When it comes to wooing Gen Z, Fred & Farid’s Karen Ge says they are not elusive or hard to please with advertising tactics that embrace the experimentation spirit to leverage emerging technology and youth culture. She provides insights from the shortlisted entries from this year's WARC Awards for Asian Strategy. View a sample of the case study analysis report here

Gen Z, the target of most marketing endeavours today, has been overly analysed and interpreted by advertisers. As a result, we have seen more than enough heavily invested campaigns with overflowed attitudes and bandwagons that seemingly celebrated the spirit of Gen Z.

However, not many of those could stand a chance of leading to recognition and resonation with whom they intended to speak for/to. In the judging for this year’s WARC Asia Strategy for Effective Marketing, fortunately, some entries took vastly different perspectives connecting with this younger generation.

Putting aside the “proven successful” advertising tactics, they once again proved that with the experimentation spirit to leverage emerging technology and youth culture, Gen Z is not necessarily an elusive or hard-to-please generation.

Solutions are stronger than slogans

Conventionally, advertisers would help the brand identify a precise societal barrier and fight against it with a powerfully crafted slogan, which is highly likely to serve as the starting point for creating a successful campaign.

This methodology is applicable to attract the younger generation with skeptical attitudes towards existing social norms, at least theoretically. Given the complicated cultural and political social context, it has never been easier for brands to find a plausible barrier. But they are often limited in their authority and credibility and forced to be positive and convince their audience that the world will be better, eventually.

Faced with the generation growing up surrounded by advocative commercial campaigns, authentic content still plays a part. But only in continuous efforts to provide and innovate solutions can brands truly forge a deeper and more sincere connection that lasts.

Oral hygiene brand Closeup created the “City Hall of Love”, a metaverse destination where the freedom to love is legitimised through NFT marriage certificates. Knowing love is eternal and universal, the long-existing obstacles embedded in different cultures are also hard to fight against or remove, at least not in the physical world via the sole efforts of a consumer brand.

Strategically, Closeup chose to shift from a lonely fighter to the creator of a new virtual territory that attracts and enables young couples with the aspiration to love freely. It fully embraces the Web3 ecology, in which the pursuit of barrier-free connections is at the core of its technology.

Although there are obsessions towards Web3 and its derivatives among Gen Z, the metaverse fantasy is still to be justified by a longer time frame. The same applies to the legitimisation of all forms of love in our physical world. Without predicting which one of the two worlds in parallel will ultimately become the land of freedom, it’s worth celebrating that actions in the metaverse are taking place, initiated by brands and empowered by pioneering trailblazers.

Unbrand first to brand loud

Brand centricity has been at the heart of our marketing parameters. In the design of every campaign, even in partnership with celebrities and IPs, marketers are often ambitious in drawing attention and conversations toward the brand itself. By having the brand name in big or injecting the brand message all the way through, “we have to create the branded culture” is what strategists write in the proposal from time to time.

Indeed, there was once a golden age when global giant brands could create cultural waves and become icons of the time. But the game has changed. Today, Gen Z is the inhabitant of different cultural communities and can be quite selective in what they love; they have the final say on whether something is truly authentic or just an act to please them for commercial intent. Brands can always launch beautifully crafted “branded campaigns” synergising themselves and the youth cultures but the smarter choice is to hide the brand egos while riding on the waves for business success.

“Maya” by the popular rapper Shanti Dope, a chart-topping anthem among Gen Z in the Philippines, featured lyrics about financial freedom and individual ingenuity. This music video turned out to be a teaser for the rebranding campaign of Maya, a digital bank for the young. By going against the traditional advertising mindset, the launch was brave enough to be unbranded at the beginning, just like any other real music single. This genuine connection from Gen Z with the music was the foundation of attention towards the rest of all the branded activations. By revealing the collaboration in live shows, amplified through the TikTok challenge and gamified by unlocking hidden cash codes with the music in the bank app, this unbranded practice led to a hugely influential brand party with the audience. Brands have the power to enliven cultures.

But never forget, brands are not equivalent to culture by nature and neither with the capability to create a culture on their own. The vitality of youth culture today is under the joint efforts of the youngsters, preserving authenticity from commercial invasions. For brands trying to get closer to culture and its adherents, putting yourself in small is the premise to win big. Freedom of love and financial independence are the two most basic pursuits of the young, if not every one of us.

Looking back at the trail of remarkable campaigns year by year, traditional advertising has been doing an amazing job speaking up for people the desire to live free from constraints. But being with the generation overloaded with jargon and opinions, “clumsy actions” speak louder than flowery advocates. With the emerging new technology, channels, space and communication avenues, we marketers are never in a better time to become real impact makers.