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Deeds, not words: Stop the mantras, start marketing that matters

Marketing experts counsel caution saying that Gen Z “attitudes can’t be ignored” because they “have the power to make or break a brand”.

Authenticity, inclusivity, sustainability, and community – all great words. But what happens when these words don’t translate to action, especially with an audience not afraid to call brands and marketing campaigns out?

To set the scene: A few years ago, many of us who fall into the “older generation” category (it’s hard to accept, isn’t it?) of Boomers, Gen X, and millennials had a lot of good, bad, and ugly opinions about brands, marketing campaigns, and creatives – whether it was an annoying radio jingle or an awkwardly written billboard.

Yet, many of those opinions were brought up only over lunch with work colleagues, at the dinner table with family, or at a gathering with friends. Quite often, people working with brands and campaigns rarely heard the real, raw on-the-ground chatter. Well, those days are well and truly gone.

We’re welcoming a generation of consumers who speak their mind – openly and in public – offline as well as online. Marketing strategists now have to contend with a level of feedback that they haven’t witnessed historically.

They have to react to a world demanding co-creation, content, connection, communities, cultural sensitivity, and cut-throat honesty. As such, brands cannot afford to fall prey to communication paralysis, echo chambers, and most definitely cannot bury their heads in the sand.

Two choices: Brand loyalty or brand boycotts

Gen Z has changed the ball game. They have openly voiced the need for meaningful marketing, value-driven advertising, as well as authenticity and sustainability within brand narratives.

Speaking to Campaign Middle East, Nay Riachy, social content director at GroupM MENA, doesn’t hold back.

“Gen Z demands that brands be genuine and inclusive. They have the power to make or break a brand based on whether it meets these expectations. They are very good at spotting when brands are being fake and can investigate to verify claims. This means brands must go beyond just saying the right things — they need to genuinely commit to fairness and inclusion in everything they do.”

And that’s the key. Having the right marketing narrative isn’t sufficient anymore. We’re now serving a generation that is going to hold us accountable to “what”, “why”, and “how” we actually enact this narrative.

In the Middle East region specifically, where social media adoption and smartphone penetration is nearly a 100 per cent, there’s no escaping the extremes of brand loyalty or brand boycotts based on how global and regional brands bring their strategic messaging to life.

Value-based marketing – “No longer an insight, it’s a fact”

TikTok recently revealed that MENA users favour brands that lead positive societal change and transparency, which can establish clear brand trust and have an open line of communication with their consumers and community.

“Gen Z also expect seamless and personalised digital experiences from brands, whether that’s through mobile apps, e-commerce websites, or social media channels. These attitudes can’t be ignored, and as communicators, we need to be addressing these imperatives and align our strategies with the digital preferences and values of this demographic,” Mary Smiddy, business lead, MSL Group Middle East, said.

But we can’t have an article written about implementing values such as authenticity without addressing it’s implementation. And yes, it’s not going to be easy.

Laura Gleadhill, general manager at Keyade Middle East, part of GroupM MENA, said: “Brand loyalty is actually very low within Gen-Z, I think with so many values to adhere to and so many changes in macro-economic impacting people’s personal values as well as whether a company fits within them this can be a difficult thing to put authentically into your values.”

… and yet, it needs to be done.

Mohammad El Tayech, Strategic Planner at TBWA\RAAD, calls a spade a spade. “I feel like the phrase “Gen Z value authenticity” has become so overused to the point where it’s no longer an insight, it’s a fact – and yes, there’s a difference,” he said.

“While they are demanding these things, to what extent can brands actually follow through with them? They can’t move away from their own messaging / identity just to please a certain target group. The only, and key, way that brands can correctly be authentic with Gen Z is through relating to them; relating to problems they’re having in their day-to-day life and finding a solution for it, relating to situations and showing them how they are part of them,” El Tayech concluded.