Digital native Gen Z skips online ads and installs adblockers but trusts OOH

Bespoke for the woke: Digital native Gen Z skips online ads and installs adblockers but trusts OOH; here’s what happened when we handed over ad creation to them

Generation Z, people born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, are set to inherit $3.5 trillion over the next two decades and wield the power to transform our world. Yet these digital natives are also native ad skippers and native ad blockers. Not so with Out of Home, says oOh!media CEO Cathy O’Connor. Here’s what happened when the firm handed over creative to Gen Z – and how it is using the insights to help advertisers make public spaces better.


Generational stereotypes have long been used in advertising as a quick and simple way to understand the shared experiences of a particular group. Common parlance in planning meetings and Boardrooms, it is easy to apply the principles of collectivism to ‘tick the box’, especially when there is a dearth of genuine representation in the room. The issue with labels – of any kind – is that they often homogenise a group to the point of caricature, leaving marketers without any real insights to use in campaign creation and execution.

We are not, however, blindly navigating generation-specific rules of engagement. There are key insights that we know are relevant to the Australian market that go beyond superficial demographics and help us to understand the impact of shared experiences. Despite being disproportionately impacted by job losses during Covid-19, Gen Z are more hopeful than any other group about what the future holds. Despite many being labelled as activists, Gen Z are predominately driven by issues that impact them directly – simply linking a campaign to a social cause will not gain the cut through marketers crave. Although they wear the badge of ‘digital native’, 82 per cent of Gen Z skip online ads where they can and actively espouse a greater level of trust and receptivity for traditional advertising formats, especially Out of Home (OOH).

It is this last insight that made us stand up and take notice. We wanted to understand why a demographic that is synonymous with online platforms would be the group that not only sees the most outdoor ads but who also enjoys them more than any other advertising medium they are exposed to. We learned that in the post-Covid environment, digital device burnout was a bigger issue than ever before. Spending time outdoors once restrictions around mobility were lifted was a huge drawcard for Gen Z, who were seeking to address the mental health issues they were particularly challenged by during the pandemic. For those who remained online, that was considered the realm of the personal – a way to remain connected with friends and loved ones. The unwelcome intrusion of brands into that space has been met with an uptake in adblocker technology.

At oOh!, we have taken a unique approach to navigating this brave (and young) new world. Our goal is to move beyond simply targeting Gen Z, to a shared place of deep understanding and powerful collaboration for change. 2022 marks the seventh year of an exclusive partnership with Re:act – a peer-to-peer behavioural change program founded by Andrew Hardwick. Re:act works directly with University and TAFE students throughout Australia, embedding the creation of a road safety campaign within their course syllabus. The students are mentored by industry leaders as well as Government road and work safety agencies, enabling the students to gain real-world training in campaign ideation and implementation. The end result is a series of road safety messages specifically developed for large format digital OOH that have been created by Gen Z for Gen Z that challenge behaviours at the moment it matters most: When young people are behind the wheel.

Avoiding the pitfalls of ‘hit and miss’ influencer marketing and instead tapping into the power of allowing Gen Z to have agency over the creation of their own campaigns has provided us with valuable insights when guiding our advertisers on other projects.

It has also ensured a practical way for the business to bring our ESG strategy to life by being an active part of the solution in addressing the disproportionate representation of young people in road trauma and death statistics. With around 14m young Australians having seen the Re:act campaigns on our digital billboards to date, and the program now scaled globally, we have found a way to tap into the creativity of Gen Z to continue making public spaces better.

This article was first published on Mi3 by Cathy O’Connor, CEO, oOh!media

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