What do parents of teenagers and marketers reaching Gen Z have in common? A desire to understand and speak to them in their language.
Recently, one Gen Z teenager created a handmade “meme-guide” to help her father keep up with the latest internet trends - needless to say, he and many others around the world appreciated it. Though at times it can feel like a mystery to those who aren’t familiar with it, Gen Z humor is all around us, conveyed through everyday expressions, writing styles in stories, and of course, memes. We think it’s important to dig deep into the culture of humor that Gen Z has developed, where it comes from, and how brands like yours can use it to connect with the most sought-after demographic of consumers.
Understanding Gen Z’s humor - in all its absurd glory.
Gen Z often describes their humor as absurd, nihilistic, and self-aware. They like to poke fun at the harsh realities of the world in nuanced ways. At the start of 2020, for example, political conflicts led to the hashtag #WW3 trending on Twitter. We saw memes like this one shared all over social media:
the US: we are considering adding women to the draft— queen quen (@quenblackwell) January 3, 2020
me: call me old fashioned but yes, i was raised to serve my husband. cook for him. do the laundry. wake up at the crack of dawn to make him breakfast, prepare his clothes and clean the house.
The beauty of memes like this are that they are layered and nuanced, revealing real fears in hyperbolic ways. As a side note, it’s important to point out that the most contemporary definition of a meme is a “humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” More often than not, the most viral memes to travel the internet are those that follow trending templates. The meme shown above, for example, fits into one of the most popular phrasal templates, which always appears to be a dialogue between two figures, someone else and “me”.
As the #WW3 memefest demonstrates, the constant bombardment of bad news and grim realities sets the stage for a generation that relies on humor to digest and discuss the serious issues that surround them. Though this can result in a particularly pessimistic sense of humor, it is important to note that Gen Z is not apathetic. On the contrary, they are a politically and socially active generation that uses memes as an outlet to combat their frustrations about the world.
Browsing through Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and even Wattpad, it’s obvious how Gen Z’s humor, whether it be through memes or everyday language, has infiltrated the feeds we scroll and chats we engage in. While many brands have accounts on these platforms, what makes a brand stand out to Gen Z is how they’re able to connect to their audience through the appropriate medium… so let’s get into it!
Infusing your social media presence with Gen Z humor
When we come to understand the weight of Gen Z humor, using it as a marketing tool can seem like a no-brainer. However, understanding the power of it is distinct from understanding the humor itself. Brands that wade into the meme pool risk sounding like a “cool” uncle, eager to fit in. It’s important to be mindful of what works and what doesn’t.
When a brand attempts to simply insert their identity into any popular meme, they run the risk of appearing disingenuous and boring. But when a brand is able to weave Gen Z humor into their narrative, understanding the nuances, knowing when they can relate their messaging to trends, and choosing the right platforms for the right content, they can strike marketing gold. A notable example of a brand that has used humor to master their presence in social media is Wendy’s, particularly their Twitter account.
That's what we call a glow up. https://t.co/v6nWf7exyH— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 14, 2020
Some other examples of brands attuned to Gen Z’s humor are Netflix’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, Denny’s’ Twitter, and Chipotle’s TikTok account. With multiple platforms at your disposal, it’s key to be aware of the different humor opportunities that each one presents. Twitter is conversational and best for short-form, Instagram is optimal for sharing images and videos, TikTok is where your brand can step outside of formalities and get silly, and Wattpad is where you can encourage Gen Z to join in on the fun through creative storytelling.
To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?— Netflix US (@netflix) December 11, 2017
when your pants are filled with milk but the show must go on pic.twitter.com/s3D9AU6xh0— Denny's (@DennysDiner) February 25, 2020
Recently, Wattpad posted a video on TikTok that parodied our users in a lighthearted way. In three days, the account grew from 300 followers to 55,000. The video soared to over a million views and 300,000 likes. The best part? It was all organic. One of the key points worth mentioning is that the video followed a popular format and trending song, allowing Wattpad to step into TikTok’s community naturally. The response was an outpouring of shares and overwhelmingly positive comments. Many comments praised Wattpad for its “self awareness” and candor, one even remarking that Wattpad could be the “Wendy’s of Tik Tok” (further illustrating our point about the popularity of Wendy’s).
In that time, the video was shared on Twitter where it quickly garnered an additional 750,000 views, opening up a larger discussion on a different platform. One of the main takeaways we learned from the virality of this post was that by employing humor trends, brands can “camouflage” their marketing, gaining the respect of Gen Z consumers and driving shareability. Like in the case with the follower who shared Wattpad's TikTok on Twitter, creating honest and funny posts can help develop an organic base of “brand ambassadors” within Gen Z who would not typically be sharing branded content.
If you’re wondering when we’ll get to the secret ingredient to crafting a strong, humorous presence for your brand... well, there isn’t one. It takes a lot of listening to and reading what Gen Z creates, learning from other brands, and experimenting with trends. Not every post will go viral, and sometimes your memes won’t have that “punch”. But if you pay attention to what Gen Z shares and how they communicate their humor, you’ll move forward in understanding who they are. Read what they write (over 80% of Wattpad’s audience is Gen Z), do some research on how this generation uses your brand, or consult a Gen Z employee in your company.
Ultimately, Gen Z wants to engage with brands they feel connected to. They won’t be sharing your ads on their group chats, but they just might tell their friends about “that funny post” by (insert your brand’s name here).