While it’s obvious that brands need to market to Gen Z and Millennials on social media, simple ads aren’t always doing the job anymore. Brands have to work extra hard to make sure their marketing holds attention—and sometimes that means experimenting in new spaces, and getting weird. In 2022, YPulse saw plenty of marketing campaigns come and go, but a few unique approaches really rise to the top. We rounded up five of the best marketing trends we saw brands use this year to draw in Gen Z and Millennials, and they show a dedication to playing at young consumers’ interests:
Brands Making Their Way in Virtual Worlds
At the beginning of 2022, YPulse predicted this would be a year of metaverse marketing—and it certainly was. We’ve long said the future of marketing is in gaming, and brands embraced this new endeavor head on with virtual collections, games, and full world activations in some of Gen Z’s favorite metaverses. Brands like Nike, Gucci, and Walmart have built entire worlds of their own within games like Roblox and Minecraft for young players to explore (and to build brand interest). Others set up temporary shop with mini-games, islands, and virtual stores, all of course containing virtual products for their avatars. This was the year more brands embraced finding a place in the virtual gaming worlds that these gens inhabit. No matter which way they went about it, marketing in gaming has been the next step for tons of brands and won’t be stopping anytime soon because YPulse data shows 73% of young consumers agree they like when brands interact with their virtual world(s).
Weird Brand Collabs
Let’s face it, there’s more brand collabs out there than anyone can count. Some are even speculating that the sheer number of them could be “diluting the hype” as they become more predictable. Which means if a brand wants Gen Z and Millennials to care about their collab, they’ve got to go out of their comfort zone and really grab attention. This year, brands proved one of the best ways to do it is to create a partnership no one would expect them to, for a product or campaign that ultimately taps into young consumers’ values and interests—and love of weird marketing. Brands a that leaned into unusual collaborations grabbed attention, headlines, and sales, and whether the pairing made sense or not isn’t actually all that important.
Some of the most notable this year came from Liquid Death (who are pros at eye-catching marketing) teaming up with Martha Stewart on a Halloween-inspired luxury candle called “Dismembered Moments” that features a matte black “severed” hand holding a can of Liquid Death. And Kraft Real Mayo did the unexpected when they dropped a line of bedazzled Juicy Couture track suits, with bejeweled tube tops that consumers can dress up their mayo bottles with to match.
And Extra Weird Branded Products
According to YPulse’s Pop Culture Redefined trend report, 24% of young people say “special product drops from celebrities / brands” as a pop culture moment their generation cares about. And despite the fact that “limited edition” comes out all the time, young consumers are still interested in getting unique products when they drop, especially if they’ve got noticeable (even weird) marketing.
This year, we saw brands like Fenty Beauty catch attention with lip gloss in mystery ketchup packets, and coincidentally enough, Heinz make limited edition ketchup stained shirts for ThredUp. Reese’s Puffs went for limited high fashion too with $150 “breakfast bowl-turned purse” and a $50 limited edition cereal box in their web shop (along with web activations for a markedly “phygital” drop). Just like the quirky collabs, these product drops aim to catch intrigue enough that young consumers will have to get in on it themselves—whether to say they own the limited item or make a TikTok about it.
Brands Updating the Classic Jingle
YPulse’s Pop Culture Redefined trend research found that music moments like album and song drops are some of the cultural events that Gen Z pays the most attention too—and music in general is a major driver for the generation. Our research also shows that Gen Z is more likely to say that they would want to see musicians as spokespeople for brands than TV/movie actors, online influencers, or athletes. For brands, this means that creating music and music content and collaborating with popular musicians is a must. We’ve seen this in action in the last few years as fast food brands have reinvented the celebrity collab with musician “menus” and merch.But as food and beverage brands continue to come up with ways to reach and stay relevant with Gen Z and Millennials, they’re also collabing with musicians to reinvent the concept of the brand jingle.
We told you that brands creating original songs going viral on TikTok was a trend to keep an eye on—but now more are taking it to the next level by working directly with popular musicians and celebrities to write and perform the songs. Taco Bell went viral when Doja Cat posted a video of herself producing a Mexican Pizza rap, and Arby’s tapped Pusha T for a “Spicy Fish Diss Track” that took shots at McDonalds’ Filet-O-Fish. But it’s not just fast-food brands: MTN DEW produced ads with It’s Always Sunny star Charlie Day which poked fun at typical advertisements and embraced the meme culture he’s part of that their consumers love.
Turning Mascots into Social Media Celebs
Brands putting their mascots at the front and center of marketing campaigns isn’t new. But brands making their mascots the face of their TikTok accounts is certainly a trend that’s emerged in the last year. YPulse’s Social and Mobile Marketing Preferences report shows 51% of young consumers (and 73% of Gen Z) are open to seeing ads on TikTok—making it the number one social platform the younger gen is willing to see them on. And 68% of young people agree “It’s funny when brand accounts on social media act like people,” so the mascot personality is a prime way to reach young viewers in an entertaining way.
Brands like Duolingo (known now for their social media presence) turned their mascot into a character with a (dark) storyline who is the voice of their TikTok videos. Duo the owl has gained a huge online popularity because of the “unhinged content,” with 5.3M TikTok followers and counting. Other brands like Scrub Daddy have followed suit, and use their TikTok to interact with the memes of the moment, regardless of how silly (or maybe strange) the content is.