Making Up for Lost Time: How Younger Consumers Are Spending Their Summers

What Gen Y and Z are doing and how performance marketers can reach them where they are

As the world continues to open up, marketers are rethinking how they connect with and engage Gen Y and Z consumers, many of whom have been cooped up for the last 16 or so months.

Summer is looking very different for Gen Y and Z consumers right now. Now aged 13 to 39, these generation groups are spending more time with their families, taking outdoor hikes, enjoying time off from school and hanging out with their friends. For entertainment, they’re going to the movies, taking vacations and watching summer sports.

According to a recent YPulse survey, Gen Y and Z are doing more of all of these things as the nation continues to emerge from the global pandemic. For example, 80% of the under-40 set is spending time with family this summer (up from 66% in 2020), 62% are enjoying barbecues (versus 41% last year) and 60% are going to the beach or pool (36% in 2020).

“Summer 2020 was shaped by the pandemic,” YPulse points out. “And while there has been uncertainty around whether ‘normal’ would make a return this year, [our] data shows that young people are planning to get out and make up for lost time this summer.”

Meeting them where they are
Tired of only being able to socialize via mobile phone or Zoom, Gen Y and Z want to get outside, hike, explore the mountains and take a dip in the ocean. As they get back to experiencing some of life’s simple pleasures, they’re also spending more time with friends and family.

“Everyone’s been stuck inside for months, so we want to get outside. It’s not necessarily about doing a big activity; we just want to get out,” said one 20-something Hawthorne employee who shared her thoughts with me for this article. With TikTok as a favored social channel, she says she’s been seeing more targeted ads on that platform plus more billboards and signpost stickers popping up around her town.

Here are four more avenues that marketers can explore as they attempt to pin down their Gen Z and Y audiences this summer:

Social media ads. The TikTok “For You” pages feature continuous, scrolling videos that feature subtle ads made to look like other TikToks. Viewers may not realize they’re watching an ad until they’re halfway through it. Snapchat stories takes a similar approach, but using articles that people can read by clicking through to them, while Instagram stories include sponsored feeds—also subtle and not as noticeable for viewers.

Music to their ears. Streaming music services like Spotify, Apple and YouTube also present opportunities for marketers, knowing that Gen Z’ers heading to a beach barbecue will probably take along a speaker with them. With audio ads, marketers can reach active listeners on any device, in any environment, throughout the day. That’s because the ads are served up between songs, while there are no distractions.

Geotargeting. The delivery of different content to visitors based on their geolocations, geotargeting helps companies reach Gen Y and Z consumers when they are out and about. If they’re gathered around a firepit set up in a restaurant’s outdoor seating area, for example, these youngers are constantly checking their phones and social feeds. The group that plans to hit the beach within the next few days may need new beach towels, umbrellas or coolers for the outing. Using geotargeting, marketers can hit them while they’re making plans and writing up their shopping lists.

Video games. They may be heading outdoors, but Gens Y and Z still love their video games. This presents an opportunity for marketers to create in-app ads on the popular gaming platforms. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Media Trends survey, Gen Z consumers say video games are their top entertainment activity, with 87% of them playing video games on a daily or weekly basis. “Video games were already growing significantly before Covid-19, but have been amplified during the pandemic,” Deloitte points out. “Many are playing daily to fill idle time, connect with friends, compete with opponents and escape into stories.”

Rethinking connections and engagement
As the world continues to open up, marketers are rethinking how they connect with and engage Gen Y and Z consumers, many of whom have been cooped up for the last 16 or so months. And while the national vaccine rollout is still in full swing, and the worldwide impacts of the pandemic have yet to subside, individuals are looking to make up for lost time this summer. For marketers, it’s the perfect opportunity to meet consumers where they are and give them valuable information, content and products that they’re hungering for.

Seeing Is Believing: Why Visual Search Works

Gen Z and millennials have embraced this way of shopping, and it’s time brands did too

Instead of text-based searches and sifting through pages of results, visual search enables enhanced, modern interfaces that help curate and review buying options faster, which comes naturally to Gen Z and millennials. Thanks to the convergence of computer vision, machine learning and neuroscience, visual search is helping marketers meet these customers where they are by returning the most relevant search results based on similarities (e.g., color, style, shape, etc.)

