YouTube, influencers and gaming: Bridging the Gen Z generation gap

YouTube, influencers and gaming: Bridging the Gen Z generation gap
(From left) Ginn, Lyons, Thomas and Bridgstock
The Future of Audio and Entertainment 2024

YouTube is the “default platform” for Gen Z.

That is, at least, according to Ampere Analysis editorial director Nick Thomas, who spoke on a panel at last week’s Future of Audio and Entertainment conference in London.

“Whether it’s music or gaming videos or recipes,” he continued, “YouTube serves so many purposes.” In fact, 59% of Gen Z are watching influencers on the platform daily.

“Generationally, I’m struggling with the concept that that is now such an important part of young users’ lives,” Thomas admitted. “It’s a problem for a lot of people making decisions within agencies or brands, [who] are probably closer to my demographic than users.”

According to research from Ampere, Gen Z over-indexes compared with other generations in terms of watching videos of influencers, listening to music streaming services and gaming. While YouTube is the “predominant” media platform for this cohort, they are also highly active on Netflix, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.

‘Discounting’ YouTube

Anna-Lee Bridgstock, executive director of data and product at Jungle Creations, expressed exasperation over the significant pressure from clients to jump on social channels without a clear strategy.

She explained: “We have a lot of clients that come to us with hundreds and hundreds of channels. A lot of them don’t have different purposes; they just all have done it because someone said: ‘Let’s go on Snap, we’ve gotta do it.’ And then it just kind of dies because you run out of momentum and there’s no strategy.

“It really needs to be purpose-driven and user-first as well. Why have you got this channel? What’s the purpose? Why is it different to the rest of your ecosystem and how it is going to play a different role?”

While targeting Gen Z may generally be a fair aim, Thomas added that because of the distinctions between how users use one platform compared with another, brands must understand the different dynamics at play in each app or website. “When campaigns don’t work, it’s often [because] that hasn’t been understood,” he added.

Jamie Lyons, global head of gaming and virtual experience at Omnicom media agency PHD, said that, by comparison, YouTube is being discounted on media plans because of its ubiquity. “We do often discount it,” he said. “If you think about innovation, you don’t immediately jump to YouTube. If you think about Gen Z, you don’t immediately jump to YouTube.”

Such a potential blind spot hurts brands wanting to reach younger audiences — especially those that are interesting in the burgeoning gaming industry. According to Lyons, more than half of under-14s follow a gaming streamer or influencer on YouTube, regardless of whether they themselves play video games.

‘Virtuous circle’

While the Covid-19 pandemic had a negative impact on many media industries — such as OOH, cinema and linear television — gaming saw a considerable rise in popularity, especially among younger cohorts.

Alex Ginn, UK head of demand at gaming ad platform iion, noted that, for a considerable portion of Gen Z, pandemic lockdowns meant that some of their first concert experiences were in Roblox or Fortnite. “They were lacking that social element and gaming really bridged that gap between social and entertainment,” he explained.

At the same time, entertainment companies began more aggressively targeting gaming intellectual property as a potential source of investment for TV series and films.

Last year’s success of The Super Mario Bros Movie (worldwide box office gross: $1.36bn) and the critically acclaimed The Last of Us proved that Hollywood may have finally cracked the code for adapting video games. Not only were they hits, but they also caused spikes in interest in the games themselves — something that is currently occurring with Bethesda’s Fallout franchise now that there’s an Amazon Prime Video show.

“There’s a virtuous circle there,” said Thomas, who proposed that gaming properties could be the next Marvel: “We expect more of those to be coming down the pipeline.”

Thomas warned, however, that given the speed at which trends change for young people in comparison to the length of time required to produce a TV show or film, such bets may be risky. “The content’s got to be good,” he said. “[Audiences] want to see good films, and if they happen to be about franchises they’re familiar with, so much the better.”

Following eyeballs

When it comes to advertising opportunities, brands are still struggling with gaming more generally.

As Lyons noted, much of the challenge has come down to understanding audiences and ensuring brand placements are right for the medium.

“There is no holistic gamers audience,” he said. “There is a million different little groups and communities who are passionate about a developer or a genre or a game, and they have their own focuses and trends. Generally, the trends in the conventional sense that we look to as marketeers don’t exist in quite the same way [in gaming].”

While gaming intellectual property in more traditional media channels could offer marketers an additional way to tap into gaming audiences, in-game activations have often flopped, suggested Ginn.

A good rule of thumb for such activations is that it “has to add to the experience” and “has to be something where you build a relationship with that audience”, he suggested, adding: “Gamers are very loyal and also very mouthy.”

Lyons continued: “[Gaming] has to make sense for the brand and its business objectives. You can’t go with a gaming vanity project. The job of the agency or the brand team in-house is to go: ‘We have these objectives, measured by something salient and tangible, and we need to find a way to see if gaming is an appropriate way to improve that.’ If it isn’t, it’s not the right solution.”

He noted that most brands, if it budgets for gaming at all, does so from innovation budgets. “That’s where it belongs initially,” Lyons said. “It has to earn its place on the main plan.”

Nevertheless, brands are more interested in dipping their toe into gaming than ever before, the panel agreed, and many FMCG brands — some of which have found success reaching Gen Z audiences in gaming — are borrowing from social budgets to increase spend on gaming.

“There is now awareness that the eyeballs are there,” said Lyons.

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