As long as Gen Z has been a desirable target market, brands have expressed the same frustrations in trying to reach them: They’re elusive, they’re not loyal and they don’t like ads, or at least ads in the traditional sense.
Yet, the last few years have solidified qualities in Gen Z that have resulted in some successful strategies, even as the demographic remains one of the most diverse and unconventional. Gen Zers certainly love gaming, a habit shored up during the pandemic and one that holds additional promise as marketers invest more in the metaverse. Platforms like TikTok and Twitch have started to command larger media budgets and can key brands into what’s catching the cohort’s attention and driving new trends.
That said, marketing to Gen Zers can still be a minefield. Influencer marketing and data-driven practices that are important for honing campaigns targeted at Gen Z are under greater scrutiny than ever before. On the messaging front, Gen Zers continue to put a premium on social values that can be a tall order for marketers to fill.
Below, Marketing Dive has gathered case studies of brands that are hitting their marks with the infamously aloof age group, as well as emergent trends, including:
How a DTC disruptor scores with Gen Z using TikTok humor
Gen Z’s quickly evolving expectations for brands in the metaverse
How legacy brands like Jif and Hot Pockets are shaking up their positioning
Fashioning a more concrete Gen Z playbook will be important for brands as the demographic matures and gains greater spending power. This piece can serve as a guide for ironing out those tactics.
How Dr. Squatch reaches Gen Z men with offbeat humor on TikTok
The digitally native brand invests to create a distinct identity on apps where young men spend time.
By: Robert Williams• Published Nov. 4, 2021
As a maker of natural soap and grooming products for men, Dr. Squatch caters to a consumer group that's notoriously hard to reach through traditional media channels like linear TV. The digitally native brand has instead worked to carve out an identity on platforms where younger men are more likely to spend time, especially on their mobile devices.
After spending $3.6 million to run ads on TikTok in the first eight months of 2021, Dr. Squatch has cemented its place among marketers on the social video app, according to company data shared with Marketing Dive. TikTok has become a key part of the brand's effort to boost sales, which exceeded $100 million in 2020.
"TikTok is unique because it has grown significantly, especially among younger users, and we want to talk to that audience in the right place with the right content," CMO Josh Friedman said by email. "We invest heavily in reaching new customers through social media advertising. Our advertising strategy is to balance investment in core advertising channels with experimentation on new high-growth, high-potential platforms."
About 10% to 15% of Dr. Squatch's new customers have come from TikTok, making the app a core growth channel for the company as it offers a broadening line of personal care products. Founded in 2013, Dr. Squatch and its marketing budget have expanded alongside sales growth, resulting in the brand's first Super Bowl ad in 2021. The mass-market effort signaled that Dr. Squatch was ready to take on men's grooming brands like Procter & Gamble's Old Spice and Unilever's Axe, which have worked to retool their creative approach and messaging strategy in recent years.
Adopting the TikTok rawness
TikTok in the past few years has skyrocketed in popularity, growing its monthly user base to more than 1 billion, according to a company announcement. In Dr. Squatch's home market of the U.S., almost half (48%) of people ages 18 to 29 said they use TikTok, making the app more popular than Twitter among young adults, Pew Research Center found in a survey. The combination of a growing user base and popularity among Gen Z has lured more advertisers to TikTok, whose key feature is its continual feed of user-generated clips. Its algorithm monitors how people interact with content to help personalize their feed, while also recommending a diverse selection of videos to avoid "filter bubbles."
"The platform also is unique in terms of its fast-paced, short-form content, which is very suited for our creative strategy given our success with attention-grabbing, humor-based video content," Friedman said.
"We invest heavily in reaching new customers through social media advertising. Our advertising strategy is to balance investment in core advertising channels with experimentation on new high-growth, high-potential platforms."
Chief marketing officer, Dr. Squatch
Because most TikTok videos are made by amateurs, the platform has a rawness that viewers associate with authenticity. In creating content for TikTok, Dr. Squatch has adopted the same sensibility with offbeat videos that include internet memes or references to pop culture phenomena like Netflix's hit show "Squid Game." The goal is to not only boost its popularity and grow a dedicated following of brand enthusiasts, but also to bring "drop culture" to the men's grooming category. Dr. Squatch has introduced limited-edition products such as its Irish cream and whiskey soap on St. Patrick's Day or its outer space-themed soaps.
"Our natural soap product also has resonated well on the platform," Friedman said. "Improving the shower experience with natural products that work well and making soap and the shower experience something fun and exciting has struck a chord within the TikTok community."
Measuring campaign performance
Because Dr. Squatch aims to acquire first-time customers through TikTok, its most important performance indicator is cost-per-purchase. It also measures reach, engagement rates, conversion rates, average order value and lifetime value (LTV).
