According to a new study from Whalar, Gen Z and millennials are actively avoiding traditional advertising because they prefer going straight to the content they want—namely to the accounts of their favorite niche creators. This unreachable “ad-never generation” is utilizing ad blockers, paid content and more and finding their own places in private digital communities founded on shared passions.
Creators are at the heart of many of these communities, embracing underrepresented groups, promoting honest self-expression and entertaining users all at once. And their content resonates with viewers. In fact, 70 percent of US social media users say that creators and influencers create content that they enjoy watching again and again and 61 percent say creators tell the best stories. What’s more, 63 percent trust content from individuals as much or more than content from big news and media organizations.
This shared sense of positivity fueled by creators is also driving impressive loyalty among younger generations. While Gen Z’s affinity for brands is new, many are already loyal to their favorite influencers. According to Whalar, 70 percent of people really enjoy and feel loyal to creators, 63 percent trust creators’ product recommendations and 61 percent buy products they’ve seen demonstrated or discussed by creators. Over half (55 percent) even invest in content creators they like through sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Kiva.
As this creator-driven community culture develops, Gen Z and millennials are moving away from fans who aspire to be like their favorite influencers to members of a group of people who are just like them. Sixty-four percent of users say they feel connected to other people who like the same content creators they like—even though they don’t know these people in real life. This feeling of belonging is translating into a deep sense of trust, making these communities the critical place for brands to reach younger audiences today.
Young consumers are shunning the authority of traditional gatekeepers like commercials, fashion editors and mainstream celebs. They prefer to look to each other and to creators to discover new brands and products as this path affords them greater trust and intimacy.
Because they have a shared understanding of their needs and desires, young consumers have faith in their fellow members to promote honest reviews of a product, service or brand. That’s why 73 percent say they trust reviews from a person that “seems like them” and why 62 percent trust product recommendations of people who follow the same content creators. Plus, 66 percent say online communities help them decide which products and brands to buy.
“Try as they might, brands can’t control what they mean to consumers. Instead, meaning is created by consumers in the communities they belong to, and by creators who can facilitate introductions to new brands and products,” says Whalar.
These consumers can, however, be inspired by brands to shape their identities. As Whalar notes, 71 percent of young audiences express themselves through the products they buy and the clothes they wear while 64 percent buy products that represent and communicate who they are.
Gen Z and millennials disseminate trends faster than any previous generation, so to be viable in these online communities, brands must quickly personalize their messages and continuously create value for them. Creators offer brands a way to achieve this.
“Creators can help by serving as cultural diplomats for brands and providing access to their own gated communities. They have their fingers on the pulse of these movements and are often leading them as they discover new topics and launch new initiatives.”
Whalar’s Key Takeaways For Brands:
- Don’t Invade A Space Where You Don’t Belong: Creators are the next evolution of media but communities are the judges of brand fit and relevancy. This requires guidance and careful consideration on a brand’s part, so a brand must always seek to elevate and empower communities. If a brand appears to be invading a space where it doesn’t belong, the campaign will backfire.
- Enrich The Audience’s Experience: Brands can tap into existing communities by partnering with creators or they can invest time and resources to build their own from scratch.
- Remember, This Is A Long-Term Project: Creators are not communities nor are they the only leaders of them. While brands can partner with creators, they also need to add value to the community. This is a long-term project, nothing like hiring a celebrity to pitch a product. Only with the proper level of investment in time, resources and interest can brands succeed.
Whalar partnered with Front Row Insights in February 2022 to conduct a study of 2,000 people ages 18 to 40 in the US and UK, all of whom used social media on a daily basis. Whalar supplemented that with qualitative interviews in May 2022.