Fake Woke

Fake Woke
Simone Saidmehr

Social media has molded Gen Z into the generation of authenticity. In just a few scrolls on our Instagram Explore page, we can see self- made singers perform covers and original music, dancers perform traditional and trendy routines, and artists who produce unique, raw creations. Not only has this exposure to different types of people and expressions made us more accepting of the weird and unconventional, it has also shifted our interests. When it comes to impressing my group of friends, we like our content how we like our jeans: unfinished and on-trend. If brands want to stay relevant, marketers need to adapt to this shift.

Tap In:

Brands have an advantage when marketing to Gen Z because we can all be found in the same place: social media. It’s important, however, that brands maximize their impact. Basic sponsored ads won’t get companies as far with Gen Z as they might get with older generations. Brands need to get creative in order to hold our interest. That means using the latest features: Instagram Stories, Highlights, and Twitter in addition to the more conventional grid post and Facebook ads. It must be understood that if the content feels like an ad, we’ll go cold. Off-the-cuff and organic is what gets our attention.


Gen Z is a socially-conscious bunch. We have started movements advocating gun reform on Twitter, we’re quick to call out celebs for ignorance, and we rally behind movements such as #MeToo like nobody’s business. We are unique in that most of us are growing up in a world where gender expression, race relations, and identity are discussed openly and at length. It’s clear why 85% of Gen Z believe companies have an obligation to help solve social problems and why 23% have boycotted an activity or company that has gone against their beliefs (2015 Fuse Consumer Views Study). Business schools have taken notice of this trend and are adding courses and specialized departments in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Thomas Cooley, the dean of New York University’s Stern Business School stated, “Demand for CSR activities has just soared in the past three years.” It’s clear that marketing teams have picked up on our affinity for all things “woke,” but the question still remains: where is the line between socially conscious and disingenuous? Gen Z will readily get behind companies who share their values if those values come across as authentic. In short, wanting to lend a helping hand for social change is good. Using serious social issues to sell a product is insensitive and insulting to us. The easiest way for Gen Z to see through brands being “fake woke” is when the cause being promoted has nothing to do with the product or the company itself. That’s not to say that brands can’t support causes that are unrelated to the company, however, simply talking about a certain issue in a campaign without actually contributing to the solution in any real way is where brands can lose their footing.

Get it Right or Get Cancelled:

Pepsi’s now notorious TV commercial which featured Kendall Jenner raised quite a few Gen Z eyebrows. One might ask what Pepsi or Kendall Jenner have to do with solving police brutality. The answer? Absolutely nothing. But the real problem was in the oversimplification of such a complex issue. On April 4th, the day the ad aired, conversation sentiment regarding the brand was 53.3% negative. On the 5th, 58.6% of mentions were categorized as negative (brand- watch). Conversely, on April 4th, 28% of consumers stated that they would consider buying Pepsi the next time they wanted to purchase a carbonated soft drink. By April 12th, that percentage had dropped to 20% (Yougov). Although there have been a few marketing hiccups, some brands are getting it right. Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s makeup line, markets under the concept of “beauty for all.” They actively acknowledge that the lack of makeup options women of color have is a major problem within the beauty industry and create products that help solve this gap in the market. The brand uses influencers who are primarily women of color (their target audience), while consistently re-posting images showcasing diverse consumers. The numbers don’t lie; while most beauty brands have a 1% fan engagement on average, Fenty Beauty’s Instagram account reached 10.41%, and generated almost 80K influential posts within the first month of launch (Dash Hudson).

Support from Gen Z can make or break a brand; we have an unrivaled ability to rally behind the things we like and boycott the things we don’t. That said, brands need to understand that authenticity will get them further with our generation than trying to jump on the cultural Gen Z bandwagon.