"The majority of Dr. Squatch campaigns focus on testing and scaling creatives that execute on these core KPIs," Friedman said. "As TikTok continues to grow at a rapid pace, we aim to grow with them, targeting new audience cohorts within their platform and being first to market with new ad product features."
Dr. Squatch also seeks new customers on TikTok as part of its broader media strategy of boosting incremental reach.
"We are thoughtful about incrementality across all of our ad platforms," Friedman said. "TikTok is unique because there is naturally less overlap with our other core advertising channels given demographic differences. Across channels, we also use surveying to ensure customer self-reporting in terms of where they heard about our brand aligns with where we are investing advertising dollars."
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has built out its ad platform with a variety of tools to manage and measure campaigns. But its biggest opportunity may be in social commerce as direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands like Dr. Squatch target the lower parts of the purchase funnel. TikTok has expanded into social commerce through collaborations with e-commerce software provider Shopify, which in 2021 culminated in the introduction of TikTok Shopping in an expanded test.
"Given the growth of the platform and our success to date, we expect TikTok to continue to be a bigger and bigger channel for us in future years," Friedman said.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the timing of Dr. Squatch's ad spend. The brand had spent $3.6 million on TikTok ads as of Aug. 26, 2021. Due to incorrect information provided to Marketing Dive by a Dr. Squatch representative, this article has been updated to eliminate any reference to the brand's position among TikTok advertisers.
What Gen Z wants to see from brands as metaverse attachments grow
By: Peter Adams• Published April 19, 2022
Gen Z consumers spend twice as much time socially interacting in the metaverse than they do in real life, according to research conducted by Vice Media Group and Publicis Groupe's Razorfish agency. The study, titled "The Metaverse: A View from Inside," draws a link between playing video games and the metaverse, a broad buzzword encompassing blended digital and real-world experiences.
The age group carries bigger aspirations tied to these online spaces, with over half (52%) of Gen Z gamers reporting they would like to make money in the metaverse and one-third desiring to build a career there. Twenty percent plan to direct their "fun" budgets allocated for entertainment and leisure to in-game purchases over the next five years, representing an average annual spend of about $50.
In turn, one-third of Gen Zers would like to see brands develop virtual stores, and 30% were receptive to brands selling skins and apparel to outfit digital avatars. Marketers must be mindful of remaining unintrusive, as 63% of respondents stated they were concerned about data privacy in video games and the metaverse. Still, those figures are lower than for millennials (66%) and Gen X (70%), underpinning a budding acceptance of branded virtual experiences among younger cohorts.
Razorfish and Vice Media Group additionally emphasized that Gen Z not only spends more time in metaverse-adjacent spaces than older demographics, but also is developing more meaningful connections to their online identities. More than half (57%) of survey respondents said they feel freer to express themselves in games than they do in real life, while 45% reported their in-game identity is a truer expression of who they really are. The findings suggest brands have an opportunity to help enable those forms of self-expression and generate deeper loyalty and connections with Gen Z, including through the sale of custom skins and apparel for digital avatars that are common in many games.
The study also notes that the researchers were not focused on defining the metaverse, which can encompass a wide range of experiences, from true virtual reality — which has not seen widespread adoption — to multiplayer games like Fortnite and Roblox. Razorfish and Vice Media Group largely seem preoccupied with the latter category, tying many of Gen Z's metaverse preferences to casual online gaming. Some critics have resisted equating modern gaming with the realization of a true metaverse, pointing out that multiplayer titles like Second Life have technically been offering connected virtual experiences meeting these parameters since the early aughts.
Still, Gen Z's attachment to games is noteworthy compared to other digitally-savvy groups like millennials, as is their receptivity to concepts like microtransactions. Major marketers have started to recognize this trend. Nike in the fall of 2021 created an interactive venue on Roblox called Nikeland, where visitors can participate in activities and try on virtual iterations of the company's gear. Nearly 7 million people had dropped in as of March 2022.
While gaming opens fresh avenues to engage otherwise aloof Gen Zers, brands should take note of how they prefer to be reached. In terms of what Gen Zers want to see from brands in games, 46% cited free products and experiences, 23% said "branded digital worlds" and just 18% said advertising. Nineteen percent of respondents stated they "don't believe brands belong in games/other metaverse experiences."
Razorfish and Vice Media also positioned their findings around empowerment. The research pointed out that Black, Indigenous and people of color under the Gen Z banner are more likely to be themselves in-game than white peers. One of the study's key insights is that "gaming is good for mental health," with 77% of respondents claiming they play to relieve stress and anxiety.
More and more, social media is becoming the gateway that allows consumers to become closer to their favorite brands — and no group turns to social media more to follow their favorite brands, research products, and seek product support more than Gen Zs.
In an age where people crave access to more information and options at their fingertips than ever before, brands are scrambling to find the best ways to cater to their younger audiences and deliver the customer experiences (CX) that they expect.
