Any publicity is good publicity in the mass marketing strategy  

Or so. Controversy generates a buzz and spikes brand awareness. The  movie industry, the FMCG sector, the politicians – all of which target the masses have gained from negative publicity, whether it was paid for or raked up by the public for free.

Recently, an allegedly racist ad by a jewellery brand got tremendous mileage via social media debates, blog posts, open letters, TV debates – resulting in increased brand awareness.  Apparently, the brand was targeting millennials and older generations, and it worked, whether the controversy  was intended or not.

In another recent example from the movie industry, a movie director made and released a controversial feminist video  just prior to the release of his movie with the same actress. It helped with the publicity for the movie.

But will that work with post-millennials?

In response to dropping sales attributed to the product being perceived as dated, Hamdard’s Safi, an ayurvedic skin tonic, released a shocking ad last week in an attempt to step up its game. At it’s worst, the ad appears as an arguably outrageous attempt to arouse curiosity and probably generate some controversy.  At it’s best, it seems like a well intended message, but one that was visibly out of sync with the persona of the target segment – the current tweens/teens/young adults, i.e, Gen Z (a.k.a. the iGen or post-millennials or digital natives) – those born between mid-1990s and late-2000s.

Watch the ad:

The ad portrays the iGen as uninformed sulks who think their moms are at fault for failing to pass down her flawless skin to them. A senior voice intervenes to advise them on the root cause – lifestyle, pollution, etc. and tells them that Safi is the solution.

Why is the ad out of tune with Gen Z behavior?

Gen Z was born after the internet was born. They grew up surrounded by and dependent on technology and have  information at their fingertips.

According to a global study by Grail Research, behaviorally, Gen Z learned from the mistakes of Gen Y (millennials) and Gen X, is more tolerant of diverse cultures, more socially responsible, do not conform to stereotypes, are flexible, smarter and always connected.

The study also reported that Gen Z rejected traditional TV over streaming video –  51%  ranked  PCs and 43% ranked mobile phones as more important than TV.  Only 3% said TV was important.

This ‘selfie’ generation who grew up with iPhones, social media and smart TVs has no tolerance for TV commercials, much less the traditions or stereotypes that is central to most FMCG advertising.

Instead of live TV, post-millennials prefer accessing their favorite shows/movies at their own schedule through video libraries, pirated sites and even YouTube where ads are skippable.

So, if faced with the problem of acne or pimples, they would most likely not sulk or blame it on their moms. They would quickly reach out for their latest  smartphones, tablets or laptops and start googling:


“clear skin”

“how to control acne”

“top causes of acne”

“pimple treatment”

“acne app”

…..and so forth

Here are the search volumes (India) from the Google keyword planner for just three keywords relevant to the skin tonic brand – acne, clear skin and pimple treatment.  Notice that more than 60% of the searches are from handheld devices.

That was the search volume data for just three terms. The volume would run into millions if we take into consideration all the relevant search terms.

If these skin problems are being looked up so frantically on Google, then why is a skin tonic brand that purportedly solves those problems being perceived as dated and facing depreciated product demand?

Dropping sales for age-old brands could be attributed to dated marketing strategies.

A brand could not have stood the test of time and lasted for decades if it didn’t have the mettle.

Gen Z traits and trends as important to marketers

The Grail Research further listed these Gen Z traits and trends to be borne in mind by marketers:

1. Competing for attention – Gen Z is busy with gadgets and social media. Their parents as well as brands need to compete for their attention.

2. Design Matters – Gen Z likes simple interactive design, so keep your product design and marketing message simple. They also like multiple features and benefits  in a single product.

3. Social responsibility – They are concerned about social problems like terrorism, climate change, and are particular about using green products.

4. Constant Connection – They are connected on social media with their peers all over the world. So catch them on social media and connect with them.

Additionally, research from the marketing communications brand, J Walter Thompson (JWT), indicated that Gen Z is  tough on brands, as the internet is giving them the means to know about the products they consume. The study by JWT also showed that they are idealistic and quite earnest (Malala Yousufzai was a recurring theme in their study).  So social stereotypes will not work with them, much less traditional marketing methods.

Rethinking the marketing strategy for Gen Z

If brands want to stop being  perceived as “dated”, particularly by Gen Z, they would need to rethink their marketing and promotional strategies.  Search, social, mobile and content marketing is what they might want to catch up with, if they want to keep pace with their young target segments.

