How has COVID-19 affected Gen Z consumer habits?

The unprecedented event of COVID-19 has provoked a great sense of uncertainty within the consumer landscape. Understanding our consumer base is pivotal in navigating these times, and it is more important than ever to optimise audience targeting to include improved reach and relevance.

One of the most interesting audiences to consider during COVID-19 is Generation Z (Gen Z). Defined as the generation born between 1996 – 2010, Gen Z is a digital marketer’s dream. Not only is this demographic moulded by the digital age, but they are also one of the largest and most lucrative cohorts of consumers, accounting for a major proportion of the world’s spending power.

During the current pandemic, in comparison to older generations, Gen Z has indicated a greater openness to reshaping their buying habits during isolation by trying new brands. However, whilst Gen Z presents a stronger opportunity for new customer acquisition, they also signal a challenge in customer retention, particularly during the current pandemic.

This article assesses Gen Z’s consumer behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic, in order to determine the most important observations to consider when looking to target this pivotal audience.

What platforms give you the most reach?

Social media platforms

Gen Z is currently demonstrating the largest increase in media consumption as a response to COVID-19, utilising lockdown to engage with content that they did not previously have time to engage with. Video streaming platforms, including YouTube and TikTok, are currently the most used social media platforms for this generation. Therefore, marketers looking to reach this audience could leverage a strong Google Display Network and optimise their paid social strategy, to effectively reach this demographic across these platforms.

Online communities

With lockdown inspiring the need for long-distance communication, online communities have played an important role in Gen Z’s online habits. Research suggests that Gen Z, who are in their social prime, are finding mental health and relationships their main concern during the current pandemic. As a result, Gen Z is continuing to place great importance on intimate social experiences throughout lockdown, finding more ways to connect with one another digitally such as; virtual catch-ups and reaching out to someone they haven’t spoken to in a while.

As social distancing produces barriers for in-person shopping, this desire for digital connectivity transpires into Gen Z behaviours towards brands too, with 56% preferring brands communicated with them via social media platforms and 55% also favouring email marketing.

How to target Gen Z

Ensure your brand messaging is ethical

Whilst over 50% of the Gen Z population agree with brands advertising during the pandemic, there remains an expectation that brands should advertise more thoughtfully. The assumption that brands should be encompassing a growing awareness of ethical and cultural issues within their marketing campaigns, is particularly prevalent within younger generations – whose formative years are defined by social movements and change.

Moreover, studies have shown that 85% of Gen Z agree that brands should play a bigger role in social issues today – and those that do so earn their respect. So it’s important to ensure you’re creating campaigns that align with the progressive mindset of the Gen Z demographic. And there are some great examples of brands that have successfully taken this approach during COVID-19.

Ford, ‘Built to Lend a Hand’

Ford’s ‘Built to Lend a Hand’ campaign showcased their contribution towards manufacturing necessary supplies such as ventilators, air respirators and face masks, during the pandemic. However, they also took the opportunity to highlight the growing need to support disabled American Veterans, particularly during this pandemic. Using this campaign, they pledged to support the DVA by fundraising and encouraged their audience to get involved, using the slogan ‘You can help us build, too’.

Guinness, St Patrick’s Day

Amid a very different celebration of St Patrick’s Day this year, Guinness chose to create a campaign that encompassed a sense of solidarity.  By showcasing the importance of being with your loved ones, and encouraging their audience to ‘raise each other up’ during these strange times, Guinness created an uplifting campaign that resonated with the current emotions across the world. Additionally, they highlighted the Guinness Gives Back fund which committed $500,000 to help communities celebrate.

Although not all brands can commit to such grand gestures, the link is clear; reassuring and pragmatic messaging with a clear consideration for the social and ethical impacts of COVID-19.

Ensure your brand message is strong

Whilst it is important to have a strong ethical stance during the crisis, what is even more crucial is getting this message right. Growing awareness of ethical and cultural issues has led young people to consider brands more holistically. Not only are they critically evaluating them at face value, but across the entire supply chain. This leaves no room for error when promoting an ethical brand image.

H&M’s Conscious Collection

Sold as H&M’s most environmentally sustainable product line, due to a lack of transparency over their definition of sustainable and their decision to start making clothes from Circulose, H&M received strong backlash and accusations of greenwashing. – with some even citing it a ‘box-ticker’.

generation z

Gen Z are more likely than other generations to voice their dissatisfaction with inconsistent brand messaging, therefore giving extra importance to ensuring your brand messaging coincides with other areas of your business is vital.

Think outside the box

Although Gen Z has a clear position on brand sentiment during COVID-19, capturing this audience is not that simple. Gen Z’s digital experience is shaped by unlimited exposure to new and exciting content, created not only by companies but by anyone with a talent for content marketing – as indicated by influencer culture.

With a thirst for new content and information, gaining the attention of this generation can be challenging – more so in light of the changing consumption landscape during lockdown. And with limited access to physical stores putting a strain on omni-channel presence, brands will need to start devising innovative digital marketing strategies to capture the imagination of this generation and stand out amongst the noise.


Heinz is an example of a brand who has successfully achieved this during the pandemic. A unique take on a popular game, that also capitalised on the growing need for indoor activities during the coronavirus lockdown, Heinz launched a jigsaw puzzle full of red pieces that emulated their infamous tomato sauce.

heinz jigsaw

The campaign, which took place across 17 countries in May, received an overwhelmingly positive response – with their US account’s social media post seeing 15,000 comments alone on the first day.

Gen Z are an invaluable market segment, and their behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic signals promising digital marketing targeting opportunities. However, with digital connectivity being valued more than ever, we can expect to see a growing need for innovative and considerate marketing campaigns in order to capture this audience demographic.

To find out more about Croud and how we can support your marketing campaigns, get in touch.

by Croud
19 June 2020



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