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Get in the Game: Engaging Gen Z Gamers through Fan Favorites

Establishing an authentic connection with target audiences can be a game-changer in delivering nuanced critical messages. Together, with our partners, we took this approach in a recent collaboration to reach young adults. By tapping into the existing level of trust in the video gaming community, we were able to create genuine connections and share important mental health resources. Join us for a deep dive as we discuss how Gen Z, a generation deeply immersed in gaming culture, found value in the authenticity of our message and how we engaged them using some unique trusted messengers.

This year marked an exciting collaboration between our teen and young adult mental health campaign, “Seize the Awkward,” and critically acclaimed video game FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH. The partnership engaged Gen Z gamers in meaningful conversations with their friends about mental health, and brought together iconic characters from the beloved FINAL FANTASY franchise in a series of public service advertisements (PSA) that emphasize the importance of checking in on a friend.

Cloud, Aerith, Tifa and other well-known characters featured in these PSAs have been long-time companions on epic adventures within the FINAL FANTASY universe. Their enduring friendships and mutual support mirror the peer-to-peer encouragement central to “Seize the Awkward's” mission. Through these PSAs, the campaign reinforces the message that having mental health conversations is not just valuable, but "totally worth it."

This partnership is part of the larger “Seize the Awkward” initiative, a joint effort by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and The Jed Foundation (JED) to encourage young adults ages 16 to 24 to reach out to their friends and start the conversation around mental health. Who better to help than the FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH crew as they navigate ways to support each other?

In a world where digital experiences dominate daily life for Gen Z, gaming emerges as a powerful platform to engage and communicate with this audience. Research from Deloitte reveals that a staggering 87% of Gen Z respondents play video games weekly, with a significant portion dedicating substantial hours to gaming. For instance, audience research from SQUARE ENIX, the gaming publisher that produces FINAL FANTASY, highlights that 71.8% of the franchise's audience spends over an hour daily gaming, and 42.3% invest more than four hours each day in gaming activities.

The allure of gaming goes beyond entertainment; it has become a vital part of Gen Z's social and cultural identity. Within gaming communities, players also find connection, camaraderie and self-expression. The immersive nature of video games fosters deep emotional investment, making it an ideal platform to address important topics like mental health.

As a classic game franchise, FINAL FANTASY VII holds a special place in the hearts of gamers worldwide. Its rich storytelling, compelling characters and themes of friendship and resilience resonate deeply with audiences. Cloud, Aerith, Tifa and their companions are not just fictional heroes or symbols of friendship. They have all faced their fair share of challenges, but model one of the game’s core themes of lending a listening ear and supporting each other to overcome respective struggles one conversation at a time. The characters are so relevant they’ve even become ingrained in gaming culture, being featured in other popular gaming outlets, allowing players to revisit storylines and character development years after the game’s original releases. It's within this context that “Seize the Awkward's” partnership with FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH becomes particularly impactful.

Through gaming, the campaign not only reaches Gen Z gamers in their native digital space, but also leverages the emotional resonance and storytelling potential inherent in gaming narratives. Gen Z's emphasis on authenticity extends to the voices they trust, especially in marketing and advocacy efforts. According to EY's research, 92% of Gen Z individuals consider authenticity a top personal value. This authenticity translates into a preference for messengers who have a genuine connection to certain causes, like the beloved characters in the game to supporting friends.

The partnership received an overwhelmingly positive response. Since launch in January 2024:

● The PSA received over 290,000 views.
● The “Seize the Awkward” and FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH’s collaborative Instagram post received 22,000 likes.
● There were 1.2M impressions across 6 social media posts about the partnership.
● The PSA received over 7.7M impressions across television, outdoor, and digital.

The success of this collaboration underscores the importance of leveraging unique trusted messengers and native platforms to create impactful campaigns that resonate authentically with Gen Z. As we continue to navigate the evolving landscape of digital communication, partnerships like this one demonstrate the power of authentic storytelling and strategic engagement in driving meaningful change.

Clarke Williams
Clarke Williams works as an Assistant Campaign Manager of Campaign Development at the Ad Council. She was born in Baltimore, MD where she locked into her creative pursuits of storytelling and strategy early. She graduated from Howard University in 2020 with a B.A. in political science and has since worked with brands across industries executing marketing strategy, content creation, and creative consulting. She works on two suicide prevention campaigns to uplift awareness, education, and resources for folks who need them. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
Meghan Moloney
Meghan is a Campaign Manager at the Ad Council, where she works on suicide prevention efforts within Ad Council’s Mental Health Initiative. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and the 2023 Cannes Lions Brand Marketers Academy. Connect with Meghan on LinkedIn.


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