However, one-size-fits-all social media strategies don’t work. An approach that works for some does not always translate well for others. It’s all about adapting. To do this, brands have to first understand what their Gen Z audiences expect from their social media experiences, and how these expectations differ from other age groups.
Let’s look at three key things Gen Z consumers expect from their social media experiences. These are based on findings from an Emplifi-commissioned study of over 1,000 US consumers conducted by Harris Interactive.
Be where they are: YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.
It sounds cliché, but it doesn’t make it less true; brands need to be where their audiences are. There are obvious benefits to having a strong presence on all the major social networks and apps. However, if brands want to connect with their younger audiences, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are where they need to step up their game:
Perhaps not surprisingly, these networks are also more likely to be Gen Z consumers’ main sources of purchase inspiration, whether it’s driven by ambassadors, influencers, branded content, or paid ads.
These findings underscore the importance of factoring in your audience’s age when shaping buyer personas and CX initiatives into your social media strategies.
Gen Zs are underwhelmed with brands’ customer service on social media.
Many brands focus their attention on social media around promotion and growing their followers. However, many miss the opportunity to offer customer service on their social platform at another critical moment in the customer journey — when they’re making a purchase. And Gen Zs are feeling it.
There is perhaps no more critical moment in the customer journey than when people are making a purchase. These findings show that there is a lot of room for brands to improve in this regard, and brands must be equipped and staffed to meet consumers’ ever-growing desire for fast and efficient customer service.
Social media is their #1 preferred way to communicate with you.
Emails, phone, webchat, and even good old-fashioned in-store visits are still many people’s go-to channels when they have questions about your products or services. But if Gen Zs could only pick one channel to communicate with your brand, social media is it. At least, notably more than Millennials and Gen X consumers.
Social media marketers can embrace audience preferences to curate a strong social media presence and extend CX efforts into their social strategy. Responding quickly to messages and social posts with brand mentions is how marketers can quickly up their social media game.
What does it all mean?
Speed, convenience, and engagement: Gen Zs expect nothing less from their social media experiences with your brand. Your ability to adapt to their needs is critical to how they perceive your CX. In a time when 81% of US consumers would consider leaving a brand that they’re loyal to after as few as two experiences, brands have little room for error.
Social media has evolved into one of (if not the) channel of choice for many people trying to navigate their customer journey. Its role in marketing and driving brand awareness remains undeniable. Although, its role in both customer care and even the buying stage — as seen in the continued and significant growth of social commerce in recent years — will only keep growing not only for Gen Zs, but all consumers.
Having the right social media solutions and insights handy has never been more critical.
Want to learn more and get even more great insights to power your social media strategy? Download the full report by Emplifi, “7 key consumer expectations impacting social media success today”
Article top image credit: stock.adobe.com/Drobot Dean
Nike, Asos, Old Navy are most inclusive brands for Gen Z, study says
By: Chris Kelly• Published March 1, 2022
Nike, Asos and Old Navy are some of the brands leading the way on inclusivity and challenging gender stereotypes, according to the Gen Z Fashion Report by student affinity network Unidays. The survey was informed by a panel of more than 4,000 Gen Z students across the U.K., U.S. and Australia conducted from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, 2022.
Beyond several leading brands, 61% of Gen Z think brands could be doing more to prove that "style should not have a gender." Nearly half (49%) of students are more willing to purchase from a brand that has better gender representation and inclusivity in its marketing. In the U.K., 31% feel that brand marketing portrays inclusive and diverse gender representation.
The Unidays survey of Gen Z provides more evidence that the cohort wants to see better diversity and inclusion of all gender identities in both products and marketing, and will vote with their dollars for brands that get it right. While a few major fashion brands are hitting those marks, respondents to Unidays believed there is much room for improvement. Nearly all (87%) Gen Z believe strongly there should be better gender equality and inclusion within fashion, with 61% saying the mainstream fashion industry overlooks minority groups, including non-binary and trans people.
The survey shows that brands can be doing more in their marketing and advertising campaigns to portray such representation. Over half of U.K. Gen Zers (56%) said brands that get it wrong appear "tokenistic," with nearly half (45%) saying brands should market gender-neutral clothing more explicitly. Many want brands to support wider inclusivity initiatives (51%) and support organizations that benefit non-binary individuals (38%), showing the need for purpose to drive a brand's actions beyond marketing.
"Despite the strong influence that price holds over the demographic, the findings show that Gen Z are hyper-informed and switched on when it comes to identifying which brands they consider inclusive and representative," said Viviane Paxinos, general manager at Unidays, in a statement. "By expanding their focus on representation, communicating authentically with their audience, and recognizing that price is a top priority that influences Gen Z purchasing decisions, brands will succeed in driving affinity with this highly influential generation."
