‘Post-truth’ climate impacts Gen Z’s conflicting brand perceptions, Forrester says

Dive Brief:

  • More than half (51%) of Gen Z respondents aged 18 to 23 years will always research a company to ensure it aligns with their position on corporate social responsibility before making a purchase, according to a Forrester study emailed to Marketing Dive.
  • The percentage of that same age cohort that said it’s “cool” to be associated with a brand on social media fell to 46% in 2020 from 52% in 2019, Forrester found. In a separate survey, 44% of 12- to 17-year-olds said they don’t trust ads they see online, while 56% agree that ads are a good way to learn about new products.
  • The Forrester report details how to reconcile Gen Z’s conflicting messages for brands as companies seek to engage with a generation that has an estimated buying power of $143 billion in the U.S.

Dive Insight:

Forrester’s report explores how a “post-truth climate” is affecting Gen Z’s behaviors and what brands can do to meet their expectations, which are different from those of prior generations. Gen Zers tend not to trust the average American company at a rate (42%) higher than that of millennials (30%), Gen Xers (28%) and baby boomers (26%), per the study.

To gain trust with Gen Z, brands must align their values with those of the cohort in real and actionable ways. The young age group expect brands to take a stance on issues, but the study warns that being seen as “performative” is especially risky with the cohort. Forrester describes Gen Zers as “truth barometers” that can quickly judge a brand’s authenticity, with 54% of teens in the group saying they stopped using a brand because of its ethics.

The study also warns marketers not to mistake Gen Z’s high ad watching frequency (40% of 18- to 23-year-olds compared with 34% of baby boomers) for attention and engagement, as they consume more content than older generations. They prefer ad-free streaming services to linear TV, and ad-skipping is a default behavior, with 82% of Gen Zers skipping ads as fast as possible, per a Millward Brown study cited by Forrester. And while almost half of 12- to 17-year-olds don’t trust online ads, they see them as a way to learn about products, suggesting that brands must strive to be as authentic and truthful in this still-important channel.

To engage with Gen Z, Forrester suggests embracing key behaviors of the generation without pandering. This can take the form of offering customization to appeal to individuality; offering “value-based pricing” when available; focusing on the omnichannel opportunities that surged during the pandemic; disclosing how customer data is used; and continuing purpose-driven activities that reinforce a brand’s values.

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