With 90% of information processed by the human brain being visual, and that brain’s ability to identify images it’s viewed for as little as 13 milliseconds, brands using visual search are definitely onto something. These companies are not only feeding the new generations of shoppers’ craving for automation, they’re also opening the window for all generations to test the visual search waters.

The ‘easy’ button
Research shows that 62% of millennials are more interested in visual search capability than any other new technology, and that over 600 million visual searches are done on Pinterest every month. The process finds customers looking for products with a photo or other image versus keywords that are typically used in search engines. They can simply take a picture of the item, upload it to a visual search engine and be presented with the similar items available to purchase. It’s as easy as that.
For example, using an uploaded image of a blue prom dress, a visual search would enable someone to shop for an identical or similar dress online. And because visual search engines rely on neural networks that leverage machine learning, these engines are constantly expanding their fields of experience. As they become “smarter,” these search engines deliver more accurate, relevant results to shoppers.

From Pinterest to Bing to Amazon
Many online brands are successfully using visual search. Pinterest Lens allows customers to use their photo of an item to find out where to buy it or search for similar products, all while viewing ads for options for sale on other platforms; Google Lens recognizes objects and details via a camera; and Bing Visual Search allows consumers to search for specific elements within images (versus having to sort through a list of results) by clicking “visual search.”
Amazon has been in the visual search game since 2019, when it introduced StyleSnap. Shoppers click the camera icon in the upper right hand corner of their Amazon app, select the StyleSnap option, and then upload a photograph or screenshot of the desired outfit. StyleSnap presents recommendations for similar items on Amazon that match the look in the photo, factoring in parameters like brand, price range and customer reviews.

Putting visual search to work
For performance marketers, visual search provides a new channel for reaching Gen Z and millennial consumers who either don’t want to use text-based searches or are seeking new, automated ways to find stuff online. With these new highly visual consumers, and many search engines already offering visual search capabilities, this capability has become an opportunity that direct marketers can’t afford to ignore.
Consider this: Visual results are going to show up higher in a search engine’s rankings. That means your results appear faster, are seen more often and get better conversion rates than non-visual results. Younger generations of shoppers already love visual search, but it won’t be long before all consumers take to it and come to expect it. With 35% of marketers already planning to optimize their own websites for visual search, one can assume that number will only continue to grow in 2021.

As companies look for new ways to harness the attention of younger, tech-savvy shoppers, visual search may rise to the top as an effective way to align the creativity of the human brain with advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. And with visual search conversions providing 85% higher returns than textual search results, the more “visualized” your brand becomes, the more customers you’ll be able to attract and engage online.

3 Ad Campaigns That Resonated With the Gen Z Audience

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations, and their way of thinking is coming to the forefront of today’s society. Their passion for social justice, demand for authenticity, and short attention spans have forced brands that target Gen Z consumers to shift their advertising strategies accordingly.

3 Ad Campaigns GenZ

Today, brands are starting to get better at picking up on what Gen Z values and learning to adapt. From a company structure perspective, this can mean implementing more corporate social responsibility initiatives; while in advertising and marketing, this can mean deploying messages, media, and strategies designed to resonate with Gen Z consumers. There are a number of one-off ad campaigns that have redefined success with this generation, as well as continuous campaigns and brand behaviors that are molding and shaping the way marketers and advertisers target this audience.

Here are examples of three very different ad campaigns that have resonated with Gen Z in unique ways, and how they did it.

Aerie ‘Real’ Campaign

Historically, clothing brands have promoted themselves with bombshell supermodels who possess unattainable beauty. It may seem simple, but Gen Z is challenging that paradigm by calling for and responding to ad campaigns that feature “normal” people, and by rejecting impossible beauty standards.

In the early ’00s, brands began receiving backlash for digitally enhancing the faces and figures of their models in noticeable ways and removing anything that might be seen as an imperfection. Once it became clear that this imagery was harmful to the development of young girls’ self-esteem and confidence, American Eagle’s intimates brand Aerie decided to connect with its target consumer, Gen Z, with a different approach — body positivity.

