A Gen Z Focus Group on Advertising to Us

Up to this point, I have talked to you about Gen Z, the generation after Millennials born as early as the late 90s all the way to now, and how to market to them. At the same time, I understand that research can only provide so much insight. What you really need is a real life scenario. Real Gen Zers giving you real advice on what draws them to an advertisement. Luckily, I took care of that for you!

As a Gen Z blogger, I thought I would provide some insight on what ads attracted me on different platforms. However, I know that I do not represent every Gen Zer in the world. That is why I asked for some help. I asked a few other Gen Zers to take notes on which ads they liked and why. Think of us as your digital focus group. The group of us are not very similar beyond our shared generation. We have very different likes and dislikes. Let me introduce you to your focus group!

Lex (me): I am a 19-year-old college student. I am an intern here and also work as a server. When I am not working, I love traveling, reading, working out, going to the movies, and playing with my dogs.

Chris: I’m 15 going on 16 shortly. I spend most of my online time on YouTube, Discord, and Instagram. I like video games, sports, and the outdoors.

Emma: I’m 16-years-old, and I love to play volleyball, read books, and watch plenty of movies. I’m often on Snapchat, Instagram, VSCO, and Twitter. I spend a lot of time on YouTube, too.

Rachel: I’m 19-years-old. The media that I use most are Snapchat and Instagram. I love sports, surfing, and shopping.

Maddie: I’m 16-year-old. I use VSCO, Snapchat, and Instagram. I like shopping and drawing.

Obviously, all of us are very different despite our generational similarities. We each represent an aspect of the diverse Gen Z audience. Together, we have created a resource for you to gain some insight into the mind of a Gen Zer. Below, I have asked our focus group to talk about the ads they have seen across different platforms, as well as their media viewing habits.


Lex:I go on YouTube almost daily. I usually listen to music/watch music videos. I also watch comedy stars and channels like Adam Ray, Alonzo Lerone, and Cinemasins. The ads that tend to attract me most are one of three things: funny, meaningful, or relevant to me. If an ad makes me laugh, I will pay attention to it and watch the whole thing. However, I have not seen an ad in a while that has actually made me laugh. Somewhat recently, Google used an ad to show some of the most searched topics of the year. A lot of these topics were current events, and showed people wondering how they could help others. I watched that whole commercial (and it was a long one) because it had a message. It was meaningful and impactful. As far as ads that are relevant are concerned, I am a 19-year-old woman. I am going to pay attention to a product that I have a need for, like the Schick Intuition Razor. It was marketing a product that was useful to me, and it peaked my interest.

One type of ad that I paid no attention to was banner/display ads. Growing up in the digital age, Gen Z has learned to see past regular digital ads. If you want to reach us, make a video. Make a video that I want to share on my social media pages. The more shares you get, the more reach you will have. It is a simple, digital age equation.

Chris: Most advertisements on YouTube are directly targeted towards an audience, and if you don’t like the product you won’t like the advertisement. The product will only be recognized as the “most annoying” item. The most effective ads for view time are the unskippable 15 second ads on YouTube. Other than that, the movie ads work the best because the suspense at the beginning keeps me around to view the rest of the ad.

Emma: I like to watch beauty, fashion, baking, and pretty much every other kind of video on YouTube. I usually don’t mind sponsorships that much unless I’m already in the middle of a video or game and it’s interrupting me. The ones that catch my eye revolve a lot around beauty and fashion/accessories like Sand Cloudand Pura Vida Bracelets. I think certain ads are great for me and my interests, and I don’t often mind them unless I’m not the intended audience for it.


Lex: I often watch shows on my DVR with my mom. Most of these shows are on Freeform, ABC, NBC, and the CW. With most of these shows being on DVR, I usually fast forward through them. For an ad to grab my attention, it has to be unusual. Recently, Freeform created a promotion for their network. It was unique, and made me curious to watch the rest in the first five seconds. It ultimately had a message that spoke to Gen Z. Watch it in the hyperlink and see what I mean. It is different and speaks of potential to change the world in the future.

Chris: I see a lot of similar ads on TV and on YouTube. The ads that I like the most are all funny. For example, the Axe Gold commercial had many funny moments, and the characters didn’t talk. All narration was peppy from the narrator. I also like the Directv Quit Cable commercials. They are funny when the ominous signs told the characters to quit cable. I got a hardy chuckle from this commercial. The Captain Obvious commercials are also funny and will retain my attention.

Rachel: I really like sports. When events like the World Cup is on, I see the ads that are played during that.

Maddie: I watch TV, but I don’t really pay attention to the ads. However, I do love the Share a Coke campaign commercials. They are pretty memorable.


Lex: I am mostly on Facebook for Tasty videos and updates on my favorite brands. What I ultimately pay the most attention to is sponsored content. If a Buzzfeed quiz pops up on my feed, I am likely to notice who it is sponsored by as I am taking the quiz. Also, check out this picture below.

