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Keeping up with Culture: How to Capture the Attention of Society’s Most Distracted

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M&C Saatchi Sydney’s senior strategist Oliver Wilson explores the different ways marketers and brands can harness TikTok and music to catch the eye of Gen Z

Keeping up with Culture: How to Capture the Attention of Society’s Most Distracted

It’s no secret that in the age of distraction, it’s harder than ever to capture and keep the attention of a generation that has a world of exciting entertainment sitting in the palm of their hands. 

A quick scroll through TikTok reveals a tidal wave of entertainment options from dancing animals to ‘how-to’ videos, while the ever-updating libraries of online video content beckon for attention. Trends move rapidly and engagement wanes as quickly as it’s built, reflecting a collective yearn for fresh, novel entertainment. 

Advertising that doesn’t have the ability to rise above this alluring distraction is doomed to failure. 

Gen Z demand more from brands. They want more than just a good product and experience. They want to know its mission and purpose, the impact it’s having on society and the role they play in addressing social inequalities. Oh, and to add to the quagmire of complexity, they trust influencers more than advertising. 

Luckily, the source of our audiences’ distraction can teach us some valuable lessons about engaging them effectively. 


Embrace irreverent humour 

Perhaps more relevant at the moment than at any other time: people need a laugh. Steer away from ‘safety’ and engage with the novel and the downright weird. 

The 2000s were arguably the best era for this style of advertising. The recent resurgence and infatuation with the Starburst ‘Berries and Cream’ boy on TikTok demonstrates the efficacy of absolute ridiculousness and randomness with this audience.  


Use the music they’re really listening to

A recent debate about whether advertising led culture (or the converse) reminded me that for years, brands were too scared to touch particular genres of music or artists. 

Recently, ASDA - the UK supermarket, created their own ‘drill’ style rap for their Back to School campaign. 


The kind of ad that makes board rooms nervous inspired customers to make their own versions of the ad online, garnering huge engagement by leveraging a musical zeitgeist, with what might have otherwise been just any other ‘Back to School’ campaign.  

And if you’re wondering what music they listen to: Gen Z are what you could call ‘Genre Fluid’. More than any other generation, they’re open to all genres and all possibilities. Some of their favourite artists (think Lil Nas X or Billie Eilish) are renowned for blurring the lines between genres. 


Help them hack their way to happiness 

TikTok is awash with ‘life hacks’, as Gen Z look for ways to make their lives easier. Whether it’s a new way to peel a hard boiled egg or investment advice, you can find a new way to do just about anything. The hashtag #FinTok has been viewed more than 340 million times.

This yearning for new sources of knowledge presents an opportunity for brands to make the lives of their Gen Z customers easier and to foster more relevant engagement. There’s a big opportunity for brands to provide actionable and credible ‘hacks’, complementing (or challenging) other information that’s out there. 

Any such advice needs to be relevant though: an insurance brand shouldn’t give fashion tips. That’d be ‘Cheugy’. 

Australian supermarket Woolies have harnessed this desire for ‘helpful hacks’, by launching their own TikTok page with the help of team member Liam Kirley, who rose to fame on TikTok by documenting his life on the shop floor. 

Their new channel will leverage his popularity, sharing shopping hacks, colleague stories and most importantly, how they make their donuts in store. 



Create in the way they consume

TikTok is a library of visual effects that are proven in engaging a notoriously fickle and distracted audience. From hypnotic and soothing patterns to rapid-fire cuts, the way people are creating content reflects Gen Z’s content-consumption preferences.  

One of the most prolific approaches to video content in recent times is the ‘quick-cut’ highlight. A hyper-speed montage containing quick snippets of action, this approach is ubiquitous across all social media platforms, allowing creators to squeeze as much content as possible into a short time frame. 

Brands can borrow from these approaches when advertising to this audience. Think about shooting differently, using different visual effects and changing the tempo of your communications.  

Nike’s ‘Play New’ campaign uses some of these visual techniques astutely, resulting in a high tempo campaign that engages the un-engageable, to deliver a worthy message of inclusivity. 



So there you have it. 

To talk to Gen Z and avoid looking like a ‘Dad at the Disco’, it pays to harness the elements of distraction they so avidly consume, to cut through the clutter and communicate to them in the language they speak. 

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M&C Saatchi Sydney, Wed, 29 Sep 2021 14:46:00 GMT