For instance:

1. Using the content marketing strategy to appear in search results when their target segment is actively researching for solutions to skin problems. For example, a blog post on the brand website on “the top ten causes of acne or pimples” with subtle brand messaging is all it takes for the brand to be in vogue than appear as a dated product.

‘How to’- articles like  how to maintain clear skin, how to prevent pimples, how to manage pimples, etc.

Listicles like 10 top foods that cause acne, 9 power foods that help control acne, 5 ways to prevent pimples, etc.

Content marketing will improve the brand’s search engine visibility and  will help drive traffic to the brand website.

2. A responsive website is a bare minimum any brand can invest in, because you never know which device users are researching on.  As mentioned above, in the data from the Google Keyword planner, approximately 6 in 10 searches are from mobiles and tablets.

3. Think of an app. When users reach your website, if you can let them download an acne app (or something like that) for monitoring,  prevention and progress, your brand will gain traction on the home-screens of their handheld devices, where you can get their attention everyday.

4. Gen Z likes simple design and is environment conscious. So  repackaging the product  in a  cool looking stylish eco-friendly container that appeals to the target segment should work. Also a non-messy (pump, spray or other) dispensing mechanism to make consumption easy will help the product look current.

5. Something like a  “share your me-and-my-mom selfie and tag 10 friends to create awareness about the effects of pollution and lifestyle on skin and health” campaign can potentially go viral.

6. Running contests like “Share your tip (or your grandma’s tip) for controlling pimples and you could win a trip to Goa and a year’s supply of the product for free” – will help the brand engage with the target audience and have a participative approach to brand campaigns.  You can collect and post those tips on your website along with the name and the photo of the young Gen Z author and the authors would happily share that page on their social media.

7. An SMS marketing campaign can also prove fruitful, as Gen Z is fond of texting.

8. Gen Z are not passive recipients, but active participants. So an interactive mobile marketing campaign using DTMF or voice inputs will have more impact.

9. Maintaining an active social media presence and posting interesting memes, infographics and updates to engage the target audience is very important, as Gen Z spends a lot of time on social media.  Native advertising (sponsored posts) on social media would also be more helpful than TV commercials.

10. Gen Z wants to make a difference. Organizing city-wise branded events with social responsibility themes – such as a marathon, a walk,  or a painting/writing competition to highlight social issues will help get support of the socially responsible Gen Z,  while contributing to  promotional as well as CSR objectives.

Reimagining the “I hate you mom” ad

However, another study published on Zenith research showed that  young Indians watch about 3 to 5 hours of TV per day and TV viewing declines with age, education and affluence.

So going by this study and considering that Gen Z may watch some live TV, and also may watch a few TV commercials, and therefore we HAVE TO include TV commercials in the marketing mix, then we would need to keep up with Gen Z traits and trends while conceptualizing our TVCs.

These generations are not perturbed by problems, they are confident and determined about solving them –   “Okay.. .so here is a problem…AHA! Now how am I going to play with it?”

Here are a couple of examples of how the “I hate you mom” ad could be re-imagined  to be more fit for Gen Z targeting:

1. A post-millennial adolescent notices a pimple outbread while getting ready to go to college, smiles and confidently thinks, “Hello Pimple”.  In a break at college later, she looks up the web on her tablet to find out what causes pimples and how she can manage it.  She stumbles on the brand website, reads product reviews. On her way back, she stops at a store (or buys the product online).

2. Or it could show a senior blaming it on the genes for an adolescent’s pimples, and the adolescent smiling and telling the senior, “No worries, it’s not the genes.  It’s the lifestyle, the pollution. I’m working on it, I’m taking Safi.”  Two weeks later the looks at the improvement and appreciates the adolescent about how right she was.

Lucie Greene, the worldwide director of JWT Innovation Group further adds that:

They’re going to present a few challenges to brands. First, this generation doesn’t buy into the traditional idea of celebrities or airbrushed images. They want to watch their peers on YouTube, or strangers playing video games on Twitch, rather than following Kim Kardashian — they prefer the more relatable Kendall, or Cara Delevingne, gurning on Instagram telling you to “embrace your weirdness.

As time unfolds, brands will have to trash a lot of the current marketing wisdom, as they realize that marketing to post-millennials (a global population of close to 2 billion, that will account for 40% of all consumers by 2020) is a lot more different than marketing to millennials and older generations.