This is directly from my Facebook feed. Upon closer inspection, I noticed there were three ads. However, when I was initially scrolling through my feed, I only noticed the Aladdin ad. Why? Because it was right in the middle of my feed. I had to see it in order to see the rest of my feed’s content. It also used the bright purple background, a color one does not usually see in ads. My eyes were instantly drawn to it in comparison to the dull colored ads next to it. Again, stagnant ads rarely gain a viewers attention.

Chris: I have a Facebook account, but I rarely use it.


Lex: I am pretty much on Instagram daily viewing my friend’s posts, fandoms, celebrities, and my favorite brands. All of the ads are sponsored content that just pop up in the middle of a user’s feed. A person has to see them to scroll by them. I always take notice of these ads, but few are memorable. I only remember them if, like on YouTube, they are selling something of interest to me. Usually, I pay most attention to the ones selling clothes. On Instagram, the best ads are the ones that have a sort of artsy aesthetic. On a social media that is all pictures, simply having a visual ad is not going to cut it. I get a lot of American Eagle ads, and the ones that I like best look artistic. I worked in fashion, so I am used to seeing a lot of clothing ads. The ones that stick out are more than just an outfit or a model. They are thought out. They look like a professional candid picture, or the outfit is styled with an artistic background.

Emma: I am on Instagram a lot, and see a lot of sponsored content.

Rachel: I’m on Instagram for at least two hours a day, but never consistently. The majority of the ads that I see and click on are on Instagram. The ads that really get my attention are clothing ads or sports ads. For clothing, I am interested in brands like Romwe and Shein because they are cheap and have decent clothing. I like sports ads because I really like sports. Like when the World Cup is on, I see ads for that, and when I see ads for surfing I usually click on those pages.

Maddie: I usually get ads for bathing suits and stuff that I shop for. I also see models on the promotions page a lot. If I see a cute outfit, I will click on it and look on the website.


Lex: I mostly use Snapchat to keep in touch with my friends, particularly my college friends. I views my friends’ stories, but I do not really look at the sponsored content. A lot of the ads that I see on Snapchat have a lot of words. When I am just looking through my friends’ Snapchat stories, I am not interested in seeing a lot of copy. I would respond more positively to an ad that is more visual. An ad that almost looked like a Snapchat story would make me pause to watch it. Recently, I saw a Snapchat ad for Mamma Mia 2. Unlike any other Snapchat ad, it grabbed my attention with the bright blue coloring of the background. When I really looked at the ad, I saw words on the bottom saying to click for an exclusive filter. I clicked on it, and received a Mamma Mia themed filter. I thought this was a clever marketing technique. It worked so well because it was very visually appealing and contained little copy.

Chris: I have Snapchat, but I don’t use it often.

Rachel: I probably use Snapchat at least eight hours a day, but I do not pay much attention to the ads.

Maddie: Snapchat ads come up as a story. I don’t really pay attention to them because they are so easy to skip and move on from.

In conclusion, every Gen Zer is different. But there are definitely some generalizations that can be made to target them. In my last blog, I discussed Gen Z’s YouTube tendencies. Everyone in our digital focus group spends a lot of time on YouTube. The consensus on YouTube advertising is that the we like ads that are relevant and in video form. We also like movie trailers. What can you do with this information? Make an ad that will grab this $600 billion audience’s attention!

My suggestion is to make an ad appear like a movie trailer, or in a similar fashion. Clearly, movie trailers get Gen Z to pay attention. Making an ad with style will give them pause long enough for you to get your message across. However, why stop at a YouTube ad? Make a full length YouTube video on your own channel! SteelHouse COO Chris Innes discusses the power of YouTube videosin marketing. Powerful or funny YouTube videos get shared on other social media platforms. A good YouTube video can have more reach than any ad. I know this method works: I shared the Budweiser Lost Dog ad on my social media pages simply for the meaning and story. I cannot even use the product, but the ad gained more impressions because I shared it.

In addition, you have to sell your brand in a way that makes the audience feel that they need it. For example, if you are a financial institution, you cannot get Gen Z by discussing your different product options and branches. You have to tell them how you fit into their lives. Show them how you improve their lifestyles, how you make life a little easier for them, and what you can do for them in the long run. They can start an account with you, and you need to show them what that account will allow them to do in the future.

You also need to understand where your target audience is. Emma and I gave you some ideas on what videos you can find us viewing on YouTube: baking, music, fashion, and comedy. These are the videos that you should be focusing your ads on to reach us. However, as I stated earlier, we are all different, so do your homework!

Finally, this digital focus group has provided some insight into what media platforms we are on. YouTube and Instagram are our main digital media hotspots. Snapchat is not far behind, but few have created successful ads on it. Facebook and Twitter are starting to lose their popularity with Gen Z.

Despite the trend of video streaming services, many of us are still avid TV watchers (both Chris and I will attest to this). Lesser known and more targeted media platforms like VSCO and Discord are definitely growing as well.

Now that you have learned what we like from actual Gen Zers, it is time for you to act. We have given you the insights regarding how to reach us, and we hope that you use our advice. We would appreciate some tasteful advertising in the forms we connect with.

