Lessons from Advertising Week 2016: 4 Ways to Increase Your Brand’s Authenticity Among Millennials and Gen Z

Every fall a few things happen. The leaves turn warm shades of gold and red, you swap out sandals for more weather-appropriate shoes....and marketers make an annual exodus to NYC for Advertising Week.

It's always great to hear the latest from the industry’s top thinkers, but this year the challenge of marketing to Millennials and Generation Z was particularly top-of-mind. Together these generations make up the youth of today, but also the world’s most promising consumers of tomorrow. Understanding their beliefs and behaviors now can set marketers up for success in the future.

If you were tuned into Ad Week, you already know that winning with these audiences comes down to “authenticity”--perhaps one of the most buzzed-about words at this year’s conference. Standard ads that interrupt, feel irrelevant or come off as “over-the-top” marketing simply won't work with this group. In fact, a recent Harris Poll found that 74% of Millennials and Gen Z’s strongly dislike interruptive ads in their social feeds. The time is now for brands to prioritize authenticity—but how?

We’re bringing you the top 4 takeaways from Ad Week on how to achieve authenticity among these key audiences. Here they are:

  1. Commit to a purpose
A common theme throughout Ad Week was how purpose-driven brands are especially attractive to Millennials and Gen Z. Ken Hertz, Founding Partner at memBrain, put it in real terms when told the audience during the Image, Identity & Innovation panel: “TOMS shoes are more popular with Millennials than Nike because they believe TOMS is a purpose-driven brand.” The same topic was also discussed during the D&AD Impact & The Power of Creativity panel, in which Jennifer Dulski, President of Change.org, said, “80% of Millennials say they want to work at a company with a charity program or one that does social good.” Younger generations are interested in brands supporting causes, but only if it's authentic and make sense for the company. Phony doesn't work for this crowd. They want to hear meaningful stories about the companies they engage with--it makes them feel more connected to the brand itself.
  1. Relate through programming
Millennials and Gen Z consume content differently than older generations. During the panel, You Say Millennials, We Say Gen Z, Brian Robbins, the founder and CEO of AwesomenessTV, talked about the importance of content resonance for these audiences. He said, “when we make shows that are about them [Gen Z]--what they’re going through, their behaviors, emotions--they see themselves in our programming. That’s really important because they’ve been left behind by bigger media companies.” AwesomenessTV, a global entertainment brand producing content for Gen Z, combined this approach with advertising for a branded content series called Royal Crush. Together with Royal Caribbean Cruises, the online TV series told a story about two teenagers falling in love on a cruise ship. Today it’s their most popular show--among an audience that's known for being cord-cutting and fickle. 
  1. Make them the content creators
Content creation is one of these generations' favorite pastimes (hello, social media!). Ciroc offered an interesting example of this during their panel. The vodka company famously promoted by P.Diddy took the same approach with their “Let’s Get It” campaign, in which they told stories of Millennial influencers who were changing the game in their industry. Ryan Robertson, Brand Director at Diageo, noted that the campaign embodied “the hustle” by leveraging real Millennials to tell their real, authentic stories. Letting them be the content creators, instead of just the consumers, was a success for Ciroc.
  1. Create connections
Experiences are huge with Millennials and Gen Z because they love to make connections--connections with friends, love interests, and sometimes brands too. An enlightening session titled The Business of Dating, focused on areas where young people are having meaningful experiences both online and offline, and what that means for brands. Discussing more than just online dating, this panel made the point that experiences breed brand loyalty. Whether it’s dating or a music festival, these are places where “hanging out happens,” said Marta Cyhan, CMO for MAC Presents. She went on to say that this generation is more loyal to brands that provide them with positive, fun experiences. Marketers that can find the right place to do so will win.  

Did you miss any of the action at Ad Week 2016? Check out our live tweets on @PandoraPulse from all the sessions that discussed marketing to Millennials and Gen Z.