Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Living, Not Just Loving the Brand

Published in Jul-Aug 2023

Gen Z will not respond to traditional advertising – you have to make them inhabit your brand, argues Sumaira Mirza.

There is no question about it, Gen Z are built differently (although the definition of who qualifies as Gen Z varies, depending on whom you ask – if you ask me, it would be anyone who has never had to rewind a VHS). 

They have grown up in a post-internet generation and in an increasingly virtual world; their attention span is short and they have an aversion to ‘being sold to’, making it all the more important to understand how to market to them. Yet, contrary to popular belief, they do like ads, but only certain kinds. We like to call them ‘wanted ads’ because Gen Z actually want to see them. Adweek has called them “the next consumer powerhouse” and all the signs point to the fact that this 22-and-under cohort is poised to wield more than 40% of all consumer spending by 2020. 

Wherever your brand is currently at in engaging with this generation, you can learn much from the way certain food-related brands are reaching out to them (and their stomachs) by building shared social experiences both online and offline – and the trick is to deliver experiences that demonstrate both empathy and utility through immediacy, personalisation, security and entertainment. Brands have to be ready to present their products as live experiences in order to make this generation feel they are getting more than just a transaction. The experience must also be share-worthy.

According to a report on CNN, 61% of teens said they check social media frequently, even obsessively, to see the likes and comments their posts are getting – a behaviour that stems from their focus on inclusion, with 36% saying they wanted to see whether their friends were doing stuff without them. 

Highly influenced by the online landscape, brands need to offer Gen Z the opportunity to interact with them in real life and share something cool on social media to document their experience forever. Here are some ways to do it. 

Liquid Death

This canned water company known for “murdering your thirst,” became one of the latest crazes in capturing global attention, and like Seth Godin’s purple cow, it was Liquid Death’s distinctiveness that sparked curiosity – a fundamental ingredient for successful marketing. 

What began as a single marketing campaign turned the brand into more than just a water company. Liquid Death evolved into a marketing movement based on the fact that it uses cans and not plastic to bottle their water, but in doing so they adopted a stance that was fun and not preachy. In this way, the brand was able to explore multiple revenue streams each proving remarkably successful in the market. It swiftly garnered a devoted fan base through effective marketing and social media strategies, particularly on platforms like TikTok. Recognising the pivotal role of their fan base in their success, Liquid Death strategically nurtured it through various initiatives. For example, the Liquid Death Country Club is a membership programme that grants paying patrons exclusive access to merchandise and live events. There is also the Liquid Death NFT, a non-fungible token and cryptographic asset on a blockchain, featuring unique identification codes and metadata, while the innovative Liquid Death Metal Album ingeniously transforms negative reviews into death metal lyrics called Greatest Hates; the album’s success even led to the release of a second punk-rock version shortly after.

By harnessing the power of their online audience, Liquid Death has not only become an industry leader, it has established a path where it can continue to scale at an impressive rate.

The Museum of Ice Cream

This is another prime example of the power of experiential marketing. Originally a summer pop-up in 2016, the Museum now boasts four permanent locations in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco – for Gen Z, it is not just about the taste; it’s about living the taste. 

Vivid installations, drawing inspiration from ice cream, grace each of these museums, boasting pools of sprinkles, gummy bear gardens and suspended whipped cream clouds. The enchantment, however, resides in the interactions visitors can experience and the picture-perfect ambience that entices Gen Z to eagerly share their moments on social media. The museum’s success owes a great deal to its strategic incorporation of social media, making it a pivotal element of their marketing and capitalising on platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. The Museum’s success has largely been organic, with little investment in traditional advertising or marketing efforts and proves the power of creating immersive and shareable experiences that resonate with audiences.

Sonic’s Square-Shaped Creamer Shakes

Tight on time or budget? How about tapping and integrating your brand into an existing space? Look for experiences that naturally align with your brand’s product and values. In doing so, you can instantly add an experiential and relevant layer to your marketing efforts – which is exactly what Sonic did with their Sonic’s Coachella 2018 promotion. 

Collaborating with chef Christine Flynn, the restaurant chain introduced deconstructed, square shakes exclusively available at Coachella, crafted with Instagram in mind. Sonic launched the promotion with Instagram ads targeted to Coachella attendees and brought together the best of social media engagement, on-demand services, refreshing snacks and event integration.

The only ask here is to be at the right place at the right time, which is why understanding the values, behaviours and preferences of Gen Z is so important. By embracing their values, respecting their privacy, championing diversity and equality, and actively engaging through their preferred communication channels, brands can successfully forge authentic connections and capture the attention of this influential generation. As connections are of the utmost importance, they look at brands that foster unity, and work towards common goals, all the while expecting brands to forge profound and meaningful connections with them.

Sumaira Mirza is Creative Director, Ogilvy Pakistan.