Digital natives (Gen Z and Younger Millennials) are among the savviest consumers when it comes to navigating the online space, whether that be on social media or in e-commerce transactions. Spending as much time online as they do has allowed them to develop an ability to identify what is “real” and what isn’t. This is a critical skill, considering that by some accounts up to 40% of all internet traffic now originates from nonhuman entities. In the past, authenticity — or at least the appearance of it — was the watchword for marketers and a key part of any brand’s mission to get cred from Gen Z and Millennial consumers. But our research demonstrates that although younger generations are good at spotting fakes, they aren’t scandalized by fakery. They’re amused by it.
Consider the case of Marissa Casey Fuchs (Instagram: @FashionAmbitionist), an influencer with over 160,000 followers. Like much of the rest of her life, her engagement played out on social media, courtesy of a meticulously planned worldwide scavenger hunt. Initial press coverage was glowing. A few days later, however, it was revealed that her fiancé had not only scripted the entire event, but had prepared and presented a pitch deck to brands, providing multiple opportunities for sponsorships. While media outlets referred to the entire event as a “stunt,” their supposed outrage was not shared by consumers, who flocked to Fuchs’ social media accounts to the tune of nearly 40,000 new followers — a 25% increase.
Another take on the idea of real vs. fake was provided by KFC, which poked fun at the idea of influencer culture by unveiling its own CGI spokesperson, the Virtual Influencer Colonel. As a brand with a solid understanding of what drives social media engagement, KFC trusted its fans to get the joke, which they did. The ads in the campaign, many of which were “collabs” with other social media-savvy brands like Dr Pepper and Old Spice, demonstrated that one way to engage a cohort with finely tuned BS detectors is to lean into, and even celebrate, the BS.
What does this mean for other brands? Fake, in and of itself, isn’t bad. Digital natives are fine interacting with bots and AI. Young consumers know that social media content isn’t organic, but often paid for by brands working to put their products in front of as many eyes as possible.
To learn more, check out “Resonate With Digital Natives by Redefining ‘Real’ for Your Brand” (subscription required).