In 2014, Aerie’s “Real” campaign was born. American Eagle started by announcing that it would not only cease the use of supermodels, but would also refrain from digital retouching. That campaign received a flurry of attention as the first-of-its-kind and was a big success. Since then, Aerie has continued to expand the parameters by which it chooses lingerie models. Campaigns have included women with curves, cellulite, small chests, large chests, disabilities, medical illnesses, stretch marks, body hair, and more. Furthermore, the “Real” campaign has expanded by including Aerie consumers. The brand encourages people to feel positive, confident, and comfortable in their own bodies and show it off by joining in with the hashtag #AerieReal on social media.

Not only has this approach helped Aerie stand out in the market and build a positive reputation with Gen Z, but it’s also increased sales year-over-year, with a 38% increase in Q1 of 2018, alone. Overall, the “Real” campaign enabled Aerie to earn credibility in authenticity, diversity, inclusion, and body positivity spaces. Aerie was also ahead of the curve, and many brands are now embracing body positivity and inclusion in their own branding.

Casper

Casper is a new age mattress company that has completely shaken up its sector. A traditionally brick and mortar industry, Casper took a direct-to-consumer approach to mattresses that appeals to a younger-skewing audience. Casper has succeeded with this business model by incorporating selling factors that are important to Gen Zers.

Before Casper, the idea of getting a bed-in-a-box was unheard of and viewed as impractical. Casper, however, had a deep understanding of its target audience and realized a DTC approach could be effective, if the brand positioned itself as a master in the mattress space. To that end, Casper deployed a robust content marketing campaign. The company leveraged social media and retargeting to garner attention and create brand awareness. Once its audience was engaged, Casper established itself as the expert in the space, using product comparisons, customer reviews, and influencer marketing to move the consumer down the funnel toward purchasing a mattress they had never even touched before.

In addition, Casper invested in building a sense of community around its brand. Campaigns like Staycation Story Hacks, unboxing videos, “Waffle Crush Wednesdays,” and the publication Winkle were all geared toward giving consumers many different ways to engage and interact with the brand, and with fellow brand customers. Together, Casper’s marketing efforts have brought in upward of 100,000 video views; 2,000 to 10,000 likes per post; and increased its valuation to $1.1 billion, in just five years.

#RevolveAroundtheWorld

Revolve, an e-commerce clothing brand geared toward Gen Z, has targeted and engaged these consumers, not with traditional advertising campaigns (like Aerie), but by putting its marketing dollars toward a large group of Instagram influencers — 3,500 of the most successful fashion influencers Instagram has to offer.

When influencer marketing really began to take off, Revolve saw an opportunity to grow its relatively new brand and build buzz. The company established an ongoing relationship with Instagram’s most popular fashion influencers, including Kendall Jenner, and began throwing #RevolveAroundtheWorld events in popular destinations, including Palm Springs, Turks and Caicos, and the ever-important Coachella — a super hub for influencers and Gen Zers, alike.

These lavish trips and events are invite-only and create a space where influencers can come together and do what they do best — advertise Revolve’s products by modeling the clothing and publicizing them all over their Instagram accounts. An event exclusively filled with popular Instagrammers effectively gets the brand name out there and capitalizes on the “wish you were here” mindset that Instagram seeds in its users. Consumers have their attention grabbed by the glamorous photos and then may feel inspired to buy the trendy clothing they see. They both relate to and aspire to be like their favorite influencers. Clearly, this approach is working, as Revolve was recently valued at $1.2 billion.

Final Thoughts on Gen Z Ad Campaigns

In today’s world, it is vital that brands— old and new, alike — continue to evolve in the ever-changing advertising landscape. Brands that target Gen Z have to shape their marketing and advertising strategies to convey authenticity, relatability, consistent engagement, and progressive social values. American Eagle’s Aerie, Casper, and Revolve have each taken a highly distinct and unique approach, and each has succeeded in its own way. There are lessons to be learned from their similarities, and their differences. There are many ways to craft campaigns that resonate with Gen Z, but they won’t look like campaigns of the past.