For digital advertising to connect with Gen Z consumers, it must get better before it gets any cheaper. Kantar Millward Brown’s Joline McGoldrick explains.
Unfortunately, much of the narrative around digital advertising in the past 16 years has been around efficiency – lower CPMS, more economical audience-based buys, or a better chance of conversion when we target someone with the same digital ad over and over and over again.
If we haven’t yet opened our eyes to the end of the efficiency-driven era, Gen Z and their opinions of and expectations for digital media suggest that we surely should. Gen Z (audiences under 19) demands that we re-rewrite much of this narrative and re-balance the art and science of digital advertising to be more powerful, audience-centric and inspiring.
Why should we do this? Because advertising is resonating least on the screens where the Gen Z audience spends the most time. Globally, 74% of Gen Z spend an hour or more on the Internet on their mobile phone per day, and 75% spend an hour or more a day on the Internet on their laptop or PC. Yet, only 26% to 32% of audiences hold favourable opinions of advertising on these devices.
Nonetheless, while this generation might share the negative opinion to digital advertising that their Gen X parents also hold (Gen Y interestingly is substantially more positive to digital formats), Gen Z is also crystal clear on the components of what makes ‘great’ advertising.
That clarity can be summarised in three characteristics.
1 – Advertising that rightfully gets and rightfully holds their attention
More than any prior generation, Gen Z is attuned to attention and the distraction that can come from digital media. It’s common for teens and their parents to have conversations on how to keep their attention on digital devices to those things that they must do – homework and scheduling and how to keep it off of what they shouldn’t be doing – social media and entertainment.
Apps like Self-Control and Forrest are popular for helping Gen Zers block the distractions of social media and other time warps on the Internet vying for their attention.
Nonetheless, with this burgeoning awareness of attention, particularly by Gen Z, digital advertising too often falls into the category of distraction or, worse still, annoyance because it interrupts the task at hand (an interstitial blocking the view of a mobile website or a non-skippable pre-roll delaying the start of a video).
“Advertising holds attention when it matches up brand, category and context for each ad experience”
Frequently, the distraction or annoyance of these ads is amplified because the ads are for a category or brand that the user is not interested in or the ads lack contextual relevance (for example, an ad for a horror movie before an upbeat music video).
Advertising rightfully gets attention when it amplifies, rather than distracts or derails the digital experience. Snapchat had been successful at putting this into practice with its Sponsored Filters and Lenses providing playful ways for brands to amplify users’ Snapchat experience (the Ghostbusters and Taco Bell campaigns have been two great examples).
Advertising holds attention when it matches up brand, category and context for each ad experience. This demands that the matchmaking algorithms that dictate the ads served to a user must also better take into account context and always factor in both brand affinity and category interest.
2 – Advertising that aims for emotion
Television has historically been considered the go-to-medium for moving audiences. Many of us will admit to crying over a TV commercial – far fewer will admit to crying over a digital ad. We’ll foreclose the opportunity to move our audiences if we continue to rely on this strategy, since according to AdReaction only 51% of Gen Z watches an hour or more of TV a day.
In digital, especially with a dominant efficiency narrative, we hear little about digital’s ability to connect in the big and meaningful way that TV advertising does. However, younger audiences are likely more receptive to emotion-based rather than rational-based advertising at this stage of their lifecycle, due a not-yet-fully developed pre-frontal cortex (the front area of the brain that controls rational thought and decision making) and a very reactive amygdala the part of the brain responsible for, among other things, emotional memory, that also at this stage causes them to feel things more strongly.
For advertising in digital to strike an emotional chord and create positive emotional memories in the minds of the viewer, advertisers must experiment more with those permissioned formats that both voluntarily allow the audience to opt-in, but also get enough audience attention to build a story that activates the emotion centre of the brain.
3 – Advertising that is an art form
Gen Z, at its current lifestage, is more sophisticated than previous generations in both avoiding (when bad) and seeking out (when good) content. The digital sophistication of Gen Z is reflected for example in their enjoyment of always accessible digital music (43% enjoy always-on digital music).
This digital clarity also makes them more attuned of what it takes to hold Gen Z’s attention – humour (72%) music (58%) and story/narrative (56%) – higher than Generations X and Y.
While most brands would state they have an audience-based buying strategy, or a digital conversion (clicks) strategy, few would say they have a music strategy (should it be background or foreground, what is the best tempo, rhythm, or tone for the brand?).
Yet, a good music strategy, like Oreo City’s Owl City series or the a good music and design strategy like the OK Go and Morton Salt music video collaboration is not only impactful but durable: over at least three years, in Oreo’s case, and over 17 million views for Morton Salt with OK Go.
Yes, efficiency has its place. But the case for it is much more compelling when the formula is smart investment, big impact, rather than low investment, low impact. Gen Z may be the generation that finally opens our eyes to this.
Getting this right means using the formats that Gen Z finds acceptable, creating emotional impact via digital messages and having a clear and consistent content strategy. The benefits will be felt both in terms of Gen Z and among the wider population.