Where Brands Are Reaching Gen Z (2022)

Even before Covid-19, Gen Z was eschewing traditional social media for “digital campfires,” more intimate online destinations where they private message or connect either in micro-communities or larger shared experiences. In 2020, activity on these platforms exploded, anddigital campfires became a force defining not only how Gen Z audiences connect, but also how they experience and shape the culture at large. For this reason, marketers can no longer afford to ignore them. Here is a guide to the key digital campfires where Zs are congregating, with examples of creative ways brands are having a presence on these platforms.

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(Video) The "Umph" Brands Need to Reach Gen Z and Millennial Consumers

Last February, I wrote about the phenomenon of how younger audiences are leaving many public-facing social platforms and flocking to smaller, more intimate online destinations. I called these “digital campfires” and identified three reasons audiences were gathering there: to private message one another, to connect to a micro-community, or to participate in a shared experience.

Following the onset of Covid-19, activity on digital campfire platforms exploded, especially among Gen Z audiences, roughly defined as those born after 1997 or between the ages of nine and 24 today. In fact, the biggest cultural moments to capture the attention of young audiences in 2020 happened on digital campfire platforms, not traditional social ones:

It’s no accident that many digital campfires are either games or platforms that began as gathering places for gamers. Gaming has spilled over into the broader culture in recent years. Today, “gaming” is not just for “gamers” — it represents a new paradigm for interacting online.

In the span of a year, digital campfires have become a force defining not only how Gen Z audiences connect, but also how they experience and shape the culture at large. For that reason, marketers can no longer afford to ignore them.

But figuring out how to navigate digital campfires can be overwhelming. Many of these platforms are relatively new, have different rules of engagement than traditional social platforms, and varying levels of sophistication and readiness when it comes to supporting brand integrations. Often no clear rules exist on the platforms for how to create branded content or experiences that will resonate with their audiences.

To help demystify how these platforms work, I’ve created a guide to the key digital campfires where Zs are congregating and offered examples of creative ways brands can have a presence on the platforms.

(Video) How can brands reach Gen Z? | Cognizant

Fortnite

This massive gaming platform — and shared experience campfire — has 350 million accounts. Its December 2020 season end event had a record 15.3 million concurrent players with an additional 3.4 million people watching the event on YouTube and Twitch. While the company doesn’t share demographic data, Head of Global Partnerships for Epic Games (Fortnite’s parent company) Nate Nanzer says that “age 14 to 24 is our core.”

Fortnite is a pioneer in the world of branded integrations. Most partnerships are extremely selective and high-touch, and they take place within the platform’s primary mode, called Battle Royale. Marvel and Nike, for example, have debuted custom skins (stylized outfits for players’ in-game avatars) and limited-edition product drops inside the game. In January, Fortnite collaborated with football (a.k.a. soccer) clubs from around the world to offer players shoppable custom skins from one of 23 international teams, the ability for avatars to “emote” (for example, to mimic Brazilian player Pelé’s signature “air punch” goal celebration), and prizes for participation in a special tournament.

Brands can also engage users in Creative Mode, a fast-growing game play where players can build custom islands and invite friends to hang out. For example, eSports company 100 Thieves recreated its Los Angeles headquarters down to the last detail, and offered players the opportunity to complete quests, unearth hidden “Easter eggs,” and photograph themselves visiting the compound in exchange for Fortnite gear. Developing more opportunities for brands to direct and build bespoke experiences within Creative Mode is where the company aspires to go over time, says Nanzer.

Roblox

With 37 million daily active users and 20 million multiplayer games and experiences, Roblox, which launched in 2004, has quietly become a powerhouse shared experience campfire. More than two-thirds of all 9 to 12-year-olds in the U.S. play Roblox. Thanks to a trove of relatively easy-to-use creation tools, many of the games are created by first-time tinkerers, including kids, who then invite their friends to play, according to Tami Bhaumik, vice president of marketing and digital civility. That said, the platform is also drawing in older (read: millennial) users. “We’re naturally aging up as our platform continues to evolve,” says Bhaumik.

Roblox allows some brands to create their own games and experiences on the platform. For example, Warner Bros. and DC Comics created a Wonder Woman game this past summer. Players could use Robux, the platform’s digital currency, to buy Wonder Woman accessories for their avatars. In December, YouTube superstar Ryan Kaji launched his own virtual world on Roblox, offering merch for sale. (In 2020, Roblox users shelled out $1.9 billion on Robux, up 171% from 2019.)

