Instead of replicating linear and digital experiences, Kargo’s COO, Michael Shaughnessy, argues that focusing on the unique advertising experience offered to Gen Z by platforms like YouTube and TikTok can help brands unlock the true potential of CTV campaigns.

The ANA released a report last year about CTV that highlights the creative trap that many advertisers are falling into. The vast majority of the ad spending on CTV is the same advertising as on linear TV commercials, just with a little more targeting. Advertisers can get away with this approach today – there’s natural growth in CTV because it’s a new channel. Viewership is increasing, targeting is becoming more advanced, and programmatic offers a relatively easy on-ramp to the channel.

Continuing what already exists in digital video and linear is not going to engage Gen Z like it could, and that’s a huge miss – there will be 55 million US Gen Z CTV viewers in 2024. The cohort doesn’t have the same view of advertising as older generations; it has been shaped by YouTube and TikTok, not cable and websites. Now is the time to flip the script on CTV and get more out of the channel with an important audience. 

What Gen Z likes about YouTube and TikTok

When planning CTV campaigns targeted toward Gen Z, start with looking at the small screen, rather than the big one. YouTube and TikTok provide a completely different advertising experience than TV. Especially with TikTok, people are on their phones, actively scrolling and searching for content; they are more leaned in. But that doesn’t make YouTube and TikTok less relevant when it comes to creating better CTV campaigns. In fact, they could be the key to unlocking its true potential. 

Instead of skipping ads, 60% of teens consider watching ads on YouTube. Gen Z uses YouTube for two major reasons. First, many teens use the channel as their primary search to learn something or get information. Second, they watch YouTube Shorts, which delivers curated user-generated content in a continuous scroll, with ads placed seamlessly throughout the experience. Overall, teens feel like they are learning something from YouTube, and if ads are well-targeted, they can be part of that positive experience. 

TikTok, which is like YouTube Shorts but with more social elements, is a bit more about discovery, and that means there’s a lot of positive engagement with advertising. TikTok finds that its Gen Z users are 1.4x more likely to discover new brands and products on the platform. TikTok features product-driven content, not just ads. Brands, influencers and amateurs create content that purposefully showcases products, and provides reviews and tutorials. Gen Z associates TikTok with having fun and sharing.

Just because CTV is usually watched on the big screen, doesn’t mean it has to play by linear TV rules. Already, Gen Z incorporates social media and shopping into their TV experiences through their phones – it’s only a matter of time before their phones and their TVs start to become a single experience. TV will become more social, with more mixed content and interactivity – with Gen Z in control.

CTV is exploding with new ad potential – for brands that do it right

In the next few years, people will use their remotes – or their phones – to do a virtual walk-through of a hotel, try on clothes virtually, or test drive a car on their TV. They’ll be used to AI-inserted signage, commerce-enabled virtual product placement and interactive content that lets them click-to-purchase, post on social, or share with friends.  

While we’re not there just yet, advertisers today have a lot of innovative new options to test out. They can use interactive advertising, QR codes, virtual product placement and precision targeting right now, but they can be taken even further. As advertisers are experimenting with these new innovations, few are considering the social media factors that will really engage Gen Z, for example.

Precision targeting isn’t just about finding the perfect viewer. Rather than simply target a key audience, smart brands are treating targeting more like social media, where the ad often relates to someone’s interests and enhances the viewing experience like on YouTube. As one example, the auto repair company Meineke targeted CTV viewers who were watching NHL and NFL games with a highly targeted ad that got a huge response.

MNTN Research recommends that advertisers bring the quirky content that worked on TikTok over to the big screen. Gen Z is used to authentic, amateur, edgy and highly individualized content on social media, so there’s a likelihood they’ll embrace the same thing on CTV. It’s worth a test.

Don’t forget that CTV is evolving in real-time, and Gen Z thinks of content as an engaging experience that’s about discovery and newness, not predictability. As they age into adulthood, Gen Z doesn’t have any preconceived notion of what TV viewing “should be,” which gives advertisers freedom to push the boundaries. Ads don’t even need to be limited to in-stream video commercials. Hershey’s created bold display ads featuring gooey s’mores on the home screen. L'Oréal inserted billboards into a Coi Leray music video, working with the virtual product placement technology Mirriad to do so.  

Advertisers can merge commerce, social, interactivity, targeting and even real-life experiences. For example, they can take advantage of location targeting on CTV with an experience that drives foot traffic to a brand's trendy, Instagrammable new pop-up store in their local city (with address displayed). Advertisers can bring an authentic TikTok video to CTV, perhaps tying in an influencer. Or they could personalize products displayed in a commerce-enabled ad that speak to individual interests or current trends targeted to specific audiences.

These examples have produced great results today – imagine where brands would be if they kept pushing the envelope and testing new ideas rather than spending most of their time trying to replicate linear and digital experiences.