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Gen Z feels stereotyped in ads; are marketers listening?

Planning to make a Gen Z ad? Easy. Just assemble a group of young people in flashy outfits, give them oversized headphones, and sprinkle in trendy words like ‘lit’, ‘slay’, and ‘vibe’. Ensure they look glued to their phones – voila! You’ve got a classic Gen Z ad.

Yet, that’s far from who we are. Such depictions aren’t just inauthentic; they distance brands from truly understanding us.

“Gen Z is becoming one of advertising’s most stereotyped generations, with depictions, more often than not, being a mental afterimage of how the older generations think of us – vibrant, opinionated, lazy, loud, always online,” said Srishti Pandey, Creator & Founding Member at The New Thing. 

When asked about feeling misrepresented in ads, Siddharth Kumar, Sr. Copywriter at Digitas, expressed the frustration of many Gen Zers, saying, “Yes would be an understatement. A sh*t-ton of brands still rely on outdated stereotypes.”

Clean & Clear Thailand’s ad made by BBDO Asia aptly sums up the frustration that many Gen Z folks have with ads made to target them. The ad portrays what brands believe the youth crave — slang, rap music, vibrant streetwear, and skateboards. However, the reality is quite the opposite, as the target audience sees right through all the supposed ‘youthfulness’ brands trying to sell them. 

One big stereotype that brands can’t let go of is the overuse of slang to portray an entire group of people. To look cool and trendy, many brands nowadays fall back on trying to adopt the generation’s unique lingo. For instance, an international snack brand launched a campaign titled ‘Slang for Parents,’ aimed at bridging the generational gap. This initiative sought to educate older generations about terms such as ‘mid’, ‘bussin’, ‘basic’, ‘slaps’, and more, commonly used by today’s youth.

In the pursuit of quirkiness, the ad fell short for those who fluently speak this language daily.

Similar to this campaign, back at home, an Indian automobile brand’s ad used familiar abbreviations like ‘GRWM’, ‘OMW”, ‘SMH’ and more but twisted it by adding some brand-specific full forms. The ‘Get ready with me’ became ‘Go riding with me’, ‘On my way’ became ‘on my wheels’ and ‘So much hate’ became ‘set my helmet’. 

Yet another attempt at appearing trendy missed the mark. 

Gen Zers are over this dramatic portrayal of their everyday language and feel is a big misrepresentation of the generation. 

Ayden, Sr. Copywriter, dentsu said, “The overuse of slang language and the try-hard coolness is literally not us. Brands do it too much, it gets annoying.” 

Instead, Ayden gives a perfect solution to communicate with an audience that craves authenticity from brands. They suggest having real Gen Zs represent them. “Don’t appoint 35 yos to write for 20-somethings. Make someone who IS us, talk to us,” they added. 

A few campaigns have been able to move beyond generalisation, making a mark in one of the most important TGs. 

For Kanchi Parekh, Associate Group Account Manager -Strategy & Planning, SoCheers, BitchClub by BlissClub was a standout campaign. It challenged stereotypes with humour and not make it one of the preachy zones where feminism is disregarded or looked down upon as condescending. 

And advising brands on what to do instead of the age-old stereotyping, Parekh said to focus on a larger purpose rather than just pushing products. “The trick about marketing to the GenZs is connecting with them over a larger purpose and not trying to sell us a product. We like brands who stand with us and have an opinion on the issues we care about on matters and life instances, rather than lecturing us about something” 

Dishant Shah, Sr. Creative Executive, FCB Kinnect emphasises the importance of clarity and purpose in marketing efforts, “The journey for effective marketing to Gen Z starts with a brand having clarity on who they are and what their purpose is. It also helps to have Gen Z talent in the team.”

The online v/s offline dilemma 

Studies show that globally, Gen Zers spend a total of 9 hours a day looking at a screen. It is safe to say that the generation that grew up on the Internet, is chronically online. 

Kanchi Parekh believes that one of the primary ways to connect with Gen Z is definitely through digital and virtual spaces. She added, “This is because our generation often forms digital connections first, which then serve as a foundation for real-life connections, both with people and brands.”

