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How Fox & Robin is Using Gen Z’s Absurd Humor to Stand Out—and Go Viral

We interviewed the founder of Fox & Robin to learn how they’re winning over Gen Z and Millennials…

TL;DR

  • Gen Z is bringing a “realness” to the workplace by communicating how they actually speak IRL
  • Adopting Gen Z’s “absurdist” humor makes a brand more relatable and increases their chances of going viral on social media
  • Gen Z wants to work for a company with values they can get behind

Going viral is like the holy grail for most brands trying to reach young consumers, and earlier this year, Chicago-based athleisure company Fox & Robin managed to make headlines and Gen Z’s “For You Pages” with a video that celebrated the gen’s completely absurd humor at work. The TikTok posted by 29-year-old Millennial founder, Tommy Flaim, read, “POV: you start a new company and you only hire Gen Z.” He captioned the video, “It’s a Gen Z world, I’m just their [M]illennial boss,” and shared some of the gen’s hilarious email sign offs like, “Let me know if you have any questions! Or don’t,” “you’re the best boss ever (lol jk),” and “Talk soon loser.”  

The video has gotten over 17.4M views—and won the brand some serious Gen Z love. Fox & Robin’s TikTok account received so much traffic after going viral that Flaim even made a follow up video saying he received about 1600 new applications from Gen Z saying how much they desperately wanted to work for the company. The brand’s TikTok content continues to reach Gen Z by making relatable workplace videos and getting their humor just right. 

YPulse research shows that TikTok is Gen Z’s favorite social platform, so for brands looking to reach them, there’s no better place to be. And Fox & Robin has been doing all the right things; having a Gen Z and Millennial target, they utilize their Gen Z staff to market to them using their specific humor and workplace trends. In the wake of their viral success with these gens, we talked with founder Tommy Flaim about how they got to where they are, how embracing Gen Z’s humor and workplace attitudes has helped the brand, and what every brand should know about reaching young consumers on social media.  

YPulse: We recently wrote an article about how TikTok is Gen Z’s favorite social platform. How do you think you’ve been able to reach young consumers through the app?  

Tommy Flaim: We have a very raw and transparent approach to everything. We’re not trying to come across as perfect because we’re not, we’re just trying to come across as perfectly transparent, raw and real. And I think that translates well on TikTok, specifically in the younger generations, all components of that realness, the rawness, the behind the scenes of what a company is actually like. We had over 16K Gen Z people reach out about working for Fox & Robin after our viral TikTok, and a lot of them really just appreciated the no BS communication where you don’t have to pretend on a Friday afternoon if you get a work-related task that you’re ecstatic to do it. We are totally comfortable being like, “God, like, can you please wait till Monday?”—not having to act happy all the time and bringing your real self to work, which goes back to just kind of that very pervasive rawness and realness that we’re trying to exemplify.  

YPulse: How do you think Gen Z is changing the workplace?  

TF: They’re bringing a realness to it. Before starting Fox & Robin, I worked as an investment banker on Wall Street, and I entered the workforce in 2016. Working in that environment was so stiff, the corporate pleasantries—you sign every email “Best” or “Thanks,” but it just it felt so fake, kind of like putting off this aura of always being happy and thrilled to be at work. What’s refreshing about Gen Z is that they’re throwing away the playbooks that so many generations have passed down in regards to how you communicate in a corporate world. They’re like, “We don’t want to talk like that. That feels fake.” Gen Z, in my experience, are whip smart and they know when to turn it on and off, you know, when it’s internal communications with someone like me or who works at Fox & Robin, they can say whatever they want, they can be real. And then if they’re communicating with a journalist, retail partner, investor, or someone that might not understand the whimsical nature or the goofy email etiquette, they revert back to normal corporate pleasantries.  

YPulse: How do you think that using their absurdist humor impacts your brand?  

TF: Absurdist humor is a good way to put it. They are absurd. I feel like it makes us more relatable, especially to Gen Z and younger demographics. Going back to our brand persona, brands that are addressing serious issues historically have come across as very draconian and “The world is ending and we need to act now,” and while there’s definitely room for that, I think there’s some oversaturation of that tone of voice. 

In the activewear space, there’s a lot of seriousness. It’s “harder, faster, stronger” [and language like] “Nothing is impossible” for that aspirational pro athlete. That’s a literal slogan that our competitors have put out. There are some things that are impossible. So that sensationalist language combined with the absurdist humor of Gen Z, I think there is a white space to have a new entrant to this otherwise pretty intense space and utilize the humor and tone of voice of Gen Z people in a unique and compelling way. Sometimes you’re just going on a little mental health run and it doesn’t always need to be so intense. I think in many regards, the real raw emotion, the absurdist humor, we’re able to use in a wholly different way, whether that’s related to our company culture or how we depict working out given our target audience.   

YPulse: What advice would you give to brands trying to reach Gen Z on TikTok?  

TF: I think the advice would differ brand to brand. First and foremost, understanding what might be interesting to consumers—and that looks different brand to brand, like behind the scenes of a fancy photo shoot or sometimes their employees are really funny. I think it starts with a brand critically thinking and being very self-aware about what could be interesting to an outsider looking in. If I had to pick one thing [it would be] to just self-reflect on what makes you unique, what could be interesting to an outsider looking in. And then also just experiment. TikTok is one of those platforms that’s truly unique in the sense that if it’s a terrible video, TikTok will suppress it for you.  

YPulse: What would you say are the top benefits young workers are looking for?  

TF: I think the top benefits that they’re looking for is a place that they don’t hate going to, a company that they can stand behind. The company doesn’t have to be perfect, but a brand that they feel is doing their best and trying. Gen Z wants to work for a company that they can get behind. They want to work with people that are willing to laugh and not take everything so seriously. I think a sense of humor is a really important kind of cultural component of something that Gen Z are looking for—[along with] the tangible good benefits [like] health care. 

YPulse: What’s next for Fox & Robin? 

TF: We’re going to hire a chief branding officer. We’re going to be expanding our product offerings. We are going to be revamping our website. We have a lot of exciting partnerships coming up. We have a lot of parties actually coming out. We just had one in New York City and we’ll be having one in Austin, Texas, and we’ve actually been profitable with those parties. So we’ve turned a profit while acquiring customers. The fact that the parties were able to acquire customers and their initial purchase is profitable is pretty compelling. So stay tuned. 

This article has been edited for clarity and length.  

Founder Tommy Flaim Bio:

Fox & Robin is one of three Certified B Corps in the space (Patagonia and Athleta being the others) and is the first / only athleisure brand to disclose its factory workers’ wages. Whereas industry-wide only 2% of factory workers earn a living wage, over 25% of factory workers making Fox & Robin clothing earn a living wage. They are also extremely committed to more sustainable practices (e.g. plastic-free packaging, using algae ink for branding, carbon offsetting shipments, donating 1% of sales to environmental non-profits, etc.). 

Based in Chicago, Fox & Robin has garnered attention from BuzzFeed, Forbes, and many other media outlets since their public launch in August 2021. They are currently raising an angel round and have backing from the co-founder of AppNexus (sold to AT&T for over $1 billion), former Bachelorette contestant Connor Saeli, and several professional athletes / sports agents.