Born into a society where scandal, social injustice, and inequities have become commonplace, Gen Z is largely untrusting of people, institutions, and the world around them. Rejecting the world of fake news and highly-filtered social media feeds, Gen Z's adoption of TikTok shows their preference for authentic content versus highly stylized ones.
An EY study identified authenticity as Gen Z's most important value in life, with 92% saying 'being true to oneself' was very or extremely important. Approaching this generation with open, candid honest marketing will be key to earning their trust in the long term as consumers and employees.
As a digital-first audience, Gen Z are more influenced by online media than any previous generation. Businesses that lead with honest and open digital content can expect to be rewarded with Gen Z's trust and loyalty.
Set to have a spending power of $33 trillion by 2030, Gen Z presents an enormous commercial potential. To tap into this opportunity, businesses must engage with this cohort with honest marketing.
What is honest marketing?
Honest marketing is where businesses prioritise truth, transparency and openness when communicating their products and services. This could involve centering campaigns on authenticity, or freely communicating missteps or shortcomings in a way that demonstrates credibility.
Continue reading for 4 actionable honest marketing strategies that could help you win favour with Gen Z:
4 Ways to Engage Gen Z with Honest Marketing – Examples
1. Lean into UGC
User-Generated Content (UGC) is a powerful tool for building trust with Gen Z.
UGC generally consists of images, videos, text, testimonials, or audio created by individuals who have a genuine affinity for your brand – from product testimonials to contributions to creative brand campaigns. In contrast to paid influencer content, UGC is viewed as more authentic and honest marketing, and is therefore a key way to establish brand trust with your Gen Z audience.
To generate UGC, encourage your customers to share their experiences and thoughts about your products or experience. Offer reminders and rewards to incentivize them. To maximise the potential of UGC, you can implement UGC content across multiple channels in your marketing campaigns, in order to showcase authentic, unfiltered and honest opinions – just make sure to always credit the original creator.
Hyram and CeraVe: Hyram, a skincare enthusiast, built his following of 6M TikTok and 6M YouTube followers by providing honest reviews of products. His genuine endorsement of skincare brand CeraVe in early 2020 led to huge popularity amongst the Gen Z audience, and many of its products selling out.
Glossier MaskForce: Beauty brand Glossier regularly posts UGC images of people using its products. When the brand launched its Mega Greens Galaxy masks, thousands of its customers shared photos of wearing them using the #MaskForce hashtag, which Glossier reposted to boost engagement.
2. Prove Your Sustainability Marketing Claims
Gen Z expects brands to stand for something beyond profit, and are more likely to support brands with a clear mission and values. One particular area on which Gen Z expect brands to take a stand is their environmental impact – perhaps understandable, given they have grown up against the backdrop of the looming climate crisis.
But Gen Z are not interested in brands sharing vague green platitudes on social media feeds. They want to see proof that a brand is taking action. A McKinsey study found not only does Gen Z care more about the planet than their predecessors, but they’re also more sceptical of corporate claims. 88% of American Gen Zers distrust brands' sustainability marketing claims.
To win over Gen Z with sustainability marketing, it's not enough for brands to merely claim a commitment to sustainability. They must substantiate these claims with specific evidence and make it easy for customers to access more information. This includes disclosing information about ethical sourcing, eco-friendly manufacturing, and the company's overall environmental impact.
Examples of honest sustainability marketing:
Gen Z-friendly skincare brand Byoma is making transparent product sustainability claims via the online retailer Cult Beauty. By embedding Vegan, Cruelty-Free and Clinically Tested claims on its product pages, which customers can click into to see the evidence, Byoma is increasing trust in its sustainability marketing claims and improving brand perception.
Supplements brand The Nue Co is also practising honest marketing by publishing clickable sustainability badges on its own website, which are backed up by easy-to-access third-party verification or evidence. By making their sustainability marketing efforts transparent in this way, they’re building trust amongst sceptical, eco-conscious customers. Click here to learn more.