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Find Gen Z on YouTube

You know what one of the most popular platforms for Gen Z is? YouTube! When I first saw the statistics associated with Gen Z YouTube viewership, I was a little surprised… until I started thinking about my YouTube habits. I realized I am on YouTube every day. I turn to it for new music, empowering speeches, and entertainment (noting the unfathomable number of times I have watched Cinemasins, Adam Ray, or the same Bad Lip Reading video over the past few years). To reach Gen Z, it is important to know this effective platform and the best way to advertise on it.

Did you know that  95% of Gen Z uses YouTube? In a recent study, 50% said that they could not live without YouTube. Gen Z uses YouTube more than any other social media platform. Naturally, this is the best place to reach them. They mostly use YouTube for entertainment (51% of Gen Z respondents), news (23% of Gen Z respondents), shopping recommendations (24% of Gen Z respondents), and how-to information (66% of Gen Z respondents). In all of these categories except for news, YouTube is the number one response.

YouTube is also extremely important due to its influencers. Social media influencers are often trusted as much if not more than mainstream celebrities in matters of technology, beauty products, and clothing. Gen Z is also receptive to branded content. About 78% said that it was acceptable or sometimes acceptable for a celebrity to discuss a product or brand that they like. However, they prefer the celebrity to disclose that it is indeed branded content. In a different study, 54% of Gen Z respondents said that they would advertise their favorite brand via influencers. The next highest were TV commercials at 51% and pre-roll video ads at 43%.

Part of YouTube’s appeal is that it is essentially all visual. Gen Z is full of visual learners. They take in information best visually. A study by Fullscreen suggests that Gen Z views digital video and short form clips six times as much as written digital content. They would rather view something than read about it. That being said, the best way to reach them is visually. I am not saying there should be no copy in ads, but the visual content of the ad should be the main draw. Words are great, but you cannot rely on them alone. Whether your ad is a digital video clip or a banner ad, it should be less word focused and more eye-catching (insert the cheers of art director and graphic designers here).

When it comes to YouTube, there are an incredible number of advertising opportunities. Some advertisements are specific to different viewing platforms. For example, display ads and overlay ads are only viewable on desktops/laptops. This does not mean that these are poor options (plenty of Gen Z uses their laptops), but they will not reach every viewer that you may want. Below, I have listed the forms of advertising that I believe (with evidence to back up my claims) are the most effective to reach the Gen Z audience.

  1. Influencers:

If you read any of this blog post before this sentence, you have already read about the power that influencers can have. Though the ROI can be a little difficult to track in this relatively new marketing technique, it has been proven that the right influencer and the right market can work wonders for brand awareness and sales. The beauty product Benefit is one of the greatest success stories. They did not even have to start paying their influencers until this year because they made more personal connections. They were able to send the influencers free products and increase sales and brand awareness, particularly with major beauty bloggers like Zoella. In addition, they set up a portal for micro-influencers that gives exclusive access to new products and events. Influencers have proved effective for Benefit because they found the right influencers for the right market. For a smaller/regional company, it will likely be more beneficial and cost effective to use a micro-influencer. Micro-influencers have between 1,000 and 100,000 followers. Micro-influencers are in several different fields, and it would not be difficult to find one that reaches your target audience. To reach influencers, offer them payment and/or free products or services. In return, they will make your brand known to their Gen Z audience.

  1. Skippable Video Ads:

There are definitely pros and cons to this type of advertising. Skippable video ads appear before, during, or after a video and can be skipped after five seconds. Of course, the major disadvantage is that there is a high chance that a lot of the ad will be skipped. This means that you have to make the first 5 seconds of the ad grab the viewer’s attention enough to either make them want to continue watching or make a significant impression without the rest of the ad. However, a skippable ad gives you a lot more time than most of the other commercials on this list. You can essentially make your ad as long as you want. Another advantage is that it is the only one that is accessible on every viewing platform (desktop, mobile, TV, and game consoles).

  1. Non-skippable Video Ads:

The best part about non-skippable video ads is, well, viewers cannot skip them. They have to watch the whole ad before they can watch the desired video. You do not have to worry about viewers missing the message because they skip the ad. These ads can be viewed on both desktop and mobile devices, which is huge for the on-the-go, cellphone-loving audience. They are shown before, during, or after a video. However, these ads are limited to 15-20 seconds. You have to get your entire message across in a small amount of time. There is little room for copy, and therefore the ad should rely on visuals.

  1. Bumper Ads:

Bumper ads are non-skippable video ads up to six seconds long that are shown before the video can be played. The advantage of these ads is that they cannot be skipped. They can also be viewed on both desktop and mobile devices. However, they are only six seconds in length, an extremely short amount of time to get a message across. These shorter ads are very effective for Gen Z’s short attention span. The faster a message reaches them, the better. A short ad like this is difficult to effectively create, but it can be extremely effective if done right.

YouTube has become the most effective digital resource for reaching Gen Z. With strong viewership and several viewing platforms, it is the ideal location for your Gen Z targeted ad. A strong YouTube ad can get you far with this audience. If you have an ad that a viewer particularly likes, they might share the ad itself on their other social media pages, creating more publicity and brand awareness. Though there is still much to be explored in YouTube’s marketing potential, it is a strong resource to be used now and in the future for targeting Gen Z.

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