Megan du Toit

Head of Google Marketing Platform, Dentsu Performance

Megan du Toit headshot

Cracking the Gen Z Code: Engage, Influence, Win

Suss, cancelled, ghosted… At 44, I find myself irresistibly drawn to the world of Generation Z, a group that lives and breathes in a digital sphere my body struggles to fully keep up with. My interest isn't entirely misplaced; my son belongs to this intriguing generation, and as a marketer, understanding Gen Z is both a personal curiosity and a professional necessity.

Who is Gen Z? Also known as post-Millennials, iGeneration, or Zoomers, they represent the world's largest generational cohort, making up a third of the global population. Their disposable income is expected to reach $33 trillion in the next decade, according to the Human8 SA Gen Z study, positioning them as a vital demographic for businesses.

Born into a tech-savvy world, Gen Z is always connected and well-informed, using online platforms to stay in touch and amplify their voices in movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Growing up amid social upheaval, climate change, and a global health crisis, they are vocal about mental health.

Gen Z blends physical and digital experiences seamlessly, using platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat daily. They are also exploring the metaverse through online gaming, virtual reality avatars, and engaging with digital disruptions like artificial intelligence gaming. Africarare Ubuntuland is a prime example of this: “We are building the Africarare metaverse set in Ubuntuland. Create, socialise, play, trade and so much more, all in Virtual Africa!” With 84,000 followers since its launch in October 2021, they have created a new reality where you can buy, sell, and rent property and other digital assets in Ubuntuland, preparing you for life in the Africarare metaverse.

What Do They Care About?

Fighting Injustice Gen Z is deeply concerned with socio-economic issues such as poverty, rising living costs, and crime. They prioritise diversity and inclusion, often willing to pay more for black-owned brands and those rejecting gender stereotypes. Being cancelled can be devastating for any brand.

Financial Literacy The pandemic highlighted the importance of budgeting and saving. Gen Z values financial planning and upskilling through social media influencers such as Nicolette Mashile and Ivyn Sambo.

Socialising via social media - The pandemic increased Gen Z's online interactions. They connect with friends digitally and value equality in the virtual world. For example, 40% of Gen Z watches movies or series "apart-together."

Brands That Take a Stand - Gen Z expects brands to be socially responsible and transparent about sustainability efforts. They prefer brands that engage in social and political issues and are willing to pay more for inclusive and ethical practices. If you’re not upfront about your message, you risk being ghosted. Seventy-seven per cent of Gen Z is willing to pay more for brands using inclusive practices.

Mental Health Awareness - Gen Z openly discusses mental health issues and supports the idea that it's okay to talk about them. Spending most of their time on social media, they utilise platforms like TikTok’s #mentalhealthawareness hub to share stories, follow creators advocating for mental wellbeing, and get tips to avoid screen burnout.

Gen Z and Privacy - Gen Z is keenly aware of privacy, with 49% using encrypted messaging apps. The rise of VPN products such as NordVPN and Surfshark highlights how critical data protection has become. They seek authenticity on social media, evident in the popularity of the hashtag #nofilter on TikTok and Instagram. They follow relatable influencers more than any other generation and view brands that aren’t transparent as suss.

Why Marketers Need to Pay Attention

Market Size and Influence - Gen Z's purchasing power is significant and growing.

Long-Term Loyalty - Positive brand experiences during their formative years can lead to lifelong loyalty.

Trendsetters - Gen Z shape trends and influences other generations.

Digital Savviness - Understanding their online behaviour allows for effective targeted campaigns.

Social Responsibility - Brands aligning with Gen Z’s values gain favour, while those ignoring these issues risk alienation.

Innovation and Adaptability - Gen Z quickly adopts new technologies, requiring brands to stay ahead of the curve.

Diversity and Inclusion - Authentic representation resonates with Gen Z.

How Marketers Can Support Brands in Reaching This Generation

  • Embrace Short-Form Video Content: Use platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts.
  • Leverage Influencer Marketing: Collaborate with influencers who resonate with Gen Z.
  • Optimise for Mobile: Ensure content is mobile-friendly.
  • Focus on Authenticity: Provide genuine connections and honest communication.
  • Personalisation: Deliver unique experiences tailored to individual preferences.

Discard Traditional Marketing, Embrace Engagement!

Gen Z's influence is undeniable, and their values, behaviours, and preferences are reshaping the marketing landscape. As marketers, we may need to move away from the traditional marketing funnel. Brands must start with loyalty and sustainability before converting a Gen Z individual into a customer. By understanding and engaging with this dynamic generation, marketers can remain relevant and effective in a rapidly evolving digital world.

Here are some brands that have leveraged these insights:

39% of GEN Z follows influencers for financial advice

Bettr x A New Culture of Money

Gen Z expects brands to help them build financial resilience with accessible advice. Bettr.App, a banking challenger, launched #ANewCultureOfMoney in 2020 with the anthem #WeDeserveBettr. The digital banking app offers tools to manage spending and grow savings with zero monthly fees, merging gaming, content creation, and banking. Read more about it -

78% of GEN Z feels the pressure on looks

Maybelline's #BraveTogether Program

Partnering with South African non-profits like Sadag, Maybelline New York aims to destigmatize anxiety and depression with its #BraveTogether initiative. The program offers accessible support and resources, fostering a culture that supports those struggling with mental health issues.

Read more about it -

77% of GEN Z has engaged in metaverse activities

Volkswagen SA's NFT Treasure Hunt

Gen Z embraces brands that are present in the metaverse, but also enjoy offline interactions. The future will be about creating exciting experiences that seamlessly integrate the online and offline worlds.

Volkswagen South Africa embraced the metaverse with an NFT treasure hunt to promote its new Polo model's safety and intelligence features. The 'Game On' campaign blended online gaming with reality, offering real and virtual rewards, including a PS5 and tuition from the Volkswagen Advanced Driving Academy.

Read more about it -