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Why Advert Quality Is One of the Biggest Mistakes Brands Make When Targeting Generation Z

There are countless reports of agencies missing the mark when it comes to the youngest generation of consumers, Generation Z. Often, too little time is spent optimising content for this generation’s platforms-of-choice, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Musical.ly.

One of the biggest obstacles in the way of engagement is quality. If a video ad is too finessed, or too stylish, then it is easily identifiable as an ad, rather than as content which drew Generation Z to engage with the platform in the first place.

But there’s a dilemma: adverts ask something of the user that platform-native, organic content does not. To be successful, adverts tend to require action from their audience. The mere fact that content is platform-native is no guarantee that it will be successful and popular, and on platforms like Snapchat, users undoubtedly skip through certain organic content just as keenly as they skip through unwanted adverts.

Should we mark our adverts out as different from the platform’s mainstream, because they demand an active response from their audience? Or should we camouflage ad content as something organic and native to the platform on which it is published?

Ads that Look Worse (Can) Do Better

On YouTube, for example, most of the videos which go viral are not those with the highest production value. They are likely filmed by an amateur, using an inexpensive video camera, and problems like blurred or out-of-focus shots, or poor audio quality, haven’t stood in the way of their popularity.

This fact is obvious to most people who spend a decent amount of time online, but advertisers rarely capitalise on the implications behind the facts: given that we, as digital advertisers, are constantly aspiring to virality, does that mean – in order to optimise our adverts for YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Musical.ly – they should look a bit, well, crap?

The answer varies from platform to platform, brand to brand, and product to product. But, whatever works best on a case-by-case basis, there are lessons we can learn from what the less cynical among us might call “platform-native” content, and what others might call – for want of a better phrase – calculated crapness.

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It’s similar to the level of personalisation in adverts: too little, and an advert may be considered generic; too much, and it’s creepy. The same is true of advert quality. If the quality of the advert immediately identifies it as apart from the dominant form or tone of content on the platform, then it risks alienating users by looking out of place.

When advertising to Generation Z on social media, the way to succeed is finding the sweet spot between being so low-quality it’s unappealing, and so high-quality that it looks out-of-place. This may seem a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who have dedicated time to learning how to create content that is as stylish and professional as possible. But, on platforms whose content is more real, raw and amateur, then emulating that amateur feel can bring in better results.

There are exceptions: among Generation Z, many might happily click on an ad featuring the crisp visuals of, say, a blockbuster movie like Black Panther. And, for all the viral YouTube videos that aren’t high quality, a lot of the most-watched videos are professional music videos. But even in these cases, I believe combining a high-quality trailer with platform-native content could bring in even better results for individual campaigns, especially on Generation Z’s platforms of-choice, like Instagram, Snapchat, and Musical.ly.

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By adding in a platform-native pre-roll to one of our Snapchat ad formats, at Fanbytes we were able to increase engagement by 50%. We were already optimising our adverts for the platform, so it is particularly remarkable that – by preceding our adverts with a still image which looks like it was created on the platform – we were able to see such a significant improvement.

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This solution prevents adverts from feeling like something alien to the platform on which they appear. Using a platform-optimised introduction helps the ad itself feel like an element in the stream of content which people have chosen to watch, and so they’re much more likely to be receptive to its message.

Bret Cameron

Head of Marketing

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