Generation Z and Event Sponsorship

The Gen Z Event Sponsorship Throwdown: Which One Ranks Supreme?

You might be familiar with all the facts and figures on Generation Z. They’re more than a quarter of the U.S. population. They have eight-second attention spans. They dig stuff that starts with S: Snapchat, social media, social responsibility, startups, smartphones.

But here’s what the numbers neglect to reflect: no matter the generation, teenagers are always going to be teenagers. They’re going to have crushes and broken hearts, mix it up with friends, get into a bit of trouble, stress over too much homework and aspire to change the world.

At a time where companies – especially big, established ones – are looking for ways to stay relevant, build loyalty early, and grow with the next generation of consumers, they need to understand where to engage with teens, and why. And those places aren’t always online. They’re events like concerts and festivals and sporting events.


Generation Z and Event Sponsorship


But, with all these events to choose from, which make the most sponsorship impact with teens? To help, below we explore four types of live events where teens like to hang out, and rank them in order of which give youth marketers the best ROI for reaching and resonating with Gen Z.

4. Sporting events: a Gen Z slam dunk? (More like a lay up.)

People of all ages will always love sports. But over the last decade, the greatest decline in sports fans has been between two distinct age groups: 18-34 and 12-17. Put another way, Millennials and Gen Z kids are less likely to be into the game.

That’s not to say that sports sponsorships aren’t worth it. For example, alternative and extreme sporting events, like ESPN’s X Games, attract youth audiences and therefore are an effective platform to reach them. In recent years, however, this bastion of extreme alterna-sports has trended more mainstream; snowboarding, BMX riding, skateboarding, and surfing now appeal to all members of the family, not just the kids. It just doesn’t feel cool or exclusive – two things Gen Z craves.  Check out this family Go-Kart fun activation that took place at X Games Austin.



What this dwindling teen fandom means for brands is fewer Gen Z eyeballs – and therefore less of their attention – on sports sponsorships. Also consider that, from a cost standpoint, sports sponsorships can be expensive and, worse yet, not that efficient. McKinsey points out that brands tend to spend more money on acquiring sports sponsorship rights than they do on activations to promote the sponsorship, like booths and merchandise. And, it becomes even harder to track the ROI once the sports sponsorship dollars have been spent.


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3. eSports: Gen Z’s game boys

Brands may also consider sponsoring the burgeoning arena of eSports, or competitive video gaming. According to SuperData Research, eSports sponsorships and advertising totaled a combined $579 million globally in 2015. That figure is on the rise; by 2017, eSports will be a $1 billion market, with brand sponsorships accounting for a large part of it.

There’s no doubt that the sponsorship door is wide open for eSports. Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Nissan are just a few of the brands who are already doing it, sponsoring everything from live streamed video game tourneys to teams to prize giveaways. And if industry projections are right, more sponsorships are on the horizon.

However, brands looking to activate sponsorships that fire on all Gen Z cylinders should perhaps look elsewhere. eSports fans are mostly hardcore gamers. What’s more, according to Nielsen, Gen Z teens only account for 10 percent of all eSports fans. The majority (57 percent) are Millennials, white (64 percent), and male (78 percent).


Gen Z Characteristics Infograph


2. Social and digital fests: pressing play on YouTube-lebrity appeal

Thanks to the skyrocketing popularity of YouTube and celebrity content creators like PewDiePie (who has more than 42 million YouTube subscribers), Tyler Oakley (8 million subscribers), and others, events like VidCon and PlayList Live are attracting thousands of adoring Gen Zers. DigiTour, a star-studded YouTube, Vine, and Instagram festival, hits big cities like New York and Los Angeles. The tour gives young fans — girls, especially — a once-in-a-lifetime chance to forgo FOMO and see their favorite digi-stars IRL.

It’s easy to see why joining forces or simply associating with YouTube star power at these events is an effective strategy. Eighty-five percent of Gen Z teens are more likely to visit YouTube than any other social site, and 63 percent say they’d try a product or brand endorsed by a YouTuber. In the Gen Z marketing playbook, YouTube is a game changer.

But most kids who go to social and digital festivals are there for the celebs – either to see them live, or to learn how to create content to someday become one. Sometimes the event sponsors are third-wheel participants. They only serve to interrupt the experience, not enhance it. For brands looking to reach a broader youth audience, activating sponsorships at a less-niche event – and one that reaches girls and boys from all corners of the U.S. – is the way to go.

1. Music festivals: striking a Gen Z power chord

Coachella in Indio, California, The Governers Ball in New York City, Bonnaroo in Tennessee, and The Hangout in Alabama – each festival has everything Gen Z values: music, friends, food, community, causes, selfies, social media, no parents.

Market studies show that sponsoring a live music event inspires brand trust and affinity. Seventy-six percent of all music festival goers say they feel more favorable toward brands that sponsor a tour or concert. That helps explain the nearly $1.5 billion that North American companies will pour into sponsoring a music festival this year. And also why music festivals are ranked number one on the list of the most effective teen event sponsorships.

Vans Warped Tour – which helped Katy Perry and Eminem rise to fame – hits the Gen Z bulls eye; 91 percent of Warped’s 500,000 attendees are between the ages of 15 and 25. Musical acts run the gamut from hip hop to post punk. The tour gives brands myriad opportunities to reach festival goers from across a wider Gen Z spectrum and engage with them across touch points – on site, on social, online, in stores, and beyond.

There’s no shortage of options for brands when it comes to sponsoring events Gen Zers love. But the rankings make it clear: there’s simply no better place to tune in and rock out with Gen Z than at a music festival.


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