Bhaumik anticipates 2021 will be a year of testing and scaling many such partnerships. To date, Roblox has “turned more brands away than you can imagine,” she says, adding that her team decides which brands to allow on the platform by surveying members of the community. The most important factor, says Bhaumik, is for brands to create a natural integrated experience that doesn’t make users feel as if they’re being advertised to. “Gen Z-ers are so smart,” she says. “They don’t have tolerance for what they see as cumbersome or inauthentic experience.”

Discord

Discord launched in 2015 primarily as a hub for gamers to connect via text, voice, and video messaging. As of December 2020, it has 140 million monthly active users, and 70% of active users report they either use the platform mainly for non-gaming purposes, or equally for gaming and other purposes. Popular non-gaming categories on Discord include cooking, street style, and beauty.

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Discord is a classic micro-community campfire: Anyone can join, but you need an invite to connect with specific communities, known as “servers.” According to Chief Marketing Officer Tesa Aragones, most Discord servers host fewer than 200 people, which creates a feeling of intimacy and mimics the way that Gen Z wants to connect today. “You actually have the feeling of being around [real] people,” she says.

Discord does not support advertising. Brands typically show up on the platform by creating their own dedicated servers, as in the case with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, which hosts live Q&As with players, broadcast personalities, and executives. It is also experimenting with some brand integrations: For example, users can connect their Discord and Spotify accounts, enabling them to see what their friends are listening to or to listen to music together. Discord does not yet provide data or metrics on these types of brand collaborations, but Aragones sees them as a huge opportunity and says plans are afoot to do more.

Twitch

Launched in 2011 and acquired by Amazon in 2014, Twitch initially became popular as a platform where gamers could earn money and amass followings by live streaming their own game play. Since the onset of the pandemic, the platform has seen a massive surge in overall use, especially in categories solidly outside of gaming, such as music, beauty, fitness and cooking. It has more than 7 million unique creators streaming each month and more than 30 million daily visitors, who spend an average of 29 minutes per session on the platform. Much of Twitch’s audience falls squarely within the Gen Z demo: 21% are 13 to 17 and nearly half are 18 to 34. Users often return three or more times a day to consume and interact says Sarah Iooss, head of sales for the Americas.

While Twitch’s live DJ sets famously became an extremely popular shared campfire experience during the early days of the pandemic, the platform also offers places for micro-communities to connect.

Brands can reach users via video and display ads using Amazon’s advertising platform or by teaming up with Twitch’s brand partnership studio to create more custom ads and experiences.

The most successful brands on Twitch “meet this audience where they are,” says Iooss. That is, they match the “quirky, funny tone and types of content” on the platform.

For example, in July 2020, Charmin toilet paper created a game called Deuce Destroyer, a Duck Hunt-meets-Space-Invaders experience where users shoot down flying piles of poop. Those who racked up the most points wonBits, Twitch’s virtual good that is used to support streamers.

(Video) How Brands Can Reach Gen Z on TikTok

Later last year, Pizza Hut debuted a weeks-long Friday Night Bites series which brought pro gamers and influencers together to compete against each other in games and pizza-themed challenges. “[W]e strived to create an elevated gaming experience that would create valuable connections and show that great gaming moments happen over a slice of Pizza Hut pizza,” explains Kari Kowalski, Pizza Hut’s head of media. “Knowing this, we chose Twitch because of their dominant Gen Z and Millennial presence who consume content across gaming and lifestyle verticals.” Each episode attracted more than 1 million live viewers, resulting in more than 5.4 million total views and more than 26 million minutes watched.

TikTok

When it comes to platforms with rabid Gen Z followings, it’s impossible not to talk about TikTok. With 100 million monthly active users in the U.S. alone, TikTok is home to countless hyper-specific subcultures reflective of every conceivable interest, activity and trend. Once a user demonstrates their preference for content from any of these communities, TikTok’s algorithm will serve up more of that content. The result: The platform functions as an umbrella for countless micro-community campfires.

TikTok’s rapid growth was fueled by Gen Z and that cohort has grown tremendously, particularly over the last year, says Katie Riccio Puris, managing director, global head of business marketing. While TikTok attracted older users during the lockdown, Gen Z dominates and drives trends on TikTok and “will always be critical to who we are” says Puris.

Although platforms such as Instagram first blurred the lines between branded and non-branded content, TikTok has pushed that trend further. Branded content on the platform is often indistinguishable from that created by the average user.

