Gen Z DOOH Advertising

Gen Z marketing with DOOH – 3 ways to reach the most elusive generation

Vistar Media


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March 20, 2023 | 9 min read

Generation Z, Gen Z, post-Millennials, or Centennials — whatever you want to call them, this generation continues to be the major economic force marketers can’t can ignore

Generation Z, Gen Z, post-Millennials, or Centennials — whatever you want to call them, this generation continues to be the major economic force marketers can’t can ignore.

However, Gen Z has very different life experiences, buying habits, priorities and world views than previous generations – making for consumers that are no longer swayed by the advertising tactics and messages that resonated with past cohorts. Marketers looking to build long-term relationships with Gen Z consumers must continuously shift their targeting strategies, brand messaging and creative content to resonate with this elusive consumer set.

In this article, we’ll discuss who Gen Z is and why digital out-of-home (DOOH) is the perfect medium to reach this generation. In addition, we’ll break down three key strategies marketers can use to build programmatic DOOH ad campaigns that speak directly to Gen Z consumers.

Who is Gen Z?

We all roughly know what Gen Z is but this generation is officially defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, following millennials – meaning today, Gen Zers range in age from to 11-26.

While it’s estimated that Gen Z only makes up about 21% of the total US population, they punch well above their weight in terms of spending power. A 2021 Bloomberg study found that Gen Z wields an estimated $360bn in disposable income — a number only expected to grow as more and more Gen Zers enter the key 18-49 age range.

Although Gen Z tends to share the most similarity with their millennial predecessors, Gen Z is more racially diverse than any other generation, with nearly half the population identifying as belonging to a racial or ethnic minority group. In addition, Gen Z is the first truly tech-native generation. While many millennials can still recall a time before smartphones and widespread internet, Gen Z knows nothing else. This generation was born in the digital age, with the average Gen Zer receiving their first smartphone before the age of 12.

The list of similarities and differences could go on, but one thing is clear, marketers need to rethink their tactics if they want to reach this new generation.

Why out-of-home makes sense for Gen Z

With Gen Z being such a digitally connected generation, it’s easy to assume that digital ads would be the most effective method of targeting this demographic, but not so fast. While Gen Z does tend to spend more time than other generations online, they are also the most adverse to digital ads of any other generation. In fact, 99% of Gen Z consumers will hit ‘skip’ on an ad if it’s an option and nearly two-thirds (63%) use ad blockers to avoid online ads.

In contrast to their tech-native upbringing, Gen Z prefers out-of-home (OOH) ads the most across all ad formats, with 55% of Gen Zers having a positive opinion about OOH ads. When we dig a little deeper we can pick out some reasons why this might be true.

OOH ads exist passively in the physical world – meaning a person has to physically move near an ad to see it. This gives Gen Zers a stronger sense of control when it comes to which ads they see and makes OOH ads less disruptive than a digital pop-up ad interrupting a website visit, or a non-skippable video ad playing over a YouTube video. In addition, OOH advertising holds a unique position within the media landscape where it is not perceived as being invasive in people’s lives, their activities or the content that they are exploring.

At its best, OOH can even be seen as an interesting distraction with studies showing that good OOH ads can even create feelings of relaxation among Gen Z audiences. This puts brands in a unique position to engage with Gen Z consumers in an ad medium they actually enjoy seeing.

How to target Gen Z with DOOH ads

Build creative for the Gen Z voice

Showing that a brand is aligned with the priorities, causes and beliefs of its customers is crucial in building loyalty. However, advertisers need to be careful here as Gen Z’s tastes and motivations differ from previous generations.

One advertising study from Kantar Millward Brown found that Gen Z members were more receptive to ads that were funny, offered solid creative or told interesting stories. Furthermore, according to a McKinsey report, the main driver of consumption among Gen Z is the “search for truth in both a personal and a communal form.” This means authenticity, openness, inclusivity and freedom of expression are all top concerns for this generation.

With these preferences in mind, build ads that showcase the ideals of Gen Z consumers by tying your creative to themes like:

  • Sense of community
  • Customer stories
  • Social change
  • User-generated content
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging
  • Authenticity
  • Humor

This Spotify ad exemplifies many of the concepts that appeal to Gen Z. Not only do they leverage customer stories (i.e. using real people’s listening history), but they do a good job of creating an authentic and humorous, albeit one-sided, conversation with their audience.

In addition, advertisers can leverage dynamic creative in their DOOH ads to build a sense of community around their brand and bring the online excitement of their audience into the real world.

In this campaign, the NBA leveraged Vistar Media’s dynamic creative capabilities to pull in user-generated content from Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and other social media platforms to increase viewership for the 2022 playoffs.

Focus on location-specific screen activations

When it comes to building ads specifically for Gen Z consumers, one of the biggest challenges is that roughly half of the Gen Z population is under 18 years old, making it extremely limited, and in some cases illegal to target them online. However, being that digital out-of-home is a one-to-many medium, marketers can play it safe while selectively activating screens at locations where Gen Z audiences are more likely to visit, such as:

  • Malls
  • Sports entertainment (Topgolf, bowling alleys, etc.)
  • Schools (high school and college campuses)
  • Movie theaters
  • Gyms
  • Airports (for family travel)
  • Bars
  • Quick service & casual dining restaurants

As a part of its Gaming Gathering event, Twitch used data-driven targeting to reach its audience when and where they were most likely to be. In this case, being that Gen Z makes up a significant portion of their users, Twitch targeted their ads to run across various locations, including in malls, to drive awareness and tune-in intent for the different gaming sessions.

Provide direct engagement opportunities

Being the first truly digital-native generation, it makes sense that an estimated 98% of Gen Z owns a smartphone, and a further 79% rely on smartphones to do almost everything online. Marketers can leverage this information in their DOOH strategy by integrating direct engagement opportunities that allow their audience to learn more about their brand.

For example, a well-placed QR code in an ad can provide additional information and/or a clear next step for a Gen Z audience to take – knowing that they most likely will have a smartphone on which they can scan it. However, it’s important to make it enticing for the user to be incentivized to scan, engage and learn more.

This subway ad by Outfront Media provides a perfect example of how a QR code doesn’t have to be limited to a small box in the corner of an ad. When combined with a Gen Z-specific theme (in this case community building via social sharing), it can be the creative centerpiece that drives engagement.


Gen Z is shaking up the advertising world, and marketers everywhere will have to adapt. DOOH advertising provides a unique way to engage with Gen Z consumers in the real world with ads that reflect what matters most to them. Furthermore, using targeted activations in high Gen Z traffic locations and ads that provide direct engagement opportunities, brands will be perfectly positioned to build loyalty with the next wave of consumers for years to come.

Gen Z DOOH Advertising


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