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Marketing and Comms
Gen Z Becoming More Skeptical of Influencers, Sustainability Messaging

New survey of Gen Zs in the US and Canada suggest a growing distrust of influencers; and while sustainability is still a consideration when purchasing, budget, price and brand authenticity are paramount.

AI-powered conversational-research firm Rival Technologies and market-research consultancy Reach3 Insights have released a new report revealing Gen Z’s shifting attitudes on social media, influencer marketing, online shopping, sustainability and brand loyalty.

Based on a mobile-first, conversational survey of 750 Gen Zs (aged 18-27) in the US and Canada in April 2024, the 2024 Gen Z Marketing & Engagement Report found that social media’s role in purchase discovery is increasing — but it is only one step in a long and complex buying journey. Among Gen Z consumers who shop online, only 18.4 percent complete the purchase directly through social channels. In contrast, 88.2 percent buy via online marketplaces (Amazon, Etsy, etc) and 74.6 percent through brand websites.

When asked which social media platforms they use to discover new brands, Gen Zs highlight Instagram (70.3 percent), TikTok (34.3 percent), and YouTube (33.1 percent) as top channels.

The research also suggests that the buzz around influencer marketing may be fizzling out: Contrary to studies even from last year, in which a majority of younger consumers credited influencers with having a major impact on their sustainable purchasing and lifestyle habits, 47.5 percent of Gen Zs now say they are “not very likely” or “not likely at all” to buy something recommended by influencers. Many respondents described paid influencer partnerships as “very insincere” or “annoying,” with some respondents asserting a preference instead for “normal people with normal incomes and lives” to be the voices promoting the products. The report points out that influencer marketing can still work; but authenticity is key, as these shoppers are showing a new preference for substance over style — emphasizing the importance of ensuring that any influencer used is a good fit for the product and can create relatable content.

“Influencer marketing is at risk of facing a serious reckoning,” says Paula Catoira, Chief Marketing Officer at Rival Group — parent company of Rival Tech and Reach3. “To ensure ROI from influencer partnerships, brand marketers need to understand their Gen Z customers and align their marketing strategy with the need of this audience.”

Gen Z attitudes on sustainability itself also seem to be shifting. The report found that 42.9 percent of Gen Zs prefer sustainable products when available, but it’s not the only consideration. Budget and price are big factors in buying decisions. This helps explain why fast fashion, for example, continues to grow despite its impact on the environment — a phenomenon that was recently parodied in the season finale of “Saturday Night Live.”

And as always, authenticity is key — as Gen Zs are one of several consumer segments that are increasingly savvy about identifying greenwashing. Influencers themselves are well aware of this; and a 2023 study found more and more content creators are steering clear of sustainability-related content due to a lack of insight and clarity around company and product sustainability claims.

The report points out that for many brands that cater to Gen Zs, sustainability can still be a huge competitive advantage as long as product prices remains competitive. And being transparent about brand claims is paramount: The research suggests that brand websites (59.9 percent) and packaging (43.5 percent) play a key role in communicating details about brand sustainability efforts; when it comes to this, Gen Zs say they are much more likely to believe third-party websites (42 percent) than influencers (12 percent).

“Our research highlights how the attitudes and behaviors of Gen Zs can shift significantly as they go through different life stages and as socio-economic factors evolve,” said Andrew Reid, CEO and founder of Rival Technologies. “To get accurate and nuanced insights on Gen Zs and win their loyalty, brands need to engage with these young consumers on an ongoing basis and do it in a way that’s aligned with their expectations and behaviors.”

One of the study’s key takeaways for marketers is that Gen Zs want to feel they can build an authentic and personal connection with brands; and while they still prioritize sustainability, socio-economic factors such as inflation have very real impact on how this group views and prioritizes sustainability-related issues.

As Jennifer Reid, Co-CEO and Chief Methodologist at Rival Group, points out: “Among a generation fueled by skepticism, trust is paramount for both engagement and loyalty. And since authenticity, honesty and transparency are critical in building that trust, they should be the goals of every marketer with young consumers in their sightlines.”