Gen Z vs. Millennial Marketing – How to Target Gen Z

When it comes to marketing strategy, there is a danger of grouping Millennials and Generation Z into one category, a monolithic ‘Young People’. Closer analysis will reveal a set of key differences between these groups, and failure to recognise these could alienate your ideal customer. In this article we discuss the differences between Gen Z (age range 11-26) and Millennials (aged 27-42), based on their worldview and values, before revealing what makes for uniquely Gen Z marketing.

Setting The Scene – Optimism vs. Realism

Before we dig into specific content, let’s set the scene. In terms of mindset, Millennials are characterized as optimistic, raised in a time of “prosperity and opportunity”. On the other hand, Generation Z are more realistic, coming-of-age in a setting best described as ‘permacrisis’.

Millennials were raised in a boom and Gen Zs in a bust, characterised by the 2008 economic collapse coupled with fears of climate change and the global pandemic; 52 percent of Gen Zs don’t remember a time before the Great Recession.

Gen Z were raised to expect very little from the world and equipped with a realistic understanding of the problems they face. As a result, there is an overall drive to go out and make things better. This gives context to Gen Z’s ‘activism’ reputation, championing social justice, climate considerations, diversity, and inclusion.

Marketing Takeaways

  1. While Millennials were raised in a time of optimism, Gen Z’s worldview is shaped by crises, with coping mechanisms including surreal humour and escapism. This carries over into the type of content they consume – Millennials prefer aspirational, aesthetic, influencer marketing while Gen Z prefer chaotic video content with real, unfiltered people.
  2. Gen Z’s values are defining the relationship between consumers and brands. 82% of Gen Z believe that companies should take a stand on social issues, this compares to 69% of Millennials, 51% of Gen X and 48% of Baby Boomers. Standing for something has now become a prerequisite for building a brand.

So, What’s the Secret?

Now on to the most exciting part – what makes for uniquely Gen Z marketing? As we already mentioned, Gen Z prefer video formats, realism, and chaos. They want models that look like someone you’d see walking down the street, rather than down the runway. But how else does it differ from traditional advertising?

Short Form is King

Millennials were born pre-social media, where the technologies of today were just starting to evolve. They successfully evaded most of its adverse effects, at least in their formative years, for which we know not yet the full impact. On the other hand Gen Z are often hailed as ‘digital natives’, unlike previous generations, they were born and raised on social media. They are hooked on the quick-hit dopamine of smartphone scrolling, and have a 1.3 second attention span.

Marketing Takeaway

Social media marketing is an attention economy and if you don’t stand out, young viewers will just scroll by. It is well worth catching their attention as they have frequent shopping habits, with

Consider starting videos with strong hooks e.g. ‘Have you noticed that…?’

Sense of Humour: Let’s Compare

As mentioned, Gen Z have a chaotic sense of humour, most of the content you will see on social media today is born out of years of inside jokes, so it is no surprise if it feels like a minefield. Let’s look at what works:

You might be familiar with plastic surgeon to the stars ‘Dr Miami’, but have you heard of his Tik Tok manager Santina? For Gen Z-ers, she might be an even bigger name than him.


She thinks im a full-blown tiktoker or something 🤦‍♂️

♬ original sound -

These videos frequently garner hundreds of thousands of likes. Why? They have all the hallmarks of Gen Z marketing – they are funny, relatable, and self-deprecating. Dr Miami first appeared on Gen Z’s radar when he began live streaming his surgeries on Snapchat, but in recent years he’s transitioned to less controversial content. His social media manager leverages pop culture and slang, adapting trending audios to fit their niche. In doing so, she successfully presents Dr Miami as a relevant Gen Z figure, despite being from an older generation. We see ourselves reflected in their video content, and want to support the business as a result.

It is still possible for bigger companies to achieve this feeling by handing over their social media reigns to the younger generation – just look at Duolingo, they have one of the most successful pages going.

Marketing Takeaway

While these tactics may not lead to the most direct conversions, they are still integral to Gen Z marketing strategy. They will foster brand recognition and a sense of personal connection, which can lay the foundations for future sales. This would be impossible with a static, manicured post from a faceless corporation.

Let’s compare this to Millennial social media marketing, which is optimised for Instagram, rather than Tik Tok.

Formats like the below will not resonate with Gen Zers:

The similarities between Gen Z & Millennial humour are evident, references are often born out of popular culture and optimised for the dominant social media of the time. For Millennials this was Instagram, and for Gen Z we have mostly moved to video content on Tik Tok. In 2021 Dazed Magazine announced the official death of the Millennial Meme: “It’s a definite passing of the torch, because the nostalgia that we feel for all the GIFs and memes [of the Millennial era] are definitely fading and being replaced with more recent references.”

So, a good litmus test for if your humour is going to resonate with Gen Z is: on which social media app was this joke born? If similar content is popular on Tik Tok, in the past month or so, you’re probably safe. If your humour and format would resonate more with users of Instagram, you’re likely to reach the wrong group. If you’re struggling to understand Gen Z humour, download Tik Tok, engage with popular videos, and you’ll soon pick it up. If it’s the language you’re struggling with, check out our LinkedIn for an ‘Easy Guide to Gen Z Slang’.

Marketing Takeaway

Check that your language and humour will resonate with your target audience, which you can determine through immersion in their online communities. Additionally, it’s always wise to run your content by real Gen Z-ers, something we do here at TRFF in the form of ‘Vibechecks’.

Building Community

Gen Z are all about community; they are 66% more likely to want brands to run community forums. Enriching the customer experience through discussion boards and loyalty programs will build trust and allow consumers to connect over a shared love of your brand. This can also be achieved through supplementary offerings like podcasts and how-to guides.

Glow Recipe does this well; they sell skincare through their ecommerce store, adding value through tutorial videos, customer reviews, and product recommendation quizzes. They also have a ‘Glowipedia’ where they break down the products used to create a look. Additionally, they have a loyalty program which builds a lasting relationship with returning customers. All these elements help to build a trusted brand, which shows care for its customers and fosters a community beyond the point of sale.

Marketing Takeaway

Gen Z are discerning consumers, they like to do lots of research on a brand before making purchase decisions. By offering value beyond the point of sale, they are more likely to trust you and spend their money with you.; this also fosters brand loyalty in the long run.

Real and Unedited

A bonus point for Glow Recipe is their commitment to showing ‘real skin’ which means no photoshop and no makeup on set. This goes a long way with Gen Z who value honesty and authenticity above all else. In contrast, a Kylie Skin promotional video was not well received by young fans.

In the video Kylie Jenner is washing her face with her new skincare products. The problem is that Kylie is obviously wearing makeup, and the filters make it hard to see the result.

Marketing Takeaway

Real is always better. Gen Z digital marketing doesn’t need to be ‘picture perfect’, they would rather see the genuine effect of the product on real people with real, unedited bodies.

Summary – Gen Z Marketing Toolkit

  • We understand the state of the world and are seeking escapism – chaotic video content rules.
  • We care about the big issues and expect that you do too. No more evasive messaging.
  • We have a one-second attention span, start with a strong hook, and grab us quickly.
  • Put Gen Z faces at the forefront of your social media videos. We want to get to know a person, not an anonymous company.
  • Check that your language and humour will resonate with us and run it past real Gen Z-ers if you’re unsure.
  • Treat us as individuals, not just customers, building value beyond the point of sale.
  • Real is always better: real people, real products, real authenticity.

And lastly – don’t confuse us with Millennials!

Gabrielle Carruthers Gabrielle Carruthers