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How to Connect with Gen Z Right Now

According to a study by The Center for Generational Kinetics and commissioned by WP Engine, 72% of Gen Z is more likely to support a company that contributes to social causes. Gen Zs are acutely aware that in today’s digital world, anyone can use their voice to ignite change, and that includes brands—who aren’t just expected to take a socially responsible stand, they’re expected to mean it.

2020 has thrust difficult, life-or-death issues to the forefront of our lives. Between a highly contagious pandemic sweeping the globe and the ongoing fight for racial justice sweeping the country, now more than ever, brands and organizations should leverage their reach and influence to make a difference. And by all accounts, Gen Z is ready for it.

Here at the Ad Council, we’ve recently pivoted our messaging on two Gen Z-focused campaigns: She Can STEM , which empowers girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, though they may not often see representation of themselves in those fields, and our bullying prevention campaign, Because of You.

Let’s take a look at how we adjusted our messaging:

She Can STEM

Middle school girls have found their lives flipped upside down amid the pandemic, with school closures, an abrupt transition to online learning and uncertainty about the upcoming school year. Rather than ignoring the new realities facing our audience, She Can STEM decided to start sharing COVID-related content by highlighting STEM stars working on the frontlines, celebrating nurses and sharing an ongoing series of fun STEM experiments for girls to try at home.

When the protests for racial justice began, we knew the She Can STEM audience would be alongside us, listening, learning and taking action. After releasing a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, She Can STEM shared preteen and teen-friendly ways for girls to participate in the movement and has continued its ongoing commitment to elevating stories of Black women in STEM.

Because of You

Because of You also addressed Gen Z’s life amid COVID-19 by launching a Digital Yearbook activation on Instagram Stories, where students were able to share memories, celebrate the end of the school year, and thank their friends and peers for their acts of kindness.

The campaign also joined the fight against racism by sharing a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. In addition, we committed to amplifying diverse voices by sharing artwork and social content from BIPOC creators on an ongoing basis.

These examples help illustrate how campaign messaging should evolve organically with the times. Neither approach posed a major departure from existing content strategies, but the campaigns were able to adapt to recent events in ways that were authentic, relevant, and appropriate for meeting Gen Zs in the current moment.

To more authentically connect with socially driven Gen Z audiences, brands should not shy away from focusing their messaging on the new realities they’re facing. To steer clear of mentioning COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter movement would seem out of touch to such a socially engaged audience. As Jay Kamath, co-founder and chief creative officer at Haymaker, told Marketing Dive in an interview, “Gen Z can smell B.S. from a mile away… We have an opportunity to either provide services or resources and recognize the moment that we're in as opposed to going to the same old playbook."

And Kamath’s statement leads us to an equally important point: Taking a stand on social issues in a true and honest way requires more than a “check the box and move on” approach for brands. Gen Z expects brands to commit fully to social good, which means taking meaningful actions on a consistent, ongoing basis.

Any communicator knows how easy a messaging misstep can be when it comes to tackling sensitive social issues and rapidly evolving current events—and that fear can prevent us from getting important work out there. But according to the recently released report on influence published by Irregular Labs, most Gen Zs understand that the message might not always be perfect the first time around—what’s more important to them is that they see an authentic effort being made.


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