4 Reasons Why Your Gen Z Marketing Is Failing

Please stop using “lit” to describe your product

Gisella Tan
Sep 24, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

As a Gen Z marketer, I frequently stumble upon cringeworthy or poorly executed branded content pandering to my generation. In fact, there are whole online communities dedicated to mocking such blunders. Here are four common mistakes I see marketers make and how to avoid them.


1. Your Usage of Memes and Gen Z Slang Feels Inauthentic, or Worse, Desperate

Gen Z humor is weird, fast-changing, and inscrutable to many — who knows what will go viral next? It’s unsurprising that brands are struggling to capitalize on trending memes, videos, and news. This is not only because of the extremely short life cycles of said humor, but also because of the complex nuances, contexts, and hidden meanings behind it.

Marketers need to understand that unless your business’s entire brand identity is modern with a fairly young audience, any attempt to connect with Gen Zs through social humor will likely fail, or even backfire. The whole point of Gen Z culture is that comedy comes easily; trying too hard is embarrassing.

Denny’s eccentric social media voice is a refreshing change from other brands’ corporate sounding accounts.

Instead of mimicking Gen Z language, find your own niche and voice that’s accessible and unique. If you have a genuinely comical tone and style that’s engaging, snarky, and maybe even self-deprecating, your Gen Z followers will come. For example, take Denny’s social media accounts. These accounts frequently go viral for their timely, eccentric posts hijacking trending hashtags. The key to creating a sense of authenticity is keeping the communication style of your content consistent across platforms.

And if your business has a corporate tone and voice, leave the memes and social humor alone.


2. Your Brand Doesn’t Have a Stance on Climate Change/Gun Control/Social Justice

Gen Zs support companies that have opinions on issues they’re passionate about — a study from Google concluded that teenagers want brands to be “a representation of their values, their expectations of themselves, and their peers.”

With the Amazon rainforests burning, ice caps melting, and social injustice rampant, businesses that only focus on product and profitability will ultimately fail to attract younger brand champions. Gen Zs want businesses not just to care about the environmental, political, and socioeconomic problems of today’s world, but to truly be a leader in improving the planet by prioritizing social accountability in their business models.

“With every TOMS purchase, you stand with us on issues that matter”; TOMS is often mistaken for a charity.

And this doesn’t mean just changing your logo to rainbow colors in June and sponsoring a corporate float in a pride parade. Do more. Be advocates for a cause and transform your company culture around it from the ground up, like TOMS, Nike, or Patagonia.


3. Your Marketing Strategy Consists Primarily of Self-Serving Ads

Everyone. Hates. Ads.

Especially Gen Zs, who aren’t paying attention to your banner ads and pre-rolls. My generation grew up with an abundance of choices, zapping between channels during commercial breaks. Nowadays, when a YouTube ad pops up, we’ve already shifted our attention to another tab, notification, or device. We’re always finding new ways to take control of disruptive advertising, such as by installing ad-blockers.

But beyond traditional advertising, Gen Zs have a low tolerance for digital content and social media marketing that’s really a disguised sales pitch. We’re wary of branded social posts that link to a product, landing page, or website. We can easily identify articles and blog posts that are written purely for SEO purposes. We’re no longer susceptible to this thinly-veiled, self-serving marketing.

Image via ASMY

Instead, the type of marketing that will successfully reach Gen Zs is truly valuable and wanted content (whether its education, entertainment, or storytelling), two-way dialogues, community building, and out-of-the-box experiential solutions that shift the focus to the customer, rather than the business. Now is the time to develop strategies that will persuade Gen Zs to actively seek out, interact, and form meaningful connections with your brand.


4. You’re #fakenews

The Mad Men days of dishonest advertising are over. Thanks to platforms like Yelp, companies can no longer get away with deception, false marketing, and exaggerations. Businesses can’t afford to lie to Gen Zs.

Gen Zs gravitate towards brands that feel real and personable. Researchers found that 79% of this generation will trust a company more if its ad images are not Photoshopped, and 84% trust a company more if they use actual customers in their ads. Case in point: the rise of Aerie and the downfall of Victoria’s Secret.

Aerie’s brand identity revolves around promoting real, diverse role models. Do you feel empowered and represented by this group of brand ambassadors?

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Gen Zs trust their peers, whether it’s people they know in real life or influencers they follow on social media, over brands themselves. Companies should focus on creatively developing word-of-mouth marketing programs and collaborating with influencers who have aligned values. After all, studies show that influencers are deemed more authentic, relatable, and trustworthy than traditional celebrity partnerships.


The Gen Z generation is a complex one — worried about the future of the world, finding humor in bleak times, and highly socially aware. It’s an exciting opportunity to experiment with more creative, human-centric marketing. To emotionally connect with this generation, it’s time for marketers to reinvent the old playbook.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Gisella Tan

Written by

I write about Gen Z, marketing, Hong Kong, and my immigrant identity. Email: gisellatanx@gmail.com

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

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