Marketing to Generation “Woke”

Picture of By Naramol (Jaja) Pipoppinyo

By Naramol (Jaja) Pipoppinyo

Remember the days when Colgate guaranteed you that their toothpaste reduced plaque by 98%? Imagine if all marketing was still like this today. Organizations will be out of business by now. With the new digital age, society has been saturated with advertisements to the point that we are no longer convinced by inauthentic marketing. More so than any other, Generation-Z (Gen-Z), also known as the “woke” generation, is ready to call out anything that seems out of place. Marketing today is like walking on eggshells for organizations: one wrong move and they might get “canceled”. So how can organizations maintain success marketing to such a “woke” generation?

Generation Woke

Gen-Z is a digital native, born and raised with technology within arms reach. This means they were born in a world completely different from the one before, resulting in a drastic change in behavior, attitude, and outlook on life. Certain companies had to learn this the hard way when they were called out for their business choices. For example, H&M used a black kid to model beylikdüzü escort their sweater that said “coolest monkey in the jungle”. The company received backlash for being “inappropriate, disgusting, and negligent” for disregarding the history of the racial slur “monkey”. The new age of people has taken the podium and speaks up when it sees unfair treatment. Gen-Z is hyper-aware of social injustices because they were born in a time of great progressive social movements that fight for the rights of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, they are bound to fight for justice to “unblur” their future. 

Gen-Z will fight for what they think is right no matter how big or small the challenge is.

As a result, Gen-Z is often referred to as the “woke” generation. Being “woke” means being aware of what the truth is. In this sense, being described as woke means you are actively aware of socio-cultural and environmental issues that society faces today. Gen-Z will fight for what they think is right no matter how big or small the challenge is. Great digital movements, such as #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #StopAsianHate, have been started to fight social injustice. 

No More Crap

Certain organizations have tried to capitalize on the traits of Gen-Z by demonstrating corporate responsibility in their business. An example of when organizations successfully integrated a trend for social justice into their campaign was the 2016 Nike advertisement centered around the Colin Kaepernick controversy. In 2016, NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem at a football game because he “did not want to show pride for a country that oppresses black people”. Social media went into a great political debate over the footballer’s act. Nike caught the right time and moment to partner with Kaepernick and took a clear stance with the player. Certain groups were outraged by Nike’s partnership with Kaepernick, they started boycotting the organization and burning its products. Other groups who approved of Kapernick and his decisions praised Nike for their bold approach. Although there was a significant debate over what was right and wrong in that situation, Nike remained authentic, helping the organization boost the sales afterward. 

Many other companies were trying to accomplish the same but the results were not as successful. Pepsi came out with an advertisement wherein Kendall Jenner hands out Pepsi bottles to the police during the police brutality protests. Pepsi pulled out their ad after they were canceled for undermining the seriousness of the protest and its issues. Appropriating images from a serious protest with a 21-year old white supermodel did not rub off well on some people. As a result, Pepsi dropped in sales, struggling to pick up afterward. 

What these two companies had in common was that they tried to integrate social movements into their business as a marketing ploy. The difference was that one succeeded while the other didn’t. But why? At the end of the day, it’s up to an individual’s interpretation. So, to an extent, you can see how random and unpredictable marketing can be today. In the modern media landscape, brands are forced to take risks if they want to stand out. However, the gamble can completely go wrong as companies face unpredictable backlash for things they might not have considered. So how should organizations tackle this issue?

Diversity Matters  

Diversity and representation matter for Gen-Z. They were raised in a globalized society that accepted the first black president and when being part of the LGBTQ+ community is a norm. Gen-Z is ready to call out anything that seems less than representative because they know that a better future means more inclusivity. The modern generation does not want to repeat the history of treating others differently just because of their skin color. When businesses try to be diverse for profit, leave it to Gen-Z to sniff out the inauthenticity of their efforts. For example, in 2019, the fashion app Dote was called out for “selective diversity” because they only included “ethnically ambiguous” girls in their ads for representation. This points to the second solution for organizations to be authentic and transparent.

 Be authentic, sell less

Gen-Z can see right through advertisements. They know that at the end of the day businesses are there to make money. So when they capitalize too much on this, Gen-Z will call them out. Thus, incorporating authentic stories into their products is a way to target a new age group of consumers. The method of content marketing where the goal is to distribute relevant and consistent content is of value to many organizations. Organizations create content to target the interests of the consumers to market their brand rather than just the product. Take the shoe store Toms for example. They are more than just a company that sells shoes. Toms brand promises “One for One”: for every shoe they sell, Toms will provide a free pair of shoes for a child in need. As such, Toms creates an identity with goals and values that resonate with consumers. This way, Toms is selling not only shoes but a story that customers feel good and proud to be a part of. 

Be a friend, not a business 

Businesses can garner success by creating marketing campaigns that sell less. Understanding the market and their interests has become essential to make a company seem more “friendly”.  For example, joining in on the trend of setting trends has garnered success for companies like Chipotle. The company partnered with the trend-setting app TikTok to create the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge. Targeting user-generated content that pushes consumers to create their own content leads to successful rates. It gets the audience more involved rather than just being a passive audience to the ad.

Gen-Z is the most diverse group, where each creates their own identity as they like through social media’s variety of communities.

Including influencers in marketing campaigns is another great way to be more leveled with the audience. Consumers become more trusting of advertisements and products when they see a familiar face. Moreover, fragmentation of individuals, characteristics, and personalities means that it’s hard for businesses to advertise to everyone. Gen-Z is the most diverse group, where each creates their own identity as they like through social media’s variety of communities. Working with influencers is a way to reach a specific niche that organizations are targeting.

Marketing in the modern digital world has become a tricky sport for many organizations so it’s important to keep up with the trends. However, with such a “woke” generation, companies have to be careful not to overstep their boundaries. Social media and technologies have empowered people to speak up when they see that something is not right. Thus, companies must monitor the situation and have a solid crisis management plan. Ensure that organizations keep authentic and transparent two-way communication before things go out of hand. The media landscape keeps changing as what was trending today may be obsolete tomorrow. So it’s important that organizations know how to deal with these changes to stay on top.

Cover: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

Edited by: Gaukhar Orkashbayeva

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