“In the same way that people don't expect brands to work with virgin plastic anymore, transparency is becoming a commercial requirement.” Flo Glendenning, VP of Product & Sustainability, The Nue Co
3. Practice Organisational Transparency
Gen Z's digitally-native upbringing makes them accustomed to having a wealth of information at their fingertips. By extension, they expect honest marketing from the organisations they engage with, and they’ll vote with their feet when a business fails to be open and transparent enough with the public. In a study by 5WPR, 45% of Gen Zers reported having boycotted a business that lacked transparency.
Buffer, a Saas platform for social media management which is famed for its own salary transparency, outlines on its blog a range of other areas where businesses can make internal data public: diversity and inclusion data; growth and performance; pricing breakdowns; internal processes; hiring practices and revenue.
The benefits of being a transparent business extend to your hiring efforts too. As well as attracting Gen Z consumers, honest marketing appeals to future employees, who are increasingly on the hunt for open and honest employers. Being transparent about salaries in job adverts is a good place to start – an Indeed survey found that more than half of Gen Z consider it “very important” to include starting compensation in a job listing.
Examples of business transparency:
Girlfriend Collective: In the wake of the Black Lives Matter conversations, sustainable activewear brand Girlfriend Collective committed to publishing a transparency report, opening up about the diversity of their workforce as well as donations made to organisations fighting inequality.
Loud Bodies: In a much-lauded social media post in 2021, the founder of fashion brand Loud Bodies opened up about an especially difficult ethical trade-off they’d struggled with as a self-professed ethical clothing brand. They openly discuss the challenges they face in striving for ethical production..
4. Admit Your Mistakes
Demonstrating vulnerability is a surefire way to build trusting relationships, whether interpersonal or between a brand and its audience.
Nowadays, we are broadly conditioned to filter and airbrush our output to cultivate an image of perfection, but in reality, consumers are more interested in honest marketing than faultlessness. Confessing to missteps demonstrates authenticity and humanity. It also implies a genuine confidence in your product or service and can significantly benefit your brand perception.
Uncomfortable though it might feel, businesses that are able to swallow their pride and publicly admit missteps (and promptly rectify them) are even more likely to establish trust when it comes to the Gen Z cohort. Research from MicKinsey found that Gen Z is especially tolerant of brands that take responsibility for their errors and actively work to correct them.
Examples of business admitting mistakes:
Lego: The Danish toymaker recently publicly abandoned a plan to replace oil-based plastics in its bricks with plastic from recycled bottles. The company had initially aimed to eliminate petroleum-based plastics in its products by 2030 but found that using recycled materials would in fact increase emissions.
Ace and Tate: In a viral blog post titled “Look, we f*cked up”, the eyewear brand confessed publicly to five misguided decisions it took while trying to become more sustainable, from neglecting to implement a code of conduct which would have protected workers in its supply chain to incorporating bamboo in production to make customers think the products were more sustainable than they were.
How Honest Marketing Helps Attract and Convert Gen Z Customers
When it comes to winning the hearts and minds of Gen Z, honest marketing can offer a powerful competitive advantage in markets where authenticity is scarce. By adopting a transparent approach, businesses can significantly increase brand trust and by doing so, boost both customer conversion and retention.
The first step for businesses is to understand exactly what honest marketing looks like for their specific customer base. Each brand and audience is unique, and what resonates with one group may not work for another. Whether it’s committing to publishing gender or diversity pay gap reports, admitting that your 2025 carbon targets were too ambitious or activating a UGC campaign, honest marketing offers a prime opportunity to engage and build loyalty amongst Gen Z consumers.
By embracing transparency, acknowledging mistakes, backing up your sustainability marketing claims and genuinely connecting with this discerning generation, brands can tap into Gen Z's immense spending power and build long-lasting relationships based on authenticity.
Gen Z has spoken, and they demand the truth – it's time for marketers to listen and adapt.