Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

How publishers can appeal to Gen Z 

Gen Z is a generation that uses smartphones for everything, loves TikTok, and is used to influencers, sponsored content and native advertising

After a decade or more building out programmatic advertising capabilities, Gen Z is throwing publishers for a loop. CM Group’s recent study found that 52% avoid ads at all costs, more than any other generation. However, there are areas of opportunity. Gen Z is a generation that uses smartphones for everything, loves TikTok, and is used to influencers, sponsored content and native advertising. Gen Z not only tolerates native-type advertising, but as a group, they are also more likely than their older peers to make purchases when ads interest them.

The implications for publishers are clear. Publishers should lean into content formats that mimic TikTok, and they should be considering how to integrate sponsored advertising into their content more seamlessly to position themselves for long-term stability.

Take A Page from TikTok

TikTok is the social media platform of choice for much of Gen Z. While it started as a place for amateurs to share music videos, it’s evolved to be much more, especially for Gen Z. Our study found that 41% of Gen Z turns to TikTok to obtain news and information, third only to YouTube and online search. Gen Z’s use of TikTok for this purpose is almost double any other generation. It’s also much higher than the percentage of Gen Z that turns to TV news, or news websites. 

With TikTok emerging as a trusted source of content, and not just a fun distraction, it will become influential in terms of publisher style and format. TikTok’s popularity is driven by videos made by amateurs, with a more direct, “authentic” style, which appeals to Gen Z. We found that, more than any other generation, 24% of Gen Z believes that successful brands of the future will be authentic. The concept of authenticity roughly translates into direct, casual, under-produced, personality-led content that doesn’t seek to hide reality. 

When it comes to news, for example, The Washington Post has 1 million TikTok fans, while Marcus DiPaola, a freelance news producer, has 2.8 million. Marcus uses a format that’s popular on TikTok – a straightforward report with a roundup of information that’s also short. 

Publishers can’t forget about format, either. With most of Gen Z on a smartphone, creating vertical video makes sense. TikTok reinforces this video format, and it pays to deliver content that’s easy to watch and familiar. Offering vertical video inventory also appeals to brands. This holiday season a ton of major brands created advertisements that were built to work on TikTok. Target, Nike, Fenty Beauty and many more put money behind the short-form video that looks best on a vertical smartphone screen. 

The Coming Content-Advertising Mashup

Speaking of brands, TikTok influences the types of advertising that appeals to Gen Z as well. More than a third, 35%, of Gen Z notes that while they dislike most ads, they are OK with native ads like sponsored content. What’s more, 34% of Gen Z makes frequent purchases based on ads.

While publishers have already gotten wise to talking about products as content – note the “explainer video” trend – the real value is in creating a scalable program around this kind of content that brings in big advertiser media spend. 

Influencers on TikTok have long incorporated sponsored products. For example, #beauty has nearly 80 billion views and many of the top videos include sponsored products. Mikayla Noguiera showcases up-market makeup brand Laura Mercier’s 25th anniversary powder, and is unapologetic about how the content portrays the brand. The content provides value to the viewer, both from an entertainment standpoint and for potential customers. Publishers that focus on building out sustainable sponsored content programs will see both audience and advertiser demand.

One publisher that has been very innovative with mixing Gen Z-friendly content and revenue-drivers is Bustle. The Bustle Shop is their built-in digital storefront selling fashion, beauty, jewelry, even home decor, complementary to the content. It’s powered by Tipser, an embedded commerce platform that enables on-site shopping for publishers and brands, of course, generating affiliate revenue. Their TikTok is a seamless mix of shopping hauls, unboxing videos, product testing, sponsor integrations, even “Things I Currently Want from Amazon,” videos produced by taking screenshots of Amazon product pages and layering them to music. The lines of entertainment and service are blurred, and given their 2.4M followers, users don’t seem to mind.

For several years, publishers have been researching TikTok and planning for Gen Z, knowing that change is afoot. The experiments with a few videos here and a few sponsorships there is not enough to capture this generation. The oldest people in Gen Z turn 25 in 2022, and now is the time to meet them where they are and show them that they matter. Publishers need a more robust acquisition strategy that includes more Gen Z-friendly content and more scalable sponsored advertising programs to really see momentum.

Allison Mezzafonte
Media Industry Advisor to CM Group

About CM Group
CM Group is a family of global marketing technology brands including Campaign Monitor, Emma, Vuture, Liveclicker, Sailthru, and Selligent. By joining together these leading brands, CM Group offers a variety of world-class solutions that can be used by marketers at any level. Headquartered in Nashville, TN, CM Group has United States offices in New York City and Pittsburgh, and global offices in Australia, Belgium, United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and Uruguay.

About the Study
CM Group partnered with F’inn on a cross-generational survey of more than 1,000 consumers, between Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, 2021. The results of which were analyzed by our panel of retail and media experts to reveal meaningful insights and action plans for brands.