With nearly half of students more willing to purchase from a brand that gets representation right, there is an opportunity for brands and retailers to engage with Gen Z and drive sales. Almost two thirds (65%) said that brands could improve the online retail experience by letting them search for "gender neutral" clothing, without being forced to search "men's" or "women's" from the beginning. And while most consumers would not expect to pay more for gender-neutral items, some would be willing to pay more if the item was designed and marketed as non-gendered.
Article top image credit: ViewApart via Getty Images
Unilever tightens restrictions on food marketing targeted at kids
By: Peter Adams• Published April 21, 2022
Unilever is broadening the limits on how it markets to children across its food and beverage portfolio, according to a company announcement. The Hellmann's and Ben & Jerry’s owner will no longer target children under 16 with any marketing or social media communications. It also will not collect or store any data on consumers in that age group.
A similar directive applies to influencer marketing, as Unilever will not work with any ambassadors under 16 or whose primary audience lands in that age range. Brands are expected to comply with these guidelines by January 2023 as Unilever places a greater premium on responsible advertising.
These moves come at a time when scrutiny of data collection practices and the harms of social media is high. Previous efforts to limit campaigns angled at young audiences have been positioned around health concerns and combating problems like childhood obesity.
Directly messaging to very young children is widely considered unethical and carries potential regulatory penalties, but the CPG giant is pushing up the age range of who it won't target to include teens who may wield greater financial independence and discerning tastes. The policy change underscores how Unilever is taking an increasingly cautious approach to digital and social media, particularly tactics like influencer marketing that can blur the lines of what is and isn't an ad.
This is the first major move the company has made in regards to advertising to children since 2020. That year, it stopped marketing food and beverages to children under the age of 12 on traditional media channels and below the age of 13 on social media.
Unilever aims to take an industry-leading position in raising the age cap and including more specific rules around areas like influencers. Children today are considered digital natives, having been raised familiar with smartphones and social media. In turn, apps like TikTok are driving cultural trends among Gen Z and younger impressionable cohorts. These demographics frequently put more stock in what their favorite content creators have to say versus a traditional branded message, which has spurred advertisers to reassess their media strategies but could also mandate greater reflection around ethics.
Another factor informing Unilever's decision concerns data. Marketers have come under increasing fire for collecting data on children using apps and social media platforms, while facing a growing number of data privacy laws. Many brands at the same time are flocking to the metaverse, virtual online spaces that are popular with kids thanks to services like Roblox and Fortnite. But the metaverse has raised alarms regarding child safety and privacy, while not having some of the guardrails of digital marketing.
Article top image credit: Mario Tama via Getty Images
Can brands stay safe in the metaverse?
As marketers explore how the metaverse fits into their strategy, brand safety should be top of mind.
By: Sara Karlovitch• Published March 1, 2022
As the metaverse makes the leap into reality, marketers are eager to figure out where this new frontier fits into their strategies. However, there is evidence that, like with other digital platforms, as popularity grows so does the attention of bad actors like extremist or hate groups.
After high profile examples such as the racial slur allegedly buried in a McRib NFT, marketers are right to be wary of this new arena.
"What's tricky about it is you need to build a community where certain beliefs are, of course, geared toward one direction," said Dirk van Ginkel, Jam3's executive creative director.
However, NFTs and the metaverse are also hard to ignore as they become increasingly popular. During 2022's Super Bowl, Miller Lite used the metaverse platform Decentraland to skirt advertising restrictions, Wrangler unveiled a new NFT to promote a music partnership and Kia used the technology to promote its big game ad.
Some of the rush to join the metaverse may be the result of brands not wanting to repeat past mistakes of sitting on the sidelines too long when fast-moving digital technologies emerged. When social media first started to become a feature of daily life, brands avoided the platform. For example, McDonald's didn't join Twitter until 2009, three years after the platform launched. Apple was even later, not joining until 2011.
Into the wild, wild internet
For many, the metaverse is the natural next step for the internet. Facebook changed its name to Meta, signaling a greater focus on the metaverse at a time when social media is showing signs of maturation. A connected platform where people can gather and engage in digital commerce could be the next step for social media. Brands will no longer be limited to physical spaces — or physical products — if NFTs grow in value. Instead of purchasing a bottle of Miller Lite at a physical store, beer drinkers can purchase a virtual one while attending a metaverse party.
Initially, the metaverse was hailed as a way to potentially finally curb hate speech online while also protecting user privacy. Think tanks such as the Oasis Consortium put forward the idea that platforms like Decentraland can help eliminate hate speech through smart contracts and community monitoring. Most metaverse spaces are user-run, meaning they have the ability to vote out bad actors.
