YouTube’s new pitch to advertisers: We’re the ‘home of Gen Z’

Teenager using a cell phone in bed
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During the first business hours on the first day of May, YouTube gathered a group of fat-pocketed advertising partners to Google’s Pier 57—the company’s 320,000-square-foot event and office space that juts into the Hudson River—to woo them with spicy new ad offerings and innovations.

Guests were treated to mini cups of overnight oats, truffle chicken sausage, and kale smoothies. But the real bait that YouTube dangled in front of this audience was spelled out in big, bold letters on signs and in videos everywhere you looked: Gen Z. 

YouTube is the home for Gen-Z, read the text backdrop behind Jon Youshaei, a creator who gave a keynote presentation at the event. 

“Gen Z comes to YouTube for the creators and the authentic connection that they have with them,” Youshaei said during his talk, echoing the text behind him. 

The guests were there for YouTube’s annual “NewFront” event, one of the many splashy extravaganzas that digital media companies put on this time of year to show off their latest goods and attract marketing dollars from big-brand advertisers. YouTube’s pitch was very clear: If you want to reach Gen Z—consumers born between 1997 and 2012—YouTube is the place to be.

Gen Z is closely associated with another popular internet video app, TikTok. But YouTube, which is now 17 years old, is a big part of this generation’s lives too, the company said, wielding statistics from proprietary studies to prove the point. Researchers found that 65% of Gen Z YouTube viewers agree that they would “miss out on a lot” if it wasn’t for YouTube; 73% of Gen Z YouTube viewers say the platform is the best place to get a variety of opinions on a topic.

YouTube Shorts, the short-form video product that’s positioned as a rival to TikTok, was front and center. YouTube announced that advertisers can now make “awareness” and “reach” the goals of their Shorts campaigns and highlighted work with Adobe and Unilever.

“I do think it’s kind of funny that we’re already referring to traditional YouTube video as long-form, because shorts are actually in the DNA of YouTube,” said Google’s VP of U.S. agency and brand solutions Kristen O’Hara in her presentation called “The Long & Shorts of YouTube.” 

YouTube executives presented on stage or mingled with advertisers on the sidelines, though YouTube’s new CEO Neal Mohan did not speak on stage—a notable change from previous CEO Susan Wojcicki, who frequently participated in the event. (Update: A YouTube spokesperson said that Mohan will instead be attending YouTube Brandcast, which is now an Upfront.)

During his presentation called “What Matters to Gen-Z,” professional creator and former Instagram product marketer Youshaei walked through his career: transitioning from product marketing manager at Instagram to a full-time creator, and enlisting his pregnant wife to quit her job and join him. “The number one thing that gives me confidence to bet my business, bet my career, and in so many senses, my family is that YouTube is the platform and the home for Gen Z and the next generation of viewers,” he said. “You can take it from me. I’ve worked at multiple platforms and upload to every single platform.” 

YouTube’s event kicked off the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s 2023 NewFronts week, which occurs from May 1 to 4. The week brings together the biggest consumer brands, like Adobe and Unilever, and platforms including YouTube, Snap, Meta, and TikTok, who present their innovations and suite of ad offerings. It consists of four days of presentations like YouTube’s, parties, and networking—all with the purpose of connecting platform and brand executives to help guide brand budgets. 

The health of the advertising industry is being closely watched by the media companies that depend on ad revenue, as well as by investors seeking clues about the direction of the broader economy. Last week, many of the large internet ad platforms delivered quarterly results that showed surprising resilience in ad spending, with YouTube parent Google, Meta, and Microsoft all beating analyst expectations. Still, YouTube’s $6.7 billion in Q1 ad revenue was down 2.6% from the year-ago period. 

With Snap’s NewFront scheduled for Tuesday, Meta presenting on Thursday, and TikTok’s on Friday (though TikTok’s event is closed to press), it will be interesting to see how the rivals use these big-budget events to lure advertisers, and whether they, too, will fish for ad dime using Gen Z. 

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