Brands, for example, have spearheaded some of TikTok’s most widely viewed hashtag challenges, resulting in a flurry of what are essentially user-generated commercials, even for brands that don’t naturally appeal to young audiences. Case in point: mid-pandemic, Simmons, the 150-year-old mattress brand launched #snoozzzapalooza, a hashtag challenge in which it asked TikTok users to re-imagine their bed as a stage and “stage dive” onto it. More than a million people created videos with the hashtag, they received more than 6 billion views, and the brand saw a 104% increase in traffic to its website.

Users have welcomed brands in ways TikTok didn’t necessarily expect, says Puris, a trend she says was also largely driven by Gen Z. “Because we have created this space where people are very welcoming, it has created this openness for brands to do the same.” The outcome is that “the community really gets engaged with marketers.”Perhaps the most memorable example: Nathan “Doggface” Apodaca’s insanely viral TikTok — which featured the Idaho man skateboarding while drinking from a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice — that spawned legions of copycats last year.

TikTok is exceedingly advertiser friendly, offering brand support ranging from self-serve products like its creator marketplace which connects brands with TikTok creators, to its Creative Lab teams which help brands develop advertising creative for bigger-scale campaigns. However, Puris says TikTok’s M.O. is to avoid being too prescriptive, especially when working with influencers. “There’s no formula,” she says. “Sometimes the most simple, original, five-second thing can move the needle.”

(Video) Reaching Gen Z and Millennials with Social Media

As I wrote last year, reaching Gen Z audiences on digital campfire platforms in ways that resonate is no easy task, especially when this cohort is fragmented across multiple digital campfires.

But just as it has become a must for brands to develop a presence on social networks, so too is building an audience on digital campfire platforms. Brands willing to experiment in creative ways on these platforms have a real opportunity to cultivate a relationship that will pay dividends for years to come.

[Editor’s Note 3/11/21: This piece has been updated to correct the number of views of the #snoozzzapalooza videos on TikTok.]

FAQs

Which brands are targeting Gen Z? ›

The five most popular brands among Gen Z men are YouTube, Gatorade, PlayStation, Google, and Walmart. For the generation's women, YouTube also landed the top spot—with Google, Netflix, Target, and M&M's following behind. Gen Z women tend to favor social media platforms more than their male counterparts.

How brands can connect with Gen Z? ›

Embrace authenticity

Gen Z can sniff out insincerity from a mile away. The group prioritizes brand authenticity, and they want their favorite companies to be more transparent and take a stand on social matters. To truly showcase your brand's authenticity, you need to show, not simply tell.

How do brands appeal to Gen Z? ›

Just like the generations before them, Gen Z's buying habits are influenced by the celebrities and influencers they want to emulate. Growing up in the creator economy, Gen Z is able to spot inauthenticity and gravitates towards respected influencers that are genuine and stand for what they believe in.

Where does Gen Z do most of their shopping? ›

Gen Zs may be more inclined than older consumers to shop in-store, but they're also being introduced to a larger list of brands online. They're the most likely generation to discover new brands on digital channels, from social media to ads on websites and apps, and they've become less loyal to brands as a result.

What brands do Gen Z like the most? ›

The Most Popular Brands With Gen Z Women
  • YouTube 1. FAVORABILITY : 89.25%
  • Google 2. 88.05%
  • Netflix 3. 85.77%
  • M&M'S 5. 83.04%
  • Amazon 7. 82.34%
  • Walmart 10. 81.12%

Why are brands focusing on Gen Z? ›

That's because this generation is, in many ways, the most discerning group of consumers. They are the most digital, the best informed, have the highest expectations, and are the least loyal. If a brand does not see them as an actual consumer group, it is likely because they already find the brand irrelevant.

What is the best way to market to Gen Z? ›

Given Gen Z's appetite for short-form video content, marketers should consider incorporating visual platforms into their strategies and developing bite-sized content like Instagram Stories. Short-form video that uses overlays, visual effects and music has proven to be marketing gold for influencers and brands alike.

How loyal is Gen Z to brands? ›

Sixty percent of Gen Zers said their brand loyalty has changed since the start of the pandemic, per a March 2021 Arlington Research poll for PFS. Among boomers, that figure was just 20%.

What does Gen Z want from brands right now? ›

But generally, we know they're digital natives in the sense that they've had access to technology and the internet their entire lives. Born between 1995 to 2010, when it comes to doing business with brands, Gen Z strongly prefers to support brands that have values and ethics they agree with.

What is unique about marketing to Gen Z? ›

Gen Z marketing requires more than simply selling a product. Born between 1996 and 2010, this generation is value-conscious and drawn to brands that “keep it real.” They're creative, bold, and the creators of many trends on TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other platforms.