In theory, this is great. If someone walks into a virtual bar with a slur for a username, that person can be easily voted out and ejected. However, in practice, this has proved to be less effective than one might hope. For example, the community governing Decentraland failed to gather enough votes to ban the use of "Hitler" as part of a username.
With that in mind, how do brands keep their metaverse space from being overrun by hateful players? According to experts, while hate will always exist, the metaverse may be less risky than other platforms.
"What is interesting about Web3, the communities that are engaged with it are a lot more gated. So a good example is, for instance, if you want to launch an NFT for brands, there's generally a discord that comes along with it. And those communities can shoot down a discord as well. So the community is a lot more in control as to what's happening," van Ginkel said.
However, self-regulation may prove elusive. Questions remain around how things should be regulated and who should do the regulating. There are concerns that platforms like Decentraland and others over-rely on users to regulate others users, according to experts.
"The question of what…should be regulated as well as who may do this regulation is also a work in progress. In short, while some of the XR hardware and software is now here, the laws are not," Katerina Girginova, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication & Center on Digital Culture and Society, said in an email to Marketing Dive.
Ultimately, it is up to brands to ensure their digital footprint remains safe, especially as questions around scalability of these methods remain.
Show me the contract
One way to enhance brand safety is through the use of "smart contracts." These are programs that are stored in the blockchain that only activate under certain conditions. If the conditions of the smart contract are violated, the program fails to run. If brands built certain rules around decorum and behavior into a mandatory smart contract before selling someone an NFT or allowing them entrance into an virtual space, they may be able to keep themselves safe.
Smart contracts may be a way of mitigating some risks for brands. However, brands should not undertake these contracts lightly, according to van Ginkel. Before setting up a smart contract, professionals who know the space well should be employed.
While many brands insist on being a part of the metaverse and producing NFTs, some don't want to be paid in cryptocurrency, van Ginkel added. This can further complicate matters if they don't want to create a digital wallet. But without a digital wallet, anyone can be ripped off in the NFT or metaverse space, as their cryptocurrency is left unprotected. Concerns have arisen around the value of NFTs. Some experts believe the current NFT market is a bubble ready to burst. While the technology is here to stay, NFTs, which are part of the backbone of the metaverse, come with a level of speculation that not everyone is comfortable with.
While wallets and smart contracts have the potential to keep brands and consumers safe in the metaverse, educating people on how they work is likely to be a challenge since many don't understand what it entails.
"I think as a brand, it's always important that you explain to your audience that it's always good to get a physical wallet, for instance," van Ginkel said.
We're not ready for this
Despite the hype, the metaverse is a technology still very much in its infancy, and its ability to gain wider adoption could be hurt as a broader reckoning around digital privacy takes place. Concerns have arisen over the sheer amount of data that the metaverse will create on its users, such as biometrics.
With the technology being so new, some experts are asking if brands are moving too fast given how consumer adoption remains low.
"There hasn't been any platform in the history of the internet that has started with brands being present there first. It always starts with people first, and they need to have the interest," van Ginkel said.
Part of the problem for consumers is that the user experience in the virtual space is currently subpar, per van Ginkel. It takes too long to set up an avatar, and for many brands, the novelty of the metaverse alone may not be enough to compel users to join. However, for brands with an established connection to youth culture, consumers may be willing to overlook the metaverse's issues. For example, Nike's fan base may be willing to use the tech to engage with their favorite brand, but a newer company attempting to use the metaverse to establish itself may see a lackluster response.
Another drawback for marketers is that currently, a united metaverse doesn't exist, according to Jack Cameron, co-founder of metaverse marketing company Luna Market. There are several metaverse platforms, but interconnectivity has yet to be achieved. Brands that focus too much on onboarding may miss the whole point of virtual connection and interaction. At its core, the metaverse is a game, according to Cameron. So while it's a way for people to pass time online and connect with friends, the metaverse shouldn't be treated like other social media platforms. Instead, brands should think in terms of video games and design their strategy to fit what makes gaming appealing.
"I think people who focus on just onboarding lose sight of what makes a game good. It's how you play and how it feels to play it," Cameron said.
Article top image credit: Anthony Kwan via Getty Images
CPG brands ditch domestic tropes for culture-led marketing. Will it pay off?
Fewer parents and higher spending power among Gen Z could see historically stodgy brands move away from ads targeting mom and dad.
By: Peter Adams• Published Oct. 5, 2021
For decades, peanut butter brand Jif ran a tagline that helped enshrine it as a household name: "Choosy mothers choose Jif." The memorable phrase, which eventually swapped "mothers" for "moms," sharpened Jif's edge against rivals Skippy and Peter Pan to place it as No. 1 in the category, where it remains to this day. By most metrics, it was an effective positioning for the spread.
