Advertising that Works with Gen-Z & Millennials (Part 2)

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In the first part of this series on standing out and winning with young Americans, we confirmed that millennials and gen-z are in fact harder to engage through advertising. In part 2, we’ll touch on some elements that actually work to increase engagement.

Universality of Humor

Humor is highly effective in producing emotional reactions across generations. This is especially true for younger generations for whom humor is an important and integral part of successful advertising.

Gen-Z and millennials were both more likely to describe advertisements as boring, so providing entertainment via laughs is often the price of entry to engage younger audiences.

This is especially evident when you look at favorite ads by generation. This question allowed respondents to fill in any ad,not just those in our test. From gen-Z to gen-X(+), humor is present and tops the gen-Z list.  Mountain Dew’s Puppymonkeybaby Super Bowl ad ranked #1 for gen-Z and #2 for millennials.

The importance and power of humor was best illustrated by an ad from GEICO. The 15-second spot performed disproportionately better with gen-Z. Despite being about insurance, gen-Z was the most likely to have unfiltered positive smile reactions when compared to older generations. They also ranked it as a favorite in the “short ad” (30 seconds and below) category.

The Uneven Power of Emotion

Another type of emotion that runs through the top mentioned ads is what we call moving appeals. This messaging relies on sentimentality and feeling. These ads can be very effective and featured prominently at the top for all generations, especially older ones.

But moving appeals are not always universally appealing. This ad type works best when the messaging matches cultural values / beliefs of the intended audience – illustrated by a P&G ad we tested.

The P&G spot, which targets mothers, evokes very different emotional reactions from moms and dads. It resonated far more with the targeted audience than with the potential crossover audience of fathers. This demonstrates the importance understanding the permissions for your brand and where it can play, and mapping that to your intended audience. When these match, moving appeals can be very effective.

Form matters

The media landscape, and what constitutes as “entertainment,” is fundamentally changing for younger consumers. In addition to traditional sources like television and sports, there are OTT sources like Netflix. Gen-Z and millennials are also more likely to use social media side-by-side with traditional sources.

This is clear when you look at YouTube and gen-Z. Gen-Zers spend substantial time on the video platform and rank it as their favorite media / entertainment / sports property beating out Netflix, the top property for both millennial and gen-X.

People (especially gen-Z) are consuming video content in a fundamentally different way, which leads to two important changes.

First, the frame of reference for length has shifted. Younger generations are much more likely to call out the length of an ad as a rationale for liking it.  Older generations actually had the opposite reaction, occasionally calling out ads for being “too short”.

Second, they’re more discerning consumers of video. Since they spend so much time watching user-generated content, they’re appreciative of tactical elements that lead to good videos. Gen-Z is more likely to respond positively to executional elements including music and complex editing.

Next Steps

The clutter is real for younger generations. With more sources of media than ever, it’s critical to understand the mechanisms underlying strong advertising to inform messaging and executional strategies. Mastering these elements can put your brand in a position to maximize your advertising dollars and break through the clutter.

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