How Gen Z Feels About Online Ads, from a Millennial Mind

How Gen Z Feels About Online Ads, from a Millennial Mind
Desi Gilliland
How Gen Z Feels About Online Ads, from a Millennial Mind

Gen Z is not a monolithic group that can be easily categorized or stereotyped. That’s part of their charm, right? But one thing that’s consistent about this group as a whole – they deeply value authenticity and creativity. And it may surprise you to know that some are seemingly unbothered being retargeted by digital ads - as long as it speaks to them on their terms.

As a generation that’s grown up with the internet, social media, and smartphones, how do they feel about being served ads on their favorite platforms? Do they find them more personalized and helpful, or annoying and intrusive? Gen Z is actually more receptive and responsive to online ads than older generations. According to Marketing Charts September 2023, Gen Z (13-25) consider targeted advertising less of an invasion of privacy than older generations.

Additionally, a recent study by Marketing Charts found that Gen Z were the least likely to feel that certain retargeting strategies were “creepy”. They appear to be least offended by social media ads targeting them based on their online shopping behaviors. They also don’t seem to mind personalized offers after they’ve been on a brand’s site – as long as it’s relevant to them.

SEO Image

Not only are they seemingly unbothered by targeted ads, they’re also more susceptible to engage with them. According to a survey by Kantar, Gen Z is the most receptive generation to online advertising, with 51% saying they pay attention to ads on the internet, compared to 47% of Millennials, 40% of Gen X, and 32% of Baby Boomers.

As one might expect, Gen Z is even more susceptible to engaging with ads on social media, but only if they’re integrated in a non-intrusive way. If they get even the slightest whiff of inauthenticity, they’re out. Take this TikTok by Kelsea Ballerini. Although her posts typically get 30,000+ likes, her recent partnership with coffee pod company Original Donut Shop saw little engagement. The overly polished look of the video was likely a quick give away, as her usual content is very informal and shot in selfie mode using her iPhone.

Now take this TikTok from Charlie D’Amelio. While still obviously a sponsored post, the informal structure and relaxed style of the video jives with her usual content, making it seemingly “passable” by the 1.6 million followers who liked the video.

So what does this mean for marketers who want to reach this elusive and powerful generation? Don’t shy away from personalized ads - lean into them! But before you start targeting Gen Z like crazy, you should know a few things.

Don’t confuse this to mean that Gen Z likes ads. Instead, they simply are more forgiving than older generations when retargeted. So, test and learn with caution.

Make sure your team is uber careful about not reaching the “creep” factor. This is when the ad perception goes from “Wow, that’s awesome and exactly what I need” to “Okay this is such an ick.”

Be strategic and innovative when trying to reach and appeal to this group. The closer you can meet them where they are (meaning, be where they want you to be), the better. And remember to keep your ads personalized, and whenever possible, interactive.

Lastly, mastering the art of social media advertising is KEY. Gen Z won’t shy away if they see “paid partnership” or “eligible for commission”, but they will shy away from fake, overly produced and polished. To say it like a Gen Zer would, you have to “low key” keep it real.