Jif's marketing looks markedly different these days than in 2001, and in ways that speak to how pockets of the packaged goods sector are dropping a focus on domesticity for strategies more tapped into consumer culture. That pivot has been informed by technological advances, including better targeting and insights, but also a changing shopper base that is potentially averse to being pigeonholed as homemakers.
For many companies, creating cultural relevance outside the home could be an uphill battle. CPGs might need to put in extra legwork to successfully court even choosier young groups like Gen Z, especially as loyalty becomes harder to hold onto amid a boom for private label, direct-to-consumer and e-commerce brands. A study by market research consultancy Reach3 Insights found 45% of surveyed U.S. consumers switched their preferred brands across categories during the pandemic, and 85% plan to stick with their new choices. But that same fickleness is emblematic of why CPGs should consider a more culturally led approach as they try to make an impression that carries over to the checkout line or final click.
"Brand loyalty is really something that is, in fast-moving consumer goods, more of an aspiration than a reality," said Matt Kleinschmit, founder and CEO of Reach3. "As a result of that, modern marketers in the CPG world have latched on to this idea of trying to establish emotional connections with consumers.
"If there's an emotional connection, that will often trump functional benefits," he added. "Brands that can execute that in a smart way are winning."
An ad campaign Jif rolled out in August 2021 stars the rapper Ludacris as he adapts his fast-flowing style to that of modern "mumble rap," whose stars have been criticized by old-school fans. The concept was informed by a social listening insight that some up-and-comers are painted by rap's legacy gatekeepers as sounding like they have peanut butter on the roof of their mouths. In the "Lil Jif Project" spots, which seek to bridge the genre divide, there's nary a reference to anyone's mom, though one of Ludacris' daughters does make a cameo to offer the song a co-sign from the younger generation.
Jif for years was already putting less emphasis on its "Choosy moms" positioning but made a more radical shift after parent J.M. Smucker tapped Publicis to freshen up the brand's portfolio in 2018. Starting in 2020, Jif began to seek out ways to intersect more with culture, including through a campaign that played on debates over the pronunciation of the Gif image format, heralding a new era for the peanut butter marketer's identity under the "That Jif'ing Good" platform.
"What CPG has done — and it's an important step — is walk away from thinking all of their ads need to be holding a mirror up to their audience: 'This is you cleaning the counter, this you making a cup of coffee.' That doesn't make you feel anything for the brand," said Erica Roberts, chief creative officer of Publicis New York and an architect of the Jif campaign. "You don't start to create any deeper connection points or memory structures for that matter."
Other CPGs are pursuing similar refreshes. Kraft Heinz's Oscar Mayer label in the spring of 2021 introduced a brand overhaul in the first major work from creative agency of record Johannes Leonardo. The "Keep It Oscar" campaign eschews traditional storytelling in favor of Dadaist absurdity, with videos that depict toddlers shooting lasers from their eyes and bacon taking on a life of its own.
On the media front, the 138-year-old purveyor of hot dogs and lunch meats is experimenting with formats, including GIFs and its first five-second TV ads, that recognize a more attention-strapped consumer economy that's attuned to a constant scroll of social media. Recent extensions speak to a larger eye on Gen Z and millennials as well: Oscar Mayer in 2021 partnered with Lyft to convert its signature Wienermobile into a ride-sharing vehicle and followed this up wit a capsule collection of "Street Meat" streetwear that was sold through hot dog stands.
The pop-art creative play came on the tails of sales windfall for Kraft Heinz, which benefited from the pandemic's bump in at-home cooking. Oscar Mayer previously had been something of an albatross for the company, meaning "Keep It Oscar" could serve as a key test of whether the more culture-oriented approach pays off in relation to the bottom line.
But CPGs don't typically foster the same amount of enthusiasm as other categories, like apparel or technology. It's harder for consumers to get worked up about oatmeal or deodorant to the degree they do a new iPhone drop. Still, drawing a clearer connection between a CPG brand and trending discussions — whether they be around a celebrity, major event or piece of pop culture — could become more significant for a population that's constantly plugged in.
"With fast-moving consumer goods, the thought is you use it and dispose of it. They don't necessarily have the same type of cache that some of these other brands maybe would," Kleinschmit said.
"I would actually argue that that's even more of the reason why a lot of these modern marketers that work for these large CPGs are trying to bring that idea of cultural relevance to the forefront," he said. "Without that cultural relevance, they're one of dozens of other products in an increasingly crowded virtual e-commerce shelf."
Another factor that could motivate CPGs' move toward more culture-centric marketing is the pressure to address a history of propping up normative domestic roles. Images of a housewife in an apron cooking and cleaning were woven into the fabric of U.S. consumer culture with the help of ads devised by largely male agencies and marketing teams of the "Mad Men" era.
"There's almost a sense of responsibility to redefine how we show up and to consciously refuse to perpetuate those stereotypes."
