Gen Z Brand Advocates Drive ROI via Social Activation

By 1stFive Archives
Cover image for  article: Gen Z Brand Advocates Drive ROI via Social Activation

Gen Z represents a big opportunity for brands to connect and build trust with emerging consumers.  There are serious pitfalls in not engaging with and forming authentic relationships with this pivotal and growing generation, which finds themselves in a different media world than even Millennials before them.

"Many Millennials are digital natives, but not social natives -- growing up with computers and cell phones, but not social media like Gen Z'ers. The Gen Z bandwidth for message intake is wider, but can be more discerning at the same time," says Jamie Stenziano, Senior Vice President, Media and Entertainment Insights at Clarion Research.

Gen Z passions run deep, are often niche and, as the Fuse Marketing Gen Z study reveals, they are frequently cause-driven:

  • 37% donated money or time to a cause this year;
  • 36% educated family and friends about a cause this year;
  • 57% say it's more important that they personally care about a brand's cause vs. the brand supporting any cause. 

Not surprisingly, the key issues of the United Nations often intersect with socially conscious brands looking to connect with Gen Z.  With its portfolio of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN has become a "go to" resource for those brands looking to leverage their businesses to create meaningful change on the issues they have committed to support.  These goals, adopted by 193 countries in 2015, serve as a roadmap for achieving a better future for all -- laying out paths to help end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change. SDGs are being used to create brand marketing campaigns that can have impact globally, but connect to young consumers locally.

With its mission of mobilizing public-private partnerships to address the world's most pressing problems, the UN Foundation alongside the UN has pioneered and co-created engaging, results-driven campaigns with high-profile entertainment brands.  One such case study, from a joint effort by the Foundation, the UN, UNICEF and Sony Pictures Entertainment, illustrates how social good and business are converging to authentically engage Gen Z on key issues with impact and deliver ROI.

Small Smurfs, Big Goals

Overview:  A campaign in the Spring of 2017 played an important role in helping to engage Gen Z in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.The campaign, co-created by the UN, the UN Foundation, UNICEF and Sony Pictures Entertainment, utilized The Smurfs, animated characters that young people have deep ties to and are interested in engaging with, to focus on global mass market engagement of Gen Z'ers.  Building off the SDGs, this campaign developed outreach strategies that tapped the Smurf brand's creative resources, capitalized on their existing multi-million-dollar marketing plans and access to global distribution to reach new potential supporters around the world with important messages.

Campaign Goal:  To increase awareness of SDGs and to encourage Gen Z'ers and their parents to act. The Smurfs served as connective tissue to make SDGs relatable and to encourage young people to do their part to build a happier world.

Activation Scope:  Gen Z'ers were invited to join "Team Smurfs" by visiting to learn how they could act and raise their voices for a better world.  A quiz allowed each user to find out which Smurf they identified with based on the issues they cared about most, then catalyzed users to generate content on their own social media.

Influencers:  Mandy Patinkin, Demi Lovato and Joe Manganiello (pictured left to right at top) -- three voice actors from the animated movie Smurfs: The Lost Village -- attended a celebration at United Nations headquarters to honor Gen Z'ers who had achieved SDGs in their own communities.

Event and PSA:  Leveraged the International Day of Happiness to focus attention on SDGs as the building blocks of a happier, healthier community.  A PSA video inspired youth to champion the goals.


  • The hashtag #SmallSmurfsBigGoals saw more than 839 million impressions across social media with more than 275,000 video views
  • 240,000+ viewed the website
  • 23,000 completed the quiz
  • PSAs played in 73 countries reaching 317 million viewers
  • Media hits reached more than 151 million across global outlets
  • The campaign was featured in 100+ global news broadcasts

This case study is a valuable roadmap for brands looking to connect with Gen Z.  The key to success was to design the creative and media elements from the outset to make important issues accessible, relatable and actionable.  As Jack Myers recently observed, "The media has played a huge role in shaping young men for every generation of the 20th and 21st centuries."  Myers stressed the importance of "relatable characters."   Small Smurfs, Big Goals delivered.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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