not a factory. Or, as Hatting puts it: “You really need to care to be cool.” Gen Zs respect that.

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