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What (not) to do when marketing to Gen Z

By August 1, 2023No Comments
brands flip flopping

How not to connect with Gen Z

Connecting with Gen Z on social issues, like diversity and inclusion, is a proven way to grow a Gen Z audience. Social consciousness matters to Gen Z. However, some brands have misfired on this movement, specifically when entering culturally charged conversations like LGBTQ+ rights and representation. The good news is that we can learn from missteps just as much as we can learn from success.

Budweiser, Target and the danger of the flip flop

Earlier this year, Budweiser partnered with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney to try and connect their brand to the Gen Z demographic. The partnership, however, did not have the intended effect. Within days, large groups of their current audience began boycotting the beer company, creating a PR disaster for the brand. Had the story stopped there, this would be an example of sacrificing the current audience for the sake of gaining a new one, a strategy that may or may not be necessary for long term growth.

But it didn’t stop there. When downplaying the partnership didn’t work to satiate the anger of their current audience, they instead launched a new campaign that would appeal to its current customer. This also didn’t have the effect the company intended any good will earned in the Gen Z community for its movement into a more inclusive space was lost.

A very similar narrative played out with Target after releasing their PRIDE line, an LGBTQ+ positive clothing line for children. These flip flops weren’t just an example of social media and the current political climate being a challenging landscape for brands. These flip flops show a powerful lesson when it comes to reaching Gen Z while still keeping a brand’s current audience.

When taking a stand, count the cost

Gen Z does want to support brands that care about what they care about. More than ever, a brand is expected to be more than just a brand. However, as seen in the Budweiser and Target fiascos, it’s worse for a brand to take a stand and take it back than it is for a brand to take a stand at all.

To reach Gen Z, you should consider how your brand can create a greater social impact. But this can come at a cost, particularly if you decide to jump in with both feet. If you go there, then it is important to stay there. Flip flopping is a lose\lose strategy for brands and agencies when marketing to Gen Z.

Be inclusive, but know your audience

The truth is, there are ways for legacy companies like Target and Budweiser to be more inclusive without losing ground with their current audience. For example, this isn’t the first time Target has released LGBTQ+ positive clothing. What is different this round? Could some of this have been mitigated by taking a more measured push into it?

There will always be extremes for a company navigating the waters of social conscience and advertising. In some ways, it’s unavoidable and is not reason alone to avoid it. However, there is also a need to ask the hard questions up front and do the work to anticipate backlash.

Don’t pander

Flip flopping exposes the intentions of a brand. If Budweiser wants to support the trans community, then standby the action and take the hit. If Target believes that the PRIDE collection best communicates their values to the LGBTQ+ community, then keep the clothes on the racks.

By flip flopping, brands communicate that they never really cared about the social movement, but rather were using the social movement to try and sell Gen Z beer and clothing. To put it in Gen Z terms, this gives them “the ick”. And it’s hard for brands to recover from that.

Instead of pandering, lean into the problem you solve.

What can get lost in the conversation about reaching Gen Z as consumers is that they are still, in fact, consumers.

Gen Z wants low calorie beer that tastes good. They want beer that brings their friends together. Budweiser sells beer.

Gen Z wants cute clothing that’s affordable. They want the convenience of a big store with options. Target sells clothes and other items that Gen Z wants.

Although there is a lot that is different about Gen Z, there is still a lot that’s the same. Gen Z consumers want a genuine company that solves a real problem. A brand’s advertising and marketing should always focus on that and lean into social issues where it makes sense.