Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The ABC of Marketing Food to Gen Z

Published in Jul-Aug 2023

Shoaib Qureshy on what food brands and the hospitality sector need to do to make an impression on the pickiest and most difficult-to-please generation.

There has been a great deal of talk in marketing boardrooms about Gen Z in terms of who they are and how to target and appeal to them. Yet, the marketing and advertising work that we see around us tends to show that there is still some way to go in terms of better understanding and connecting with this new generation.

Who are Gen Z?

Gen Z is different. Of that there is no doubt. However, given that the answer to the question about who qualifies as Gen Z differs so much, it would suggest that we don’t really know enough about them, and if this is so, how can we effectively market to them? 

In this respect, I would say that the single biggest issue is the fact that Gen Z are often interchangeably equated and confused with Millennials. Yet, it is very important to draw a solid line between the two and the difference is as much about behavioural differences as it is about age. So let me first sort the age debate and state that anyone born between 1997 and 2015 (eight to 26) are part of Gen Z and people born between 1981 and 1997 (26 to 42) are Millennials. 

What I also see happening is that marketers often tend to club the two generations together as being ‘digital natives’ which only adds to the problem. The reality is that they are two different generations, and although they may both look young, they do not respond to marketing campaigns in the same way. They shop differently, interact with brands differently and view money differently. They are also in totally different stages of their lives with very different priorities.

How To Approach Gen Z

Make Them Feel Unique and Important: Gen Z were born in the online world and are therefore fully aware of the way advertising attempts to influence them into taking action. The key to reaching them is to make them feel included as this will make them feel important. This is what they want because the grown-up world around them tends to keep them at a distance.

Speak Their Language: Communication has always been key to marketing success, and in this context using the language that Gen Z understands and relates to is essential. If you are not well-versed in this, then learn by immersion. Follow Gen Z creators, watch their content and pay attention to their vocabulary, their acronyms and their jokes. Flowery copywriting does not work, nor will verbal acrobatics. This generation speaks a different language.

Entertain Them: Gen Z are at the stage of life where everything is about entertainment. They follow influencers because the content and information they provide are entertaining. Boring content (and advertising) will get you nowhere. Yet, most brand communication is putting them to sleep. Gen Z are sharp, smart and often have a dark sense of humour. Showing that you can take a joke makes a big difference to them. But brands don’t seem to get that. Their work is serious, boring and too adult; it sounds just like their parents do – and therefore they will not pay attention.

Use the Right Platforms and the Relevant Content: If you are trying to connect with Gen Z, don’t skip TikTok. Yet, most brands either are not on the platform or they don’t know how to market on this platform. The only ‘channels’ that rank above TikTok with Gen Z are real-life endorsements – recommendations from friends and family and seeing them actually using a product. Instagram also ranks high, but Facebook less so. Here again, brands are still stuck in ancient times. They continue to produce their hero content for TV and force-fit it into every social platform they can. And this is how they miss the target because their message is not crafted for the medium. 

Gen Z are also into deals. They are always short of money and value every rupee they have. They are always on the lookout for a smart buy.

How Gen Z Are Influencing Food Brands

A Snacking and Foodie Generation: Gen Z opt for multiple ‘on the move’ eating experiences throughout the day rather than sit-down meals. They like personalisation and local food. They bring a sense of curiosity to their eating habits. Satisfying Gen Z’s craving for healthy products while responding to an inclination for unique flavours and eating experiences can be a challenge for food and beverage manufacturers – and no wonder why brands like Lay’s and Kurkure keep expanding their portfolio of flavours. Gen Z genuinely consider being ‘foodies’ a part of their identity. Driven by their desire to discover new recipes, they find inspiration from their social media platforms. Sharing their culinary experience ranks high with them. They search out foods that are personable and photogenic and they use social media to communicate and make decisions about where and what to eat. It is not surprising that Gen Z are today’s top food influencers, using social media and its in-app features to shape food trends. We have seen how TikTok is influencing the way food companies develop new brands and product lines based on their user’s social media engagement algorithms.

More Aware Than you Think: Gen Z are part of a fast-paced world and they have instant access to whatever is happening globally with their mobile devices. They are plugged in and enjoy exploring and talking about food with their online social circles. They are very aware of current events and they are socially conscious, ethnically diverse, technologically connected and politically engaged. As a generation that welcomes diversity, they have been exposed to a host of cuisines and cultures – again thanks to social media. Connectivity is crucial to them and they thrive on posting and sharing information, which also drives their decisions about food. 

They want control: This generation wants control over what they eat and order, and online ordering apps like Foodpanda offer them the control and the variety they seek as well as the opportunity to build meals with made-to-order options. But make no mistake, they find ways to go to high-end restaurants for the food experience and photo opportunities.

Convenience Ranks High: Convenience is at the centre of social media. E-commerce sites offering online ordering and takeout, grocery and restaurant orders will continue to grow. 

The Food and Hospitality Experience: Gen Z are changing the face of the food and hospitality industry and reshaping trends. Food trucks are ‘in’ because they like the experience and the convenience. To stay relevant with this desirable but difficult-to-impress consumer base, food providers will have to refresh their menu offerings, add new flavours, sustainable options, small plates and natural, authentic and locally grown options, as well as personalised twists on traditional items, such as gourmet coffees, teas, smoothies, snacks and to-go items. They will have to impress and inspire them to come and sample their menu; Gen Z does not like to miss out on trends and what is ‘in’. Finally, they will have to create an integrated online ordering system, that includes the ability for their customers to tag the restaurant, and for the restaurant to read and respond to customer reviews. 

To conclude, Gen Z is a very demanding generation and as they move into adulthood and gain more economic power, securing their approval is going to be essential to the future of any food and beverage business and brand. Are you equipped to take on this most difficult-to-please generation?

Pulse Consultants conducted a nationwide study on Gen Z in 2021. A total of 2,000 young people between 11 and 26 took part in the study.

Shoaib Qureshy is Managing Director, Bullseye DDB.