How do you inspire a Generation Z? ›

What motivates Generation Z?
  1. Provide regular feedback. Gen Z-ers desire regular feedback on their performance. ...
  2. Promote interpersonal relationships. ...
  3. Implement a flexible work setting to reduce burnout. ...
  4. Provide career growth opportunities. ...
  5. Embrace social media and technology at the workplace. ...
  6. Promote diversity and inclusion.

What do Gen Z consumers want? ›

Gen Z consumers want more from brands than just affordable and high-quality products. Brand authenticity, transparency, and sustainability are higher priorities for this age cohort than for older consumers.

Where do Gen Z spend money? ›

Gen Z also spends a larger portion (19%) of their money on online shopping than they do on socialising, eating out, and entertainment. About a quarter of those surveyed almost never use cash, and one of the most important drivers for Zoomers when considering purchase and payment methods is brand trust.

What is popular with Gen Z? ›

They favor YouTube, TikTok & IG

YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms among Gen Z. It might be because they dabble in content creating themselves or because they consume twice as much video content as Millennials, and this is where they find it.

What comes after Gen Z? ›

More than 2.5 million are born globally every week. When they have all been born (2025) they will number almost 2 billion- the largest generation in the history of the world. Generation Alpha are defined as those born from 2010-2024. More than 2.5 million are born globally every week.

What era is Gen Z? ›

Generation Z (or Gen Z for short), colloquially known as zoomers, is the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. Researchers and popular media use the mid to late 1990s as starting birth years and the early 2010s as ending birth years.

What do Gen Z care about brands? ›

Gen Z needs to wholeheartedly buy into a brand. Consumers of all ages these days expect the same things from brands as their friends — not only authenticity and reliability but also the feeling like the brands understand them. But this sentiment is particularly true among Gen Z, who values these values above anything.

What does Gen Z want from luxury brands? ›

They are digital natives born with mobile devices and social media, and they desire uniqueness, novelty and interactive experiences. While luxury brands have been built around the notion of exclusivity, Gen Z are looking for more than an ostentatious product.

What type of content do Gen Z like? ›

Gen Z is known for having a penchant for video in their favorite social media apps. According to eMarketer, the most popular social networks among Gen Z are Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram — all apps that rely heavily (if not exclusively) on video content.

Which online platforms are best for marketing to Gen Z? ›

According to the Pew Research Institute, the platform Gen Zers use the most is YouTube (85% of Gen Zers say they use the platform and 32% say they use YouTube more than any other social media site), followed by Instagram (72% say they use the platform though only 15% say they use it most) then Snapchat (69% use the ...

Who are Gen Z customers? ›

Gen Z spans the years 1997 to 2010, although these dates vary depending on who you ask. As of now, Gen Z ranges in age from 11 to 24. This puts them at an interesting crossroads.

What social media do Gen Z use the most? ›

Where Do Gen Z-Ers Spend Most of Their Social Media Time? Visual platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, etc, are the platforms most visited by Generation Z. The numbers on that are Snapchat with 42 million Gen Z users, TikTok with 37.3 million Gen Z-ers, and Instagram with 33.3 million.

What does Gen Z value most? ›

They are pragmatic and value direct communication, authenticity and relevance. They also value self-care. They may be more likely than older people were when they were the age of the Gen Zers to question rules and authority because they are so used to finding what they need on their own.

What media does Gen Z consume? ›

Gen Z is a major consumer of all types of internet-based streaming media, with audio making up a growing piece of the pie. YouTube remains the dominant platform in terms of daily reach, with 84% of adult Gen Z users saying they visit the platform at least once per day.

Do online advertisements work with Generation Z? ›

Disruptive advertising isn't working for Gen Z. No, it's not going anywhere anytime soon, despite the massive inconvenience it can cause. But more brands are opting for intent-based, nondisruptive ad campaigns created specifically for Gen Z consumers, which make up a huge portion of today's online marketing audience.

Is Gen Z less loyal to brands? ›

Only 37% of Gen Z fell into the loyalist category, defined as those who bought a product from the same brand they were considering at the start of the shopping journey. This is quite different from the 56% of boomers who did so. We found a steady decline in loyalty with each generation.

What generation is the most brand loyal? ›

Approximately 70 percent of U.S. respondents and 30 percent from other English-speaking countries reported that brand loyalty was the highest in Gen X consumers. More than four in 10 of those in this age group stick to brands they like, according to the study.

Does Gen Z care about fashion? ›

But Gen Z, which Bank of America once called the “most disruptive generation ever,” has a serious blind spot: its addiction to fast fashion. A 2020 survey by Vogue Business found that more than half of its Gen Z participants bought most of their clothes from fast-fashion brands, like H&M, Gap, Zara and Forever 21.

