Generation Z is changing the rules of brand communication. The shift from authentic to absurd advertising on TikTok is a small digital shift with the potential for major disruption.
A blurry vision of the future of digital marketing can be inferred from the current events on TikTok, Cowboy Country for Brand Advertising. Where a Duolingo bird threatens to kill for incomplete lessons, and Converse – God knows – spent as much money paying a comedian to talk to himself about sleeping in one of his shoes. Advertisement the opposite is illogical. It says a lot of nothing apart from the fleeting cues of convenience – but it works. “This is how you do advertising, just let the designers do what they want with it,” declared one important comment on the video.
Without sounding like a TikTok for Business sponsored article, studies have found that ads on TikTok are more memorable than those on other platforms. TikTok users also associate the brand’s content on the platform with a remarkably high degree of authenticity.
Ah, yes, originality
“Brand Authenticity” is marketers’ version of 2012’s “YOLO” — which I overused so horribly that I wince.
The one group that probably loves originality more than marketers is Generation Z. Study after study shows how generation places the highest value on ‘brand authenticity’. Generation Z of Authenticity pushes brands to break all pre-established rules of brand communication. This is particularly evident on TikTok, where Gen Zers make up 60% of the platform’s user base. Gone is the professionalism of yesteryear (eg Duolingo Social Guide probably doesn’t say “We can threaten to take families hostage as long as it’s in a nice and funny way ;)”).
This is not the authenticity of the brand. This is a silly brand
Brand authenticity can seem like a silly dance when an influencer tries to hide a business deal (despite it being clearly called #Ad) with an honest reading of the text provided by the brand. It looks like an ad, smells like an ad, but the goal is still to disguise said ad. Doing something because you were paid to do it doesn’t exactly scream credibility.
It should come as no surprise, then, that BS’ trusted detector, Gen Z, has driven brands into the absurd. There is fun in forcing brands out of their carefully designed guidelines. Absurdity admits the absurdity of advertising (meta).
But keep in mind: this is just the beginning. We can expect the absurd to expand beyond TikTok’s digital walls as branded chaos proves to win eyes and hearts. Generation Z is a hotly contested audience and TikTok is a powerful tool for taking a look at their inner workings. Brands that view TikTok as an incubator of future consumer expectations will successfully predict and potentially sculpt the future of B2C communications.
In the end, the unexpected catches the eye. Brands behaving unnaturally, perhaps even a little unprofessional, but certainly ridiculous, is a recipe for finally winning over Generation Z.
Emily Gorey is a Creative Strategist at Code and Theory.
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