Here's how to talk to Gen Z without committing a terrible crime: cringe.
The new entry among the questions that nag us at night: have I done something cringe?
If you're here, the answer is probably yes. But questioning your actions is the first step in rehabilitation
A one-way ticket back from the cringe circle
Articles upon articles abound every day: how do Gen Z behave at work? What is their approach to sensitive issues? What motivates them to purchase? And again: how do we communicate with them effectively and in the least boomer way possible?
Spoiler: it is not enough to watch two or three TikToks to ride this new communication wave.
What makes Gen Z cringe is precisely this forced caricature of their world, based on a superficial reading of interests, attitudes, slang and values. Those who observe them from the outside struggle to decipher their secret code in order to adopt it and empathize with a new segment of public, bringing them closer to their products - whatever they are trying to sell: clothing, technology, ideas, politics. However, if this decoding is done hastily - for example by stopping at 'TikTok is just a bunch of silly dances' - it has the opposite effect, pushing Gen Z away instead of bringing them closer
Anti-cringe social campaigns to take inspiration from
Brands that have found the key to communicating optimally with Gen Z do exist: here are some examples.
Arcese - Talent Acquisition Campaign
The Italian logistics giant wanted to create an 'out of the box' recruiting campaign targeted at Gen Z, and you know what? They did it perfectly! After a lengthy analysis of the target group's needs, interests and above all vocabulary, an extraordinary social talent acquisition campaign took shape.
Fresh, simple and fun. @uffizigalleries, the TikTok profile of the world-famous Florence State Museum, has hit the nail on the head in its objective: to bring art closer to the under-25 target audience. Between the ironically told story of Petrarch and Laura and information on the museum's offers and opening hours, the profile exudes an all-Gen Z language. So much for +25% more visitors using influencers (sorry Chiara).
The most famous low-cost airline in the world landed on TikTok less than a year ago and already has 3.7 million 'likes'. The star of most of the videos is them: the Ryanair plane with eyes and mouth that speaks directly to TikTok users. 'Me watching all your travel hacks videos' he says, or 'Me going out in the For You page of those who said they'd never travel with us again'. In short, Ryanair makes a living out of trolling its users, but it does so in a joking, funny and, above all, TikTok-style way. It almost makes you want to travel with them. ;)
Gen Z essential vocabulary
A for Amo: we could not begin this list on a sweet note. It is short for "love" and is used by Gen Z to call any living thing on Earth: best friends, parents, pets, etc. It can sometimes slip into a sentence even when it shouldn't (like in school) "Amo please can you move the check?" And the teachers mute.
B for Boomer: by definition, Boomer is considered all people born between 1946 and 1964, during the "baby boom" period. In reality, however, it is used to refer to those who do not understand a meme, a trend of the moment, or a "young" term. And all of us, at least once in our lives, have been called boomers. Even you who are reading.
B from Blast: have you ever been* blastat*? If yes, we're sorry. It means you've been* defeated during an argument or shushed badly. Well, now that you know what it means you can blast someone too (go easy though) and brag about it (using the Gen Z term of course).
C for Cringe: the most overused term of the last period that we will try to explain to you with some examples, because Cringe is a feeling and should be felt.
- Your uncle telling you at New Year's Eve dinner that he has opened a TikTok profile and wants to do the "Savage Love" trend together is cringe.
- Your mom who has an Instagram profile and only shares phrases like "Good morning kaffe and happy Monday" is cringe.
- A payoff that mixes Italian and English words to promote Italian tourism is cringe. What do you say.
C of Crush: the classic teenage crush. Sympathy is the new crush.
F of Flexare: here, if you want to flaunt/show off something (or an action) this is the perfect term to use. You can flex your new phone, your promotion at work, the Fortnite move you learned to do after 3 months of practice. In short, you can flex everything.
G of Ghosting: when Crush (see above) no longer responds to your messages and you're left like Pablo Escobar sitting on your swing outside your house waiting for it to show signs of life.
I of Ick: behaviors and actions that provoke disgust. Every copywriter's ick? Confusing accents and apostrophes.
M of Malaise: when Crush ghosts you, it becomes a Malaise.
S from Snitchare: bad story. Gen Z's enjoy snitching with teachers, parents, among friends. Did you go* to your mom and say your brother broke a vase while she was gone? You snitched it.
S for Slay: from English "to kill," but this is not the case. Gen Z use it to address compliments to their friends (they really are an amazing generation, aren't they?).
T of Trigger: cause a negative reaction such as anger, irritation or sadness. But it can also be that a picture of chicks triggers a burst of tenderness in you.
Emoji to use if you want to blend in with Gen Z
Time to step up your scrolling game
And here we are, three of us on a screen, looking at a 'bombastic side-eye' for the fourth time, questioning what we're seeing and waiting for the others to be the first to say: 'Yeah, I get it, of course, but I mean... do I really really get it? I don't know, guys... We'd better ask *any colleague under 22*'.
The multiple layers of meaning behind a simple trend bring down the strongest among us: even the (self-styled) Zillennials recoil at the first videos of Pedro Pascal munching on an exaggeratedly crunchy sandwich.
How to avoid creating cringeworthy social campaigns
- Scroll more, with a curious and unprejudiced eye. Dive into comments - and more importantly, responses to comments -, videos used for that specific sound and related content. It is guaranteed: you will find someone who has already asked for explanations before you. TikTok's comments section is the new Yahoo Answers.
- Get out of your bubble. Instagram and TikTok have categorized us into specific niches: to stay on top of your game, it is imperative you train your algorithm for a wide variety of interests. Example: you're not in the CapybaraTok? You're missing out on a good 30% of the best content of the moment.
- Don't limit yourself to Instagram. Really: no. Maybe in the future this platform will catch up, but for now the magic is on TikTok, and that's where you need to be for Gen Z.
- Act undercover, observing from the inside how users respond to brands' moves. Learn from the others’ mistakes: you may have misunderstood a trend in exactly the same way, but by keeping an eye on reactions, video stitches and responses you will avoid unpleasant communication stumbles.
- Stay humble. Trends become old news in the blink of an eye. Words and gestures that have always meant a certain thing to you may have absorbed a different value or simply pandered to a new generation's need to stand out - see the heart-gate that brought every Millennial's certainties to their knees. Be prepared to change your mind as fast as the stairs at Hogwarts.
The courage to get ugly
Once immersed from head to toe in this ocean of meaningful layers, actions and reactions, micro-languages, capybaras and Pedros Pascal, you will be able to master the new way of communicating that surrounds us. Provided you are willing to do things that, at first sight, are just plain bad. What counts for young people is in fact that their individuality is recognised and respected, that you speak to them in a spontaneous and direct way, without getting lost in frills. But beware of the trick: it is a calculated ugliness, and a carefully selected spontaneity. But that’s the fun part, isn’t it?