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A month ago, I started following an oat milk brand because I thought their “” campaign was full of humorous, honest writing that personified their brand. As a faithful cow-milk drinker, Oatly’s products are completely irrelevant to me, yet I follow the brand because I feel compatible with their mission and personality.

The reason I discovered Oatly is because of some well-placed social media ads. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise considering mobile ad spending has quintupled from $36 billion in 2017 to more than a projected $170 billion in 2023 (Statista). So how do brands capture the attention of Gen Z as they scroll through hundreds of other brand advertisements?

Despite ads claiming more ground, as a Gen Z’er, I find myself clicking the Instagram heart beneath some and choosing to follow a few brands because they execute a few things well – personality, humor, and relatability. And none of them have anything to do with the products being advertised to me.

As digital natives, Gen Z has been digitally advertised to since we were babies. We were raised on cable TV product ads with charming jingles that will be with us forever. Similarly, on social media we are increasingly numbed to ads bombarding our experience. We’re bored of the typical, product-focused approach. It takes a new angle to catch our attention.

Gen Z wants your brand to feel like a real person – with a unique voice, strong values, and some stance on social issues. It’s like dating – we want to like you for your personality, not just your looks, and if you can convince us of both, we’ll stick around with you.

According to a survey through the National Retail Federation, 72% of college-aged Gen Z said they’d more readily make a purchase from brands they follow on social media, and 75% of Gen Z said they engage with brands on Instagram (National Retail Federation). From the same study - one of the four reasons why Gen Z unfollows a brand on social media is because of negative brand personality, perceptions, or actions.

One global survey of 2,600 Gen Z’ers in 2021 summarized the following - only 19% of respondents would work for a company that does not share their values, 67% of respondents believe that company values are more important than the CEO, and 41% believe CEOs should be judged by their commitment to solving social issues ( Gen Z cares about company mission, values, and impact more than older generations, and this theme continues in impacting brand-customer relationships.

On par with the research, the brands that stay on the frontlines of a Gen Z’ers social media are strong in company values and rich in personality, humor, and relatability.

Creating a dedicated fanbase of consumers who are “sticking with you” and keeping you on their frontlines is powerful. Kwik Trip’s social media following is up to 145k on Instagram, alongside consistent company growth over the past 4 years since the brand chose to solidify a lighthearted and sarcastic voice online to connect with younger audiences. Their social media has helped grow a fanbase involving customers resharing content, buying extensive apparel lines, and taking prom and wedding pictures at their locations – all strengthening the brand as a Midwest staple.

I follow Kerrygold Irish Butter on Instagram because initially, their recipe recommendations and cow pictures felt like texts my grandma would send me. I continue to follow and spend money on their product because their family values and care for quality ingredients is apparent through their social media feed.

Marketing to Gen Z isn’t a cryptic code to crack and it doesn’t take superpowers. Our interest is piqued with personality, honesty and relatability, and the consumer-brand relationship with us continues with your solid values.

We want to see who you are apart from what you are selling. If you can prioritize that, it’s clear the rest usually follows.