The power Zs wield is massive; they can make or break brands with a few keystrokes.
Over the past few months we’ve seen Generation Z wield their power for collective action in ways that are impressive, if not entirely surprising. They’ve been a large portion of the recent protests for social justice – 52% of the participants are between ages 18 and 29. They claim to have disrupted attendance for one of President Trump’s rallies, RSVP’ing to drive up the expected number of supporters, and then no-showing. Go back to pre-COVID times, and you’ll see Zs organizing climate change marches on a massive scale across the globe and leading rallies against gun violence. Zs have a knack for banding together when the stakes are high, and even when their activism may seem more like “kids being kids”– like using TikTok to troll a location-tracking app their parents use to keep tabs on them.
Zs are especially adept at utilizing social media channels to find and organize with other like-minded youth. That skill can lead to large-scale action both online and IRL. Since Zs are digital natives – they were swiping as early as they were wiping – utilizing social media to drive their causes, or pranks, is second nature.
The power this gives Zs is massive; they can make or break brands with a few keystrokes. In the case of Life360, the location-tracking app, what started as a teen rant about the app lead to over 75 million views of the hashtag #banlife360 and real-life consequences. The initial video called for other teens to download the app and leave bad reviews in order to dissuade parents from using it. According to the Wall Street Journal, Life360’s overall rating on the App Store dropped from about 4.7 to 2.6 in the short amount of time the trolling took place. It could have had disastrous results for the app. Instead, the CEO reached out to his Gen Z critics, and asked them what he could do to make the app better. He now has a small team of Zs working for the company. We admire this CEO’s jiu jitsu of turning haters to promoters.
It can be humbling for a CEO to ask a teen for help. But it’s also genius on two levels. First, Zs love authenticity. For the head of a company to effectively say “Can you help me make this better?” and mean it – that strikes the right chord for Zs. They appreciate honesty, and that makes a brand even more attractive to them.
Secondly, Zs are creators. They’ve grown up shooting their own pictures and videos and posting them alongside brands’ content on YouTube. As such, they see less distinction between themselves and large brands. In our qualitative research conversations with teens we’re always hearing that they’d love to co-create with brands and be a part of the development process. Our quantitative research supports this too. In a study we conducted last year, 87% of Zs said they like it when brands allow them to contribute ideas to new products and marketing.
Here’s the best part for brands; Zs are actually really good collaborators in addition to being great creators. There’s virtually no downside to including Zs in your work, especially if you do so from the beginning. It’s hard to be a victim of cancel culture or trolling when the audience you’re targeting has been a partner in development.
A great example of a brand nailing this type of co-creation is American Eagle. They’ve worked directly with Zs since 2018 for their #AExME platform but took collaboration even further with their latest campaign which was inspired by Zs’ TikTok dancing. The video was produced remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic with the cast of Zs filming their own videos. The footage was then handed over to American Eagle’s in-house production and creative team. The result has the same look and feel as a highly-produced commercial but serves a bigger purpose than that. As AE’s creative director Michael Goldberg told Adweek, “By truly co-creating with these young dancers, it became a creative collaboration and a chance for AE to really participate in youth culture.”
“In the end, it’s the kids that are responsible for the final output,” Goldberg told Adweek. That’s just the type of co-creation Zs are craving. Life360 may have learned this the hard way; had they worked with Zs from the beginning they might not have faced a backlash at all.
So, the next time you’re considering a new product launch, or a new marketing campaign, consider ways in which Zs could participate. Could they help with product development; are there features or services you could use their feedback on? Are you hoping to launch a new ad campaign; could Zs not only star in the ads but help produce them as well? And if figuring out exactly how Zs want to interact with your brand is a bit daunting, that’s where our team comes in. Brands hire us regularly to help crack the Z code using innovative qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. As we see almost daily, striking the right chord with Zs is priceless and the stakes are too high not to.