Written by Alon Carmel, CEO of Aniview

During the 2020 election campaign, Donald Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Okla. Millions of people attempted to get tickets for the event, according to the then-president’s staff. Once the rally actually took place, coverage of the event showed crowds much smaller than anticipated.

That was largely thanks to Gen Zers taking to TikTok to urge people to buy tickets to the rally and not show up, effectively coordinating a digitally powered sabotage of the event.

This generation of TikTokers is changing the impact of social media, and older generations have a lot to learn as they court the new clientele. Brand loyalty used to be enough to carry a company to success. Younger consumers want relationships with these brands—they care about the organization and want its core values to line up with their own. Advertisers are now re-learning how to engage with younger generations using memes, real people, and transparency.

It’s no surprise that a global app can have such a far reach. What stands out in the case of TikTok is how these viral videos are creating  a massive generational cultural shift. In previous decades these shifts were more subtle, with shows such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” influencing changes in attitude, dress, and behavior in the nineties, decidedly different from the eighties. Baggy jeans, for example, became a staple of nineties youth. And then in the early 2000s Mischa Barton became a fashion icon for her role in “The O.C.” and soon every girl was wearing low rise, flared jeans.

Still, though, the shift wasn’t as clearly defined as is the one between millennials and Generation Z. There weren’t generational wars between baby boomers and Generation X, nor snarky comments beyond lyrics about bad parenting in Blink 182 songs—though even that band was more so a staple of early millennial culture.

Then, came the “OK, boomer” generation, and its pesky TikTok.

Rather than hinting at a cultural shift, Gen Z decided to publicly declare skinny jeans and side parts a thing of the past in a video publicly shaming millennials for being outdated. The new generation's influence is felt in the physical space too. When one goes into clothing stores it’s nearly impossible to find women’s jeans in anything except “mom fit,” “wide leg,” or some other baggy high-waisted option. Every time a new generation comes of age, the media loves to point out what makes them unique. Millennials were called lazy and indecisive—especially when it came to work—while boomers are known as technologically inept and Gen X are considered cynical. Instead of attacking the media in return, Gen Z is owning its title, and doing so proudly.  

Now brands are having to re-learn how to engage with these younger generations. TikTok may be the “newest kid on the block,” but with more than 100 million active users in the U.S. alone and more than six billion downloads from the IOS App Store and Google Play, it is making quite the splash in the advertising and marketing industries.

Marketing managers are seeing the sway this app has and using hashtags to promote their brands. For the first time, TikTok even came out with a “Brands that Inspire Us” list to showcase those who took full advantage of the Gen Z-centric app.

The rise of influencer marketing has also taken on a new meaning. No longer are companies only looking to movie stars and artists to promote their brand. As TikTok continues to climb the charts, so does the sway of the “girl or boy next door” that became a social media sensation seemingly overnight.

While this doesn’t mean that actors and musicians are obsolete, rising stars like Khaby Lane, James Charles and Addison Rae are a new kind of celebrity. These young adults didn’t rise to fame in movies and television, instead they make content that people enjoy to watch or peruse.  Influencers are different because most of them are considered normal people and viewers feel a connection to their struggles and identity.

These new “brand ambassadors'' are also picky—they won’t just align themselves with any company. They want to make sure the brand they support has the same values and ideologies that they do. Millennials and Gen Zers are comfortable crossreferencing and collecting information from multiple sources and mediums. They are also more aware of the brands they are jumping into bed with.

Nine out of 10 Gen Zers believe companies have a responsibility to address social and environmental issues. New algorithms, applications, and startups are popping up that center around the influencer marketing sphere and finding the perfect influencer for a brand.

As brands and organizations continue to familiarize themselves with the younger generations—Gen Z alone makes up 40 percent of the consumer population—they need to be aware of their reputation. Brand awareness makes a difference, and having the right influencer promoting clothes, food, a service or another product can make or break the company. For example, a YouTuber may have millions of followers and views, but if they represent the wrong image the brand will suffer. Cancel culture is real, and it’s here.  

Many brands focus their efforts on marketing. They try to convince consumers that they are in fact “going green” or “pro-LGBTQ” rights, when in actuality they’re more concerned with trying to look good in the eye of the consumer than they are actually practicing what they preach. These new-aged consumers know how to do their research and know when someone is virtue signaling.  

However, the right influencer can allow brands to focus less on their marketing and more on actually “doing good,” which seems to be at the core of the Gen Z soul. Having someone with cerebral palsy, a member of LGBTQ+ community, and a person of color are great starts to campaigns but are also considered a bit buzzwordy now. Everyone is trying to be inclusive, but it’s important to remember that if your brand does not practice what it preaches, the world will know with just a click of a button.

Instead of being left behind, advertisers and brands alike need to learn how to adapt to the new age consumer. Everything is readily available online, whether it’s news, videos, or shopping. By figuring out how to target the digital natives—through social media or print—these brands will continue to boom and progress into the digital age.