What brands have done a good job at targeting Gen Z consumers? ›

Published on March 17, 2022. Lexus' efforts to target younger buyers are paying off, according to a new Ad Age-Harris poll, which also shows Ocean Spray, USAA, Gap and Cinnamon Toast Crunch among brands making gains with coveted Gen Z consumers.

What is popular with Gen Z? ›

They favor YouTube, TikTok & IG

YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms among Gen Z. It might be because they dabble in content creating themselves or because they consume twice as much video content as Millennials, and this is where they find it.

What do Gen Z consumers want? ›

Gen Z consumers want more from brands than just affordable and high-quality products. Brand authenticity, transparency, and sustainability are higher priorities for this age cohort than for older consumers.

What is Gen Z buying? ›

Gen Z consumers are more likely to buy sustainable, high-quality, products. 73% of Generation Z consumers are willing to pay 10% more for sustainable products, according to a report from First Insight. They value personalised products and are often drawn to brands that share their point of view on political issues.

What content attracts Gen Z? ›

With over 680 million users worldwide and 25% of TikTok users in the US between the ages of 10-19, TikTok is a vital component of any brand's strategy to connect with Gen Z. Video and stylized visual content should be a top priority for catching the eyes of younger customers.

What type of content do Gen Z like? ›

Gen Z is known for having a penchant for video in their favorite social media apps. According to eMarketer, the most popular social networks among Gen Z are Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram — all apps that rely heavily (if not exclusively) on video content.

How can I reach Gen Z marketing? ›

  1. 10 Tips for Marketing to Generation Z.
  2. They're digital natives, so marketers must act that way, too. ...
  3. Make the message quick, to the point, and in their language. ...
  4. Social media is important, but differs from Millennials' usage. ...
  5. Authentic experiences and two-way conversations are a must. ...
  6. Humanize your brand.

Is 2022 a Generation Z? ›

General Gen Z stats

Some say anyone born in the 1990s is part of Gen Z, though the most widely accepted definition includes those born during or after 1997. Many researchers agree Gen Z ends in 2010, but some argue 2012 is the cutoff for where Gen Z ends and Generation Alpha begins.

What is Generation Z fashion? ›

However, some fashion blasts from the past are back in style again according to Gen Z. This list includes skinny baguette handbags and platform shoes from the early '90s, biker shorts from the 80's, crew necks from the 60's, and even pearl necklaces from the '20s.

Where do Gen Z spend money? ›

Gen Z also spends a larger portion (19%) of their money on online shopping than they do on socialising, eating out, and entertainment. About a quarter of those surveyed almost never use cash, and one of the most important drivers for Zoomers when considering purchase and payment methods is brand trust.

What does Gen Z look for in a product? ›

Authenticity & Transparency

In a trend that started with Millennials, Gen Z craves authenticity in marketing. They value social proof and word-of-mouth marketing from friends and influencers. They want to see more user-generated content and branded content that shows real people who look like them.

Why do Gen Z buy fast fashion? ›

The researchers identified six key barriers to sustainable clothes shopping: price, lack of knowledge, lack of choice, lack of aesthetic choice, skepticism over business transparency, and social desirability. Generation Z comprises those born between 1997 and 2012.

What influences Gen Z purchase? ›

Brand authenticity and identity

It is more important for Gen Zers than Millennials to shop from brands or retailers that have a strong brand identity. It is also more valuable for Gen Zers to spend money on brands that value authenticity.

Do Gen Z prefer shopping online? ›

Instore remains important to them, but 24 per cent strongly prefer to purchase online and 13 per cent through mobile. Furthermore, over 40 per cent of Gen Zers purchase more than half of their clothing items online.

What generation spends the most money? ›

A Generational Breakdown of Overall Spending

Overall in 2021, Gen X (anyone born from 1965 to 1980) spent the most money of any U.S. generation, with an average annual expenditure of $83,357.

Videos

1. A Marketer's Guide to Understanding Gen Z | NetElixir
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2. StreamO - Reaching Gen-Z has never been easier for brands
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3. How Fashion Retailers Can Succeed When Targeting Millennials and Gen Z
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4. Marketing to Generation Z: 5 Gen Z Marketing Strategies in 2022
(Later: The All-In-One Social Marketing Platform)
5. How Brands Can Connect With Gen Z | Timothy Armoo From Fanbytes | 20 Minute Marketing #30
(Reach Interactive)
6. THIS is how De Telegraaf reaches millennials | Case Video | Team5pm | The YouTube Agency
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