Brands

Gen Z Has Very Mixed Feelings on Targeted Ads, Branding Changes

A majority of Americans between the ages of 13 and 25 say receiving targeted ads on social media is ‘sometimes’ an invasion of privacy, according to a new Morning Consult survey

Graphic conveying Gen Zers on social media
Less than 1 in 5 Gen Zers said receiving personalized ads on social media is “always” an invasion of their privacy, according to Morning Consult data. (Unsplash, Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Chloe Phan)

Gen Zers are no longer a mere fascination: They now wield serious purchasing power and cultural capital as they put their imprints on the global economy. Morning Consult surveyed Americans between the ages of 13 and 25 about their media tastes and habits, relationships with brands and interest in sports in order to better understand where, exactly, the youngest adult generation is now taking us.

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When it comes to consumer habits, Gen Z is a contradictory group. 

They’re leading-edge advocates on many issues like workplace equity and climate change. And yet they also favor and buy from brands like Shein —  the Chinese fast-fashion retailer that frequently makes headlines for unsafe working conditions and environmental pollution — significantly more than older generations. 

According to new Morning Consult data, Gen Z opinions of advertising more broadly are just as mixed as their opinions of specific brands.

In a new survey of Americans between the ages of 13 and 25, 56% of Gen Zers said that receiving personalized ads on social media can sometimes invade their privacy, but it depends. Seventeen percent of respondents said such advertising is always an invasion of privacy, and about 1 in 10 (11%) said the opposite.

The generation is also ambivalent about the role of branding: 50% prefer that companies regularly update their creative assets to reflect current trends, while 50% prefer that companies maintain their original looks.

More Than Half of Gen Zers Say Targeted Advertising on Social Media Is ‘Sometimes’ an Invasion of Privacy

Respondents were asked whether they think receiving targeted ads on social media is…

Survey conducted Nov. 2-8, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. A separate survey was conducted Nov. 2-4, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Gen Zers’ nuanced view of targeted advertising

  • A significantly larger share of Gen Zers said targeted ads’ status as a privacy invader “depends” than did all U.S. adults. 
  • Less than 1 in 5 (17%) Gen Zers said receiving personalized ads on social media is “always” an invasion of their privacy. Meanwhile, 28% of all adults said the same. 
  • Gen Zers and all adults did exhibit parity on one stance: 11% of each group said they do not view targeted advertising as an invasion of privacy at all. 
Gen Zers Are Exactly Split on Updating Branding vs. Keeping It the Same

Respondents were asked whether they prefer companies update their branding (such as colors, logo, packaging) or keep their branding the same

Survey conducted Nov. 2-8, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. A separate survey was conducted Nov. 2-4, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

General population prefers companies to maintain original branding 

  • Half of Gen Zers said they like when companies refresh the look and feel of their brand (colors, logo, packaging, etc.), while the other 50% would rather not see such things change. Among all adults, 3 in 5 said they prefer the latter approach to branding.
  • However, across both Gen Z and all adult populations, women preferred companies to update their branding significantly more than men do. 
  • Overall, adult men were most decisive in their opinion, as nearly two-thirds (63%) said they favor when companies leave branding unchanged. 

A delicate balance

Though creative changes may present little harm to brands’ reputation among Gen Z consumers, there is one type of activation that yields legitimate risk: partnerships with unpopular sponsors. 

Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) Gen Zers said they had boycotted a brand for partnering with an influencer or celebrity who did or said something with which they disagreed. This figure is even higher among female Gen Zers (26%).

Jules Terpak, a youth researcher and digital culture columnist for The Washington Post, attributes this behavior to Gen Z’s belief that they are not just customers of the brands they buy from, but also “true stakeholders.” Because they’ve spent their entire lives online — both making content themselves and consuming it — young people feel uniquely positioned to provide input to the brands with which they engage.  

As such, Gen Z expects to see this “genuine relationship” reflected in companies’ marketing efforts, Terpak said.

The Nov. 2-8, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. A separate Nov. 2-4, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.