Chief creative officer, Publicis New York
Some brands have tried to tackle the touchy subject head-on. Budweiser in 2019 reimagined sexist ads from the '50s and '60s to be more empowering in honor of International Women's Day. While the direct approach isn't common, it might benefit the category to reassess where and how its products are portrayed.
"CPG probably has the most reason to kind of walk away from that narrow targeting to moms because they've been so responsible for perpetuating this antiquated division of labor," Publicis' Roberts said. "There's almost a sense of responsibility to redefine how we show up and to consciously refuse to perpetuate those stereotypes."
Many women today would rather be targeted based on their interests or hobbies rather than as parents, specifically, according to experts. That's especially true of younger groups like Gen Z and millennials that put a premium on social values. Disruptors from the DTC world and other categories have made dents in legacy businesses not only through more digitally savvy sales models, but also a clearer sense of brand purpose than their legacy peers.
"If you talk to a mom, there's this very responsible, functional message. You want to choose something good because you're buying it for your kid," said Jennifer Baldwin, executive vice president and strategic planning director at Publicis. "That as a point of difference can erode over time. That's happening, really, across all packaged goods. There are more entrants coming into the category as private label becomes more appealing."
That's not to say moms aren't part of the picture for CPGs. Women, generally, are still estimated to make between 70-80% of household purchases. A recent Kearney report adds further shades of nuance to the conversation. The consultancy's poll of 1,000 women found 60% valued a "female-focused approach" when being marketed to for household products, but 42% stated that women didn't have gender-specific needs. Nearly a third worried that female-focused products could create or reinforce stereotypes.
"If you really look at demographic data, parents are declining. There are fewer households with kids today. Year-over-year, that's going down," Baldwin said. "That meant that after this 50-plus year focus on parents, [Jif] was losing relevance with younger consumers."
Changing demographics create opportunities for CPGs to reach new and even unexpected audiences. Jif, for example, is trying to recognize decision-makers like college students who are buying their own groceries for the first time or fitness enthusiasts who value peanut butter as a protein source. That thinking is reflected in influencer partnerships and larger investments in emerging social media platforms.
"We continue to go back to TikTok because we've found such a diverse audience there and a diverse group of influencers," said Cadence Ely-Mooney, a senior account supervisor at MSL, another Publicis unit that works on the Smucker account. "Not only are we looking at diversification across platforms, but in terms of people we're partnering with ... This kind of expansion has allowed us to be considered more along the lines of a lifestyle brand."
Jif's audience in the 18 to 34 range is 67.25% female, according to an independent analysis Helixa conducted for Marketing Dive, and expresses a 3.68-times affinity toward Ludacris versus the 1.00 national average index. That suggests the "Lil Jif Project" campaign could resonate, even as it's distinctive from the brand's past marketing.
"If you talk to a mom, there's this very responsible, functional message ... That as a point of difference can erode over time."
EVP, strategic planning director, Publicis
In trying to thread the needle between ads that connect while not reading as tone-deaf, CPGs have more tools in their kit than before. An explosion of interest for connected TV and streaming during the pandemic — along with the continued movement of media dollars to digital and social as the ad market continues to rebound — is leading to an influx of solutions that open a greater degree of granularity than what linear media can offer. One takeaway is clear: broad, demographic-based targeting is out of vogue.
"It's a larger trend just in general, approaching marketing and messaging to people via interests," Roberts said. "Even the way we do our segmentation work is much more psychographic now and interest-based."
Marketing service providers similarly are trying to meet the cultural moment. Taco Bell, while not a CPG, named Cashmere its first culture agency of record in 2021 to deepen its connection to areas like sports, fashion, gaming and music. That's a tack CPGs could follow as they look to freshen up their image and engage younger consumers who are more skeptical than older cohorts and willing to call out brands that fail to pass the authenticity sniff test.
"Moving forward, not only is it going to be important from a cultural perspective to say what and who to align yourself to, it's going to be equally important for these brands to know what not to say," Kleinschmit said. "For brands and products that are sort of out of alignment … all of a sudden that brand turns into persona non grata.
"There's a whole host of these types of fickle pop culture preferences that brands need to continually be on top of," he added.
Article top image credit: Permission granted by Jif
How Hot Pockets joined Gen Z gamer culture through Twitch Bits
A couponing push drove six times higher conversion rates than past efforts, helping the brand gain relevancy with key young cohorts.
By: Peter Adams• Published Oct. 25, 2021
To some observers, Hot Pockets and video games go hand-in-hand. A 2006 episode of "South Park" depicts the bratty character Cartman demanding the microwavable turnovers from his mom so as not to interrupt a marathon session playing "World of Warcraft" with his friends.
