Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Sep-Oct 2020

The Voices Are Younger − But Are We Listening?

Advertising is passing through a generational makeover, but is the industry ready to pass the baton?

As creatives in advertising we are constantly creating for our consumers and with a team. Never for ourselves; never by ourselves. Given that the nature of the job is outward facing, are we making time to listen to the people we are directing our advertising to and the people we are creating with? Are we listening to the conversations they are having; what makes them laugh, what moves them, what annoys them and what placates them?

According to the UNDP, Pakistan has more young people than ever before and this trend is set to increase until at least 2050. Pakistan’s median age is 22, which means if we were to sketch a character for Pakistan based on the above two facts, our country would come out looking like a highly-opinionated, easily bored and very woke Gen Z (also loosely known as ad-blockers).

So here is a question. As an industry, have we leaned-in and tried to understand how this enigmatic generation functions? I think not, or at least not enough. The ad space still looks like a plethora of overly exhausted mediums (think: TV or at best DVCs), overly used formulas (remix an old song and slap it on to a TVC) and old voices trying to sound young with out-of-context Gen Z slang added for effect. The naked truth: it makes Gen Z cringe or worse, tune us out. What we need to acknowledge is the fact that we are at the helm of a big generational changeover. So, to all the industry veterans and Millennials (including myself), now is the time to hand the mike over. Here is a simple checklist that will help us achieve this.

1 Don’t Talk At Them. Talk To Them

When I worked for Coca-Cola, the most important lesson I learnt was to talk to consumers like people we know and not like a stranger preaching to them. Positioning your brand as a person in their lives helps anchor the way you craft your communication. So, in my head, Coke was the caring older sibling, Sprite the rebel friend and Fanta a younger mischievous kid.

This helped me keep the tonality of the communication real. Think about how the young speak in their daily lives and draw inspiration from that. The strongest ideas I have worked on came out of this sweet spot between colloquial lexicon, brand promise and consumer insight. As advertisers, it is easy to fall into the ‘flowery script’ trap. It helps to have a casual conversation with the consumer rather than try to resurrect the great Allama Iqbal from his resting place.

2 Hear It From the Horse’s Mouth

Make sure creativity flows bottom-up in the agency and not the other way around. Creativity is churned by the freshest talent on the team, as they are closest to the latest trends and the same age as Gen Z. You may have the experience, but they are the ones who bring fresh creative ideas to the table. Our job as creative leaders is to enable this natural influx of creativity and use our brand building expertise to work these fragments into a bigger brand story. Here is a quick litmus test for your brainstorming sessions: if your idea fails to move the young people on your team, chances are it will not move anything in the consumer either.

3 Change the Medium

As Millennials (or older) we have grown up with a clear demarcation between the idea of the online and the real world, but Gen Z is different. For them, online is the real world where (much to our contradictory perception) they make real connections. Their adaptability to different, fast-changing mediums is far greater than ours, which makes their media consumption more diverse and gives them a more evolved sense of what entertains them and what they consider ‘share-worthy.’ This means re-imagining a campaign as more than just a TVC or DVC; it is predictable and chances are they are expecting an ad through this medium and before you know it, they have mentally blocked it out. So why kill your chances right at the start of a campaign? Instead, try ‘hacking’ the mediums they use in a way they least expect it. Look for examples of ‘hack-vertising’ (a term coined by Burger King to describe the way they approach advertising), where Gen Z relevant conversations are happening: Wendy’s ‘Saving Fortnite from Frozen Beef’: Want to talk to a gamer? Hack into their game. ‘It’s a Tide Ad’: Want to talk to a sports fan? Hack the space around the sport. Burger King’s ‘The Most Famous Griller in Peru’: Want to speak to the celeb-crazy young? Hack into the app they use to feel connected with them.

4 Ditch the Formulas

This generation is spoilt for choice; endless channels, apps and content. We cannot expect to break out of this clutter with tried and tested formulas. Instead, we need the new and improved. How about not giving in to knee-jerk reactions to briefs with slice of life storytelling or mind-numbing song and dance executions that lack soul?

Let’s hit the reset button. Opinions today are much stronger than before and voices far younger. It’s time for us to listen closely to where they want to take us. Do we embrace the winds of change or walk the other way? Here’s to letting those voices through and to passing on the baton!

NB: A big shout-out to my teachers of all things Gen Z: Fatima, Faryal, Hamza and Khairaza! Thank you for always making me feel old and consequently, keeping me on my toes!

Hira Mohibullah is ECD, BBDO Pakistan. h.mohibullah@bbdopak.com