Authenticity and Absurdity: Connecting With Gen-Z on TikTok
by Claire Callahan
by Claire Callahan
In 2020, as companies around the world are forced to work and engage with their customers remotely, the internet has never been more essential. The most successful and adaptive companies have made their social media presences, digital advertising campaigns, and websites their highest priorities. The social media directors and internet advertising teams they’ve hired over the past decade have become essential as they try to connect with stakeholders online. And, as any brand expert can tell you, companies are doing everything in their power to connect with younger consumers with newfound purchasing power, namely Generation Z (or Gen-Z), who prize authenticity and relatability over polish and poise.
As a member of Gen-Z, I was born into internet culture. I subconsciously judge companies based on their social media presence. I’m attached to companies who pay attention to our language and adopt it. It makes me feel like there are real, relatable people behind their Twitter handle.
But it’s not enough to just talk the way I talk or use memes to communicate—if a brand wants to succeed, it needs to be where its audience is. In 2020, even amidst the fraught legal battles and concerns over foreign espionage, TikTok is the definitive Gen-Z social media powerhouse. Brands need to start taking it seriously and begin to use the platform for their communications.
Gen-Z humor comes in many forms, but it’s chaotic, specific, and bold. One company that emulates our TikTok humor well is Chipotle. They have clearly hired someone young to patrol TikTok for trends that the chain could use. By using our language, style, trends, and humor, Chipotle proved itself to be relatable to our generation. For example, their “society if Boomers could say Chipotle correctly” TikTok was their most popular one ever. They used a Gen-Z-esque quirky voiceover on this informative TikTok. Two top comments were “the best ad I’ve seen on TikTok ever” and “did i just apply to my local chipotle because of this tiktok? yes. yes i did.” It pays off for them: they’re receiving millions of likes and thousands of appreciative Gen-Z comments.
More companies can and should do this. All they have to do is keep an eye on the plethora of trends and memes available at any moment and latch onto one. For example, a few weeks ago, a TikTok user dressed up as Willy Wonka and performed a popular, sexy dance to Akon’s “I Wanna Love You.” It took over everyone’s feeds for days, with people dueting the video and saying things like “thinking about him…” or “what Wonka is doing while children die in his factory.” If a chocolate company, such as Hersheys or Mars, used this video to connect with young people, Gen-Z-ers would view that as iconic—we love it when people are in on the joke.
Similarly, Mr. Clean should take advantage of the strange obsession that Gen-Z has with their mascot. This obsession stems from our tendency to gravitate towards specific, somewhat nonsensical humor. We’ve grown up seeing this arguably irrelevant figure on television, but someone, somewhere decided to make him an icon—also, we’re amused at the idea that he’s actually attractive. This video combines our obsession with Mr. Clean and Mamma Mia. This video shows a Mr. Clean look-alike. The company would gain infinite Gen-Z attention and respect if they played along with this joke, dueting it on TikTok or posting it on their other platforms with an appreciative caption.
Companies can take a few actionable steps to reach Gen-Z audiences and gain their respect:
Communication is about figuring out what audience you want to connect with and how to reach them. If you don’t need your business or organization to connect to Gen Z, fine. But if you do want our attention and support and you’re not taking advantage of our unique language and humor, you’re making a fatal oversight. Lean into the absurd.
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