Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and yes, even Facebook, are all key platforms to reach the teenagers of Gen Z. This future generation represents billions of dollars in annual revenue to advertisers, and with such a massive opportunity comes massive responsibility. Brands must be conscientious when it comes to how they impact teenagers on social media platforms, especially considering recent studies link lowered self-esteem and heightened likeliness of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
But with social media proving to be the best way to reach modern teenagers, how can marketers ethically engage without leading to social and mental health issues? The answer might be simpler than you think. Here are my top tips for advertising on social media without reinforcing unhealthy and harmful teen habits.
Obviously, no good marketer lies outright about their offered product or service. Still, ads can be saturated with emotive pictures, imagery, and trends that add to the harmful side of social media. Teens, due to their stage of brain development, are more vulnerable to societal pressures than their adult counterparts. This means they internalize the subliminal messages in ads more fully. And, if these ads are rife with unattainable standards of what’s considered “normal,” teens put unnecessary pressure on themselves.
But, if advertisers are more honest about their product—focusing less on associated imagery and more on the good’s service—teenagers are less likely to internalize harmful messages. Take Droga 5 ad campaign from Clearasil, for instance. Rather than masquerade the acne product with “cool” teen trends, the company was clear about their own obliviousness when it comes to teens and instead highlighted their product. It was a comedic approach to honesty with great results.
Besides, honesty increases brand loyalty anyway. It’s a great way to showcase your product on social media while abstaining from the negative parts hurting teenagers.
Match Teen Morals
When it comes to social issues, Gen Z is the most liberal generation in history. Climate change, minority representation, gender recognition, and race issues are all shaping up to be defining concerns of society’s current teenagers. This is wonderful for savvy advertisers, who can use it as an opportunity to match their brand’s mission with teen values.
Rather than using toxic imagery to market to teenagers, advertisers should hinge on social justice and progressive politics. Demonstrating to young people that they care about the same issues will give marketers a leg up in earning teen loyalty. This way, advertisers break the ice between themselves and teens while also contributing a positive impact on society.
One great way to do this is by utilizing brand purpose marketing. This is when brands contribute to non-profits or form their own outreach organization to prove they value social betterment more than profit. Companies that show their audience they care create a more personal level of connection and take part in positive social change. Two great examples are the 2018 Super Bowl ad from Budweiser and Dove’s Self Esteem Project.
For those who aren’t familiar, Budweiser showed how they transformed their facilities into water packaging and shipment centers for victims of environmental disaster. The Dove Self Esteem Project works to debunk social myths of “normal” appearances and raise the self-esteem of women and young girls. Both these campaigns are great advertising strategies to utilize on social media via “links in bio” and tags to humanitarian accounts. This will not only show teenagers your company truly cares about society. But it will build lasting brand loyalty while contributing to positive social change.
The Importance of Choice
Many teenagers make harmful decisions because they don’t feel like they have a choice. Advertisers who take advantage of this are adding to the negative effects of social media. Making it seem like a specific brand is a teen’s only option when it comes to “fitting in” puts immense pressure on them. Marketers should always offer teenagers a choice.
Rather than overload teenagers with unskippable advertisements (which teens hate in the first place), smart advertisers should seek to incorporate their brands into posts teens will view by choice. This might mean using the previous strategies regarding honesty and teen morals to engage their interests, then including a link to the product in the post’s caption. If a viewer is interested, they can go to the brand’s profile and begin doing their own research. This gives the teenager a sense of independence and will make them more receptive to the brand as a whole.
Social media is perhaps the most powerful tool advertisers today have at their disposal. But, unfortunately, it’s often misused and causes an avalanche of harmful effects on teenage users. Marketers have unfathomable input regarding what teens encounter on social media. And they need to begin altering the teenage marketing paradigm. Instead of forcing teens to associate brands with unattainable feelings and appearances, it’s better to be completely honest and lean on teenager’s passions when it comes to creating brand loyalty.
Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland. He used to struggle with mathematics. But in his early twenties, he studied math intensely and began to pass on his knowledge. Demand for his tutoring services led to the creation of Tutor Portland; which focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.