Jon Kitchen, Commercial Director.

29th March 2018

Do Gen Z really hate brands?


Advertising Week Europe Gen Z

Key takeouts from our #AWEurope 2018 Panel

Gen Z is a critical audience for advertisers – and yet we’ve all read the headlines, they’re a lazy generation, have short attention spans and cynical of advertisers’ motives.

At Advertising Week Europe last week, I moderated Brave Bison’s panel of experts to hash out the contradictions and myths surrounding a misunderstood generation and find out how, and if, brands can stay relevant. Essentially, does Gen Z hate brands?


  • Will Pyne, CCO at Brave Bison and Co-founder of Creative Agency, Holler
  • Jordan Schwarzenberger, CCO at James Grant Group, worked at Vice, LadBible and set up a Gen Z agency called Roundabout and only 20 years old.
  • Amber Doig-Thorne, digital creator, influencer with over 2.6m followers across her social channels and content which generates over a billion views.
  • Sarah Lazenby, Entertainment Editor at Channel 4.

My first question to the panelists was about Gen Z’s attitudes to brands? Will responded explaining to the audience that this generation is no different to previous generations, what’s changed is the plethora of channels.

So for brands, he suggested it’s not just about the big idea, but it’s also about the experience and distribution of that idea. Channel 4’s audience data shows people watch more linear TV than any other form of video. Sarah made the point that the Great British Bake Off delivered over a million Gen Z viewers every week, explaining: “It’s part of FOMO – and Gen Z wanting to be part of the conversation”.

Jordan responded emphatically that Gen Z loves brands – and more so than any generation! He enthused that Gen Z rallies around brands tribally. He felt that the challenge for brands is they don’t always know how to speak to his generation in their language, or how to reach them. He was more concerned with brands which ‘fake’ their way, without being authentic.

Authenticity was a key theme for the panel.

When asked to name top brands which target Gen Z effectively, Jordan immediately listed Netflix, Uber and Airbnb for functionality and service - companies which add value to their lives.

Amber was incredulous that some brands are advertising in the same way they did 20 years ago. She advised brands to not only embrace platforms, but to understand how to use them, “Some videos can run for four-five minutes before getting to the punchline. With so many things vying for my attention, I’m not prepared to wait that long!“

She was encouraged that the brands that know how to target Gen Z and recognise what works - were reaping the rewards. Amber found, while watching a friend’s story on Snapchat: a 10-second ad had played before she could even think of swiping - she felt this was engaging and effective targeting. The secret for Amber is humour, and she noted McDonalds, with a series of short-form content on social, made her respond positively to the brand.

I outlined stats that claimed that the attention span of Gen Z is 8 seconds, (while a Millennial is 12 seconds).

Jordan challenged this as the biggest myth! He called out the controversial 8-second attention span mantra which contradicted the same research showed this group will consume, on average, 65 (long-form) videos a day.

Although Amber was inclined to agree that GenZedders have short attention spans, she quickly qualified that her generation was much better at multi-tasking across many platforms and channels at the same time.

The group felt that most brands were too slow to use influencer marketing.

Will agreed, stating, although it’s a minefield for advertisers if they don’t identify their objectives and strategy. Done well, influencer marketing is an excellent way of getting across a relatable message to this audience. Gen Z look up to influencers they follow on social, more than celebrities. Red Bull is a good example of a brand with a 10--15 year heritage in successfully engaging with a youth audience. But using influencers is really an executional lever; again, a brand has to have a consistent strategy and an authentic voice.

So at the end of our allotted 30 minutes did we resolve the question?

Jordan and Amber unilaterally proclaimed Gen Z loves brands! Jordan added that brands should lead with emotional storytelling, while Amber advised brands to ‘move with the times’.

Sarah didn’t think Gen Z hated brands, but felt the advertiser’s tone of voice can’t be patronising. Will believed that tech and youth are inextricably linked – so if brands don’t embrace tech and don’t innovate they will alienate a Gen Z audience, and run the risk of not being liked.

In summary the panel’s advice to brands: be authentic, make sure you tell a story and don’t fool Gen Z with your brand message, understand tech - and use memes!