Gen Z loves mobile video -- just don’t tell them to watch it

Gen Z prefers watching video on mobile devices.

It’s starting to look more and more likely we’ll someday tell our grandchildren bedtime stories about the strange boxes in our homes on which we watched videos.

That’s because -- and this really shouldn’t come as a surprise -- Gen Z, which native advertising software firm Sharethrough defines as the generation born after 1995, likes mobile video.

Furthermore, this generation, which numbers 69 million and has spending power of $43 billion per Sharethrough’s figures, is known for its digital upbringing and actually sees phones as its primary go-to devices.

The good news for marketers is that Gen Z watches videos on these devices throughout the day, meaning countless opportunities to engage young consumers. At the same time, Gen Z wants to interact with content on its own terms, assessing headlines and silent previews before watching, searching and otherwise interacting.

That’s according to a study of the media consumption habits of 300 consumers between the ages of 18 and 21, which Sharethrough recently released.

‘A new era’

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sharethrough found phones are Gen Z’s primary devices – in fact, 87 percent of respondents said they use their smartphones all the time versus 51 percent who said they use their computers as frequently.

Sharethrough also found Gen Z is more likely to watch video on a phone with 71 percent reporting they use their phones to watch video daily versus 52 percent on a TV.

“That’s a pretty significant delta,” said Chris Schreiber, vice president of marketing and communications at Sharethrough. “The overarching theme is the new world order is here for younger generations. It’s not just a temporary thing. This is probably the beginning of a new era of the phone being the primary device and the remote control for life and the primary content device.”

Further, Gen Z is using its devices to watch mobile video for a significant chunk of the day. In fact, 74 percent of Gen Z surveyed said they watch more than 30 minutes of mobile video each day, while 17 percent watch more than two hours, Sharethrough said.

In addition, 58 percent said they watch video on Facebook and YouTube each day, followed by 50 percent on Snapchat and 42 percent on Instagram. Twitter, however, lagged behind, with just 24 percent watching video there each day.

A far cry from the living room

But, Schreiber noted, TV behavior isn’t simply transitioning to mobile – media consumption habits on phones are different as well. In other words, while TV viewing is fairly predictable in terms of watching full-screen with the sound on at home, mobile, for starters, is everywhere.

The survey found 87 percent of Gen Z watch video with the sound on and 85 percent watch it in full screen when they are at home. When at school/work or commuting, however, Gen Z prefers the volume off – with 76 percent and 62 percent, respectively. Sharethrough also said Gen Z is split on its preference for full-screen vs. in­feed viewing when waiting in line (50%) or when at school or work (44%).

And this means marketers have to think about how engage younger consumers throughout the course of the day.

“You immediately have to think about the creative impact there and the visual approach,” Schreiber said. “They are still reachable outside the home – which is great to hear from a marketing perspective – but…one of the key takeaways is an updated creative approach for marketers. Never has it seemed to be successful to put TV ads online and call it a day, but one of the key pieces here is the role of headlines and reading and the inter-relationship between copywriting and the likelihood for video engagement.”

‘The rebirth of copywriting’

Per Sharethrough’s research, 67 percent of Gen Z likes watching a video silently while reading a headline and description and 84 percent said a headline has a strong impact on whether they watch an in­feed video ad.

The latter, Schreiber noted, is one of the survey’s biggest stats and marks a pretty big shift as headlines could be written by a completely different agency or team – and might even be an afterthought – whereas they should be taken as seriously as the videos themselves because they are the triggers for watching said video.

“It’s like the rebirth of copywriting,” Schreiber said. “You have the ability to get people to read your stuff now probably more than ever. Reading was maybe a billboard strategy, but now you have the ability to get this generation to read your copy throughout the day.”

What’s more, 79 percent said the first three seconds of a video had a strong impact on whether they watched the rest.

“In some ways, I’m starting to think three is the new 30,” Schreiber said, referring to the length of traditional TV commercials.

‘A new threshold of partial attention’

And it is the videos with silent autoplay that give brands what Sharethrough called an “attention audition” with Gen Z. In fact, 77 percent said they like being able to preview a video silently in­feed before clicking to view it.

“Facebook introduced instant play videos close to two years ago. That wasn’t necessarily a sure thing in terms of being accepted. Autoplay videos were not seen in a super-positive light in the desktop days, but that combination of video that plays instantly with the sound off is a massive new paradigm switch for the web,” Schreiber said. “We have this new threshold of partial attention that’s guaranteed in feeds…and now it has become overnight a new mobile standard.”

‘Instantaneous decision making’

Further, Schreiber said the majority of potential for brand lift happens in the first ten seconds of mobile video.

“Roughly 70 to 80 percent of brand lift comes from the first ten seconds, which is not necessarily the approach for TV and that’s going to have to be a standard approach with brands,” Schreiber said. “We see instantaneous decision making by Gen Z and younger generations who are mobile savvy and we have to think about corresponding elements and how a headline ties it together.”

‘A self-directive generation’

In addition, 26 percent said they have searched for a brand online or gone to its website or social media account after reading an in-feed headline and 25 percent will visit a brand’s website or social media page after reading an in­feed ad headline. Another 28 percent will do a search about a brand online after reading a native ad headline.

“Consistent in what you’re seeing on Gen Z is not wanting to be told what to do,” Schreiber said. “This is a self-directive generation that will click when I’m ready and not because this ad wants me to go there.”

And because this self-directed behavior means younger consumers are doing their own research, Schreiber said it once again emphasizes the importance of a holistic creative strategy. That’s because the search metadata and results should look fluid with the headline that inspired the consumer’s search.

“If I were to click on that search result, I need that owned site to be playing from the same book from a messaging and creative standpoint,” Schreiber said.

And that means another nail in the coffin for siloed teams.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.