In reality, the Nestlé-owned product had lost some of its sway with younger cohorts in recent years, particularly up-and-coming Gen Z males who might not even have been born when the now-legendary "South Park" installment first aired. As gaming has evolved from a niche hobby to one of the most dominant drivers of pop culture, that resonance gap felt more egregious, Nestlé executives said during an Advertising Week session in the fall of 2021. In response, Hot Pockets shifted gears to focus more on the types of creators who hold otherwise ad-averse gaming fans at rapt attention.
"We knew how mom looked at the product — we had decades worth of information to do that — but again, we lost favor with the growing younger generation," said Bryan Waddell, head of influencer, gaming and esports at Nestlé, during the panel with agency partner Reach Agency. "Kind of the 'a-ha' for a lot of people was, we didn't have that brand staying power with millennials like we thought."
How does a brand engage a group that's essential to its business, but that it hasn't directly marketed to before? Hot Pockets and Reach Agency together devised a solution that involved tying a national couponing program to Twitch "Bits," virtual tips that viewers can gift their favorite creators on the Amazon-owned streaming platform to support their content and potentially receive a custom shout-out. Bits draw in big paydays for creators, while Twitch's position as the de-facto platform to watch people play games was shored up by the pandemic, creating an opportune moment for Hot Pockets to experiment with something new.
"We wanted to go big," Waddell said. "We wanted to know — or we wanted to prove — that gamers everywhere, Gen Z males everywhere, are receptive to these types of activations."
Pieces in place
The campaign, launched in late 2020, asked consumers to scan a special QR code or visit a dedicated microsite to add a Pockets for Bits card to their mobile wallet. When purchasing Hot Pockets and using a link in the mobile wallet card to scan their receipt, participants would then receive a unique code linked to their Twitch account carrying varying levels of Bits to dole out. Conceptually, the brand wanted to tap into the idea of "frictionless commerce," per Waddell, where consumers can immediately get rewarded after scanning their receipts.
Paid media on Twitch and Snapchat, along with partnerships with influencers including Shroud, supported awareness for the effort that saw thousands of redemptions within 48 hours of launch. Hot Pockets ended up reducing in half the program's duration, originally slated to run for six weeks, due to heavy demand, while driving a conversion rate of 36% — six times higher than past couponing initiatives. The surprise success spurred Hot Pockets to broadly rethink how it approaches campaigns in the gaming space, including a partnership with Microsoft's "Halo: Infinite" title that hit shelves in November 2021.
"It changes the foundation for how we look at creator-led activations, not only the other part of this year, but into next year," Waddell said. "If Hot Pockets for Bits hadn't happened, these new digital facing programs like this would not be enabled."
Waddell said that Hot Pockets' execution is indicative of a "consumer-centric" approach that tries to stay grounded in what consumers actually want to see, even if that means not every aspect of the campaign is heavily branded. Streams sponsored by Hot Pockets, for instance, racked up over 1 million cumulative hours of watch time, but only occasionally featured messages explicitly about the product.
"I was really focusing on moving our actions towards the eater," Waddell said. "With that, you have to be in the spaces that they go to, that they play with, that they engage within."
At the same time, Hot Pockets had an outlet to attach itself to moments of emotional connection with viewers. Shroud, the top influencer involved with the Bits campaign, wields more than 9 million Twitch followers and would plug Hot Pockets in a fashion that didn't come across as an overt ad read.
"We saw the direct correlation to click-through rate based on when he would open his mouth and say something," Waddell said. "It wasn't just like, 'Buy Hot Pockets.' He took you into his pitch and he broke away in the areas in which he was most intimate."
While the Bits promotion paid out in the long run, the lead-up to the program was longer than Waddell wanted. Part of the problem stemmed from convincing internal stakeholders to change their thinking regarding performance. When narrowing in on specific fandoms like gaming, some platforms ultimately matter more than others, which carries an impact on overall reach. Examining other factors, like sentiment in streaming chats, can also be of larger importance.
"They nurture the channels in which they stream, not necessarily their other channels," Waddell said of gaming creators.
"You might see content numbers that maybe don't feel good when you read the report and kind of look at it on Instagram, Twitter, those types of things," he added. "It's not just about impressions and net reach. It's more so about engagement rate, conversions, being able to look at the sentiment in the chat in real-time."
"We pivoted a little bit [but] you cannot forget kind of where the lion's share is," Waddell said during a Q&A portion of the discussion when asked whether Hot Pockets was ditching moms.
"It's not like we're going to completely change the course of the ship, but more so think about it from the full family perspective and how we do things together," he added.
Article top image credit: Permission granted by Advertising Week
How marketers are reaching Gen Z
As long as Gen Z has been a desirable target market, brands have expressed the same frustrations in trying to reach them: They don’t like ads, or at least ads in the traditional sense. Yet, the last few years have solidified qualities in Gen Z that have resulted in some successful strategies, even as the demographic remains one of the most diverse and unconventional.
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