Retail, Performance Marketing

TikTok and Gen Z: A Game-Changing Opportunity for Brands

Gen Z’s relationship with TikTok represents an undeniable opportunity for brands - but only if they’re willing to understand and adapt

BY: Stacey Hawes | Chief Performance and Data Officer

PUBLISHED: 7/10/2023

Tapping into the next generation of consumers is always an objective for marketers, particularly for DTC and Retail brands. Engaging the highly coveted Gen Z audience through channels like TikTok is at the forefront of our paid media strategies and omnichannel mix here at MERGE, serving as a golden ticket of sorts for marketers looking to harness the buying power from this emerging wave of potential customers.

The devil is in the data

Research by Measure Protocol indicates that Gen Z spends roughly three times longer on TikTok in a week (12.4 hrs) compared to Instagram (3.8 hrs) and Snapchat (3.7 hrs), and roughly twice as long compared to YouTube (5.8 hrs). Affirming that trend is the fact that Google’s own internal research has revealed that a substantial percentage of Gen Z-ers prefer to use TikTok as a search engine as opposed to Google.

Adding further emphasis is the fact that TikTok aligns itself more closely with a streaming service like Netflix compared to other social media platforms. Yet, published estimated watch time data from 2021 shows that TikTok commands nearly 2.5 times the number of minutes watched on their platform compared to Netflix’s. Why? Because choice is taxing, particularly in a digital age that relentlessly bombards us with information. TikTok offers users discovery, entertainment, and exploration without having to necessarily initiate a search, meaning more and more users are turning to TikTok and spending their time there. In fact, based on a 2022 study by Renolon, the average global TikTok user spends 52 minutes per day in the app, and about 26 hours per month, equating to nearly 2.3 years of their life.

While these data points only scratch the surface, the opportunity for brands is plain to see. Executing on that opportunity, however, requires brands to understand who Gen Z is, as targeting this generation with traditional digital tactics isn’t likely to resonate with them, much less reach them.

Who is Gen Z and what compels them?

As true digital natives, Gen Z is the first generation born and raised with the internet at their fingertips, with smartphones, tablets, and apps seemingly as accessible from the cradle as binkies, rattles, and bottles of warm milk. These devices are central to their earliest experiences, serving as a leading - if not preferred - method of communication, commerce, and news gathering.

Gen Z is especially discerning, particularly to the things they both like and dislike online. For example, traditional ads and time-consuming information fields are surefire ways to turn them away. However, they are more prone to be influenced by celebrities and online influencers who are not only relatable in age, interests, and experiences, but can fluently communicate thoughts, feelings, and emotions to them digitally. Brands and retailers who can faithfully replicate this level of messaging and leverage channels where these consumers live (e.g. TikTok, apps, other digital offerings) will ultimately drive discovery, engagement, purchases, and loyalty.

Gen Z is also far more aware, and as a result, far more sensitive to the world around them. Having been “raised online,” Gen Z is in tune with issues globally, their emotions surrounding those issues, and their willingness to utilize social media platforms to enact change. Brands that genuinely support efforts around things such as bolstering local communities and protecting the environment can become a brand that Gen Z shoppers are willing to champion.

Having been born into a world that is hyper-conscious of image, Gen Z often gravitates towards refreshing ideals of individuality and inclusion. Research shows that over half of Gen Z consumers in the U.S. believe they would be better represented in advertising if they were shown people living imperfect, non-cookie cutter lives. To enhance appeal to Gen Z, brands need to prioritize ad campaigns that promote inclusivity and feature real individuals instead of relying solely on celebrities, influencers, or models who conform to unrealistic standards. Brands also need to make an effort to shed light on “hidden” concerns relating to both physical and mental well-being. By doing this, brands can empower Gen Z consumers and solidify themselves as trusted commercial partners.

The Wrap

As important as it is for brands to understand TikTok and other video-based social media platforms, it’s just as critical for brands to understand who Gen Z is and what drives their decision-making. For brands, we offer three key takeaways for engaging Gen Z:

  • Rethink your digital media plan when targeting Gen Z. As true digital natives, they possess a much different perspective than older generations
  • Be authentic in your messaging and brand promise, show value, and don’t make them feel marketed to
  • Meet them where they are - Gen Z spends a disproportionate amount of time on TikTok compared to other social media platforms


Ready to tap into the power of Gen Z? Connect with MERGE's team of seasoned marketing professionals to amplify your retail brand’s reach on TikTok!