Brand is the word of the day with the Super Bowl buzz still making headlines. From leveraging relatable Gen Z influencers  (like Nerds’ Addison Rae spot and Starry’s Ice Spice spot) to offering cross-platform, mega-teased experiences (like CereVe’s “Did Michael Cera create CereVe?” campaign), brands flexed their strategic marketing know-how to appeal to their younger audiences. While many of these brands scored big on game night, marketers are probably questioning which strategies will have the longer-tail stickiness with the largest group alive: Gen Z.

The Gatesman team had the opportunity to dive into brand expectations within its recent Gen Z Reframed research study. As part of the study, Gatesman shared recent trends about Gen Z brand expectations with a focus group of Zers*, who were able to explain the trends through their eyes and add important nuances for marketers. In the spirit of the overall brand conversation, consider some the of insights and tips they shared below about how to deliver on Gen Z brand expectations: 

Brand Expectations: Not “Expansive,” More So “Consistent”

Many brands rightly assume that Gen Z has a strong social conscience and, as a result, they appreciate when brands take a stand on issues important to them. The Zers in our focus groups agreed but warned to proceed with caution. 

  • Consistency Over Volume – Zers expressed frustration with brands who appear to support an issue during an awareness day, month or special event like the Super Bowl, but then pull back the rest of the year. They would rather see consistent support.  
  • Quality Over Quantity - Zers would rather see a brand advocate for one issue and do it “right,” than have a voice on many issues and risk missing the mark. 
  • B.S. Will Be Sniffed Out - Brands will lose all goodwill brownie points if a skeleton is found in their closet, such as supply chain issues or discriminating against customer or employee groups. This is a savvy group, especially with online research. Surface-level tactics won’t fly, so don’t even try. 

Given these insights, marketers worrying about being “all things to all Zers” can rest a bit easier and focus on these rule-of-thumb tips:  

  • Authenticity is more important than ever. This includes picking a “cause” or “positioning” that aligns your product with Gen Z’s passions. SnapChat did this beautifully in its “Less Social Media. More SnapChat” Super Bowl spot with its “less likes, more love” statement, tapping into Zer’s intimate concerns over mental health impacts. Being authentic also means picking celebrity influencers that make sense and inspire trust for what you are marketing. Just as Christopher Walken was a great fit for the BMW audience, Beyonce was a strong collaboration with Verizon to capture the younger generation. While celebrities are all the buzz following the Super Bowl, don’t forget about the power of micro-influencers for Gen Z as well. As one focus group participant shared, “I’m more likely to trust a gym bro than a Kardashian when it comes to what health supplements to take.”
  • Brands don’t have to take a stand on EVERY topic, but must be authentic about the causes they support and be consistent in their efforts. A great example of a brand doing things right is Dove, known for supporting a positive self-image, which built upon this focus through its successful Super Bowl ad, “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and new partnership with Nike to create a Body Positive Sport program. It’s OK that Dove doesn’t support the wide range of issues that Zers love – they’d rather see support for one meaningful issue done right.
  • Because Zers are so adept at sniffing out inauthenticity, brands will need to monitor for negative news stories and social chatter to catch any concerns early and make authentic changes. Simply making a donation does not check the good behavior box – how brands treat customers and employees is all considered fair game for Gen Z scrutiny.  Watch out Temu - the Zers are googling labor practices and throwing out witty burns on X as we speak in response to the online shopping portal’s “Shop Like a Billionaire” ad, which ironically was aired multiple times for a heavy price tag during the game.
  • Hire Zers in your marketing department. That’s right. This was a resounding push from our focus group participants, who discussed the importance of creating relatability with the Gen Z audience, which is easier with Zers on-staff. Gen Z humor can be a particularly effective way to connect with them, but also requires correctly reading what will resonate. Any attempt to connect that falls flat will only summon the trolls. 

To learn more about Gatesman’s Gen Z Reframed research study, and explore branding nuances for this critical audience, please feel free to reach out to me at (I’ll be sure to connect you with a Zer on our team.)

*Focus group included 13 Gen Zers between the ages of 17 and 26, primarily from the mid-Atlantic and midwest regions, including a mix of those who were attending college and those who were not.