The De-influencing Era: As social media’s purchase power escalates, Gen Z is becoming more skeptical of influencers and sustainability messaging

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Public Relations

Has influencer marketing met its match in an age of increasingly skeptical younger consumers? What was once considered the most authentic marketing approach may be collapsing under the massive weight of greed, as influencers are devolving into glorified brand shills in the eyes of some Gen Z shoppers, and they’re shifting their approach to using social media for product discovery and purchasing, according to a new study from conversational research platform Rival Technologies and insight community Reach3 Insights.

The firms’ new 2024 Gen Z Marketing and Engagement Report—which reveals shifting Gen Z attitudes on social media, influencer marketing, online shopping, sustainability, and brand loyalty—found that social media’s role in purchase discovery is increasing, but it is only one step in a long and complex buying journey. Among Gen Z consumers who shop online, only 18.4 percent complete the purchase directly through social channels. In contrast, 88.2 percent buy via online marketplaces (Amazon, Etsy, etc.) and 74.6 percent through brand websites.

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When asked which social media platforms they use to discover new brands, Gen Zers single out Instagram (70.3 percent), TikTok (34.3 percent), and YouTube (33.1 percent) as top channels.

The research also suggests that hype for influencer marketing may be starting to backfire

Nearly 50 percent of Gen Zers surveyed are “not very likely” or “not likely at all” to buy something recommended by influencers. Many of those who participated in the study described paid influencer partnerships as “very insincere” or “annoying.”

“Influencer marketing is at risk of facing a serious reckoning,” said Paula Catoira, chief marketing officer at Rival Group, parent company of Rival Tech and Reach3, in a news release. “To ensure ROI from influencer partnerships, brand marketers need to understand their Gen Z customers and align their marketing strategy with the needs of this audience.”

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Gen Z attitudes on sustainability also seem to be shifting

The report found that 42.9 percent of Gen Zers prefer sustainable products when available, but it’s not the only consideration. Budget and price are big factors in buying decisions. This helps explain why fast fashion, for example, continues to grow despite its impact on the environment—a phenomenon that was parodied in the recent season finale of “Saturday Night Live.”

“Our research highlights how the attitudes and behaviors of Gen Zs can shift significantly as they go through different life stages and as socio-economic factors evolve,” said Andrew Reid, CEO and founder of Rival Technologies, in the release. “To get accurate and nuanced insights on Gen Zs and win their loyalty, brands need to engage with these young consumers on an ongoing basis and do it in a way that’s aligned with their expectations and behaviors.”

influencer trends

Download the full report here.

Findings from the report are based on a mobile-first, conversational survey of 750 Gen Zs in the US and Canada conducted on the Rival Technologies platform in April 2024. The research study captured quant, qual and video feedback, using a mobile-first approach that encouraged candid participation from Gen Zs. The Angus Reid Group provided samples for the study.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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