Prapti Shah, Senior Creative, One Hand Clap also said, “Yeah, we are chronically online, so promoting the brands on social media hits the right chord.” 

While it’s true that Gen Z is digitally native and easily accessible for brands there, many folks from the generation think that relying solely on digital platforms is a mistake. 

Kanchi Parekh said, “While social media is important, it’s not our whole world. We value purpose, individuality, and social consciousness more than any generation.”

Dishant Shah, “While it is true that we do spend a lot of time online, we as a generation also believe a lot in experiences so I don’t think it’s enough to just be on digital.”

While being online is undeniably a significant part of Gen Z’s lifestyle, it doesn’t mean they don’t engage with other forms of media. This is a generation that grew up on catchy jingles, humorous TV commercials, and more. When brands extend their reach beyond the 6.5 inches of a phone screen, they can forge an instant connection with Gen Z. 

This year for Holi, Swiggy Instamart took to the streets and rolled out a billboard that read “Do me a favour, let’s play Holi. Get gulaal and more in 10 minutes”, to which Amazon PrimeVideo replied, “Mirzapur se Phulera tak hai rangon ki boli. Watch shows and movies everyone’s talking about.” Following this, many more brands joined the conversation. 

Srishti Pandey thinks creatively placed OOH campaigns, innovative use of pre-existing tools, and providing opportunities for personal involvement are great ways to get Gen Z excited

‘M’, a Gen Z copywriter at a digital agency who chose to comment anonymously thinks that to stand out, brands must derail from being online all the time. They said, “Gen Z being chronically online might be the reason they have become so resistant to campaigns. If as a brand you want Gen Z to consider you, you have to either do something disruptive or clutter-breaking to make them look away from the content they are constantly consuming.

With Gen Z, it’s also been observed that the desire to experience things. Touchpoints like experiential events, travel, and shows, can also be tapped into when marketing.”

Social mediums that work

The digital era has made ‘content’ the actual king. And, Gen Z is notoriously known for its content consumption. According to a survey by Snapchat, the reason for this is content consumption by Gen Z is driven by a desire to keep up-to-date, and this generation seeks content that aligns with their values.

This generation thrives on memes for their daily dose of content. And brands can effectively leverage them to connect with the cohort.

Harshit Sharma, Founding Member & Sr. Brand Strategist, Youngun said that he engages with memes and videos the most because they are quick, engaging, and often humorous. “Memes, in particular, have become a powerful marketing tool, driving both engagement and virality. When done right, they can capture attention and convey messages in a fun and relatable way,” he added. 

For Prapti Shah, the shareability of memes is the selling point for memes and she advises more brands to leverage this. 

Srishti Pandey mentions brands like Duolingo, Crumble Pakistan and Rajmandir Hypermarket who have nailed their meme game on the internet. All three brands have their unique way of using memes to communicate with the audience. 

Duolingo is edgy and unafraid to make jokes. 

Crumble Pakistan uses cat memes to cater to the niche cringe culture. 

Rajmandit Hypermarket has a unique way of using meme templates to convey its message. 

Apart from memes, short-form videos are the next best medium for brands to reach the generation. 

Kanchi Parekh said, “I don’t think there’s a more relevant way to connect with today’s Gen Z audiences. It’s quick, engaging, and exactly where they are.”

Apart from these two mediums, Gen Z also finds content in podcasts, blogs and more. Personal experiences are a big hit among the cohort as well. 

Srishti Pandey said, “Personally for me, experiences in the real world are equally impactful too. Concerts, movie events, pop-up shops etc are interesting mediums for brands to leverage. You don’t know why but it gives you that “ooooh” moment which is usually rare to come by.”

Marketing to Gen Z requires a nuanced understanding of their values, preferences, and diverse perspectives. Brands that succeed are those that move beyond stereotypes and superficial trends to create authentic, meaningful connections. As this generation continues to grow in influence and purchasing power, brands must adapt and innovate. 

The takeaway is clear — authenticity and a genuine understanding of Gen Z’s unique characteristics are key. Brands that embrace this approach will not only capture the attention of this savvy audience but also earn their loyalty and respect.

Source: Social Samosa

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