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How CPG Brands Can Connect With Gen Z?

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GenZ CPG Packaging Desgin

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are trendsetters. They’re often one of the first groups to pivot their marketing strategies and reach out to the latest generation of young, spendy consumers.

While the Millennial market reigned supreme for a number of years, a new generation is taking hold in the marketing mainstream—the so-called Generation Z, a group of consumers born after 1997. They makeup roughly 40% of the population and are armed with an estimated spending power between $29 and $143 billion.

As we’ve done in past articles that focused on Millennial-specific packaging design tips, let’s take a look at this fresh generation of consumers and how CPG brands can make an impact on them.

Key Elements of Gen Z Packaging Design: Authenticity

What features define Generation Z relative to their Millennial or Gen X counterparts?

If you look online, you’ll see one common theme: authenticity! 

It appears to be common knowledge in the CPG world that Gen Z-ers crave authenticity even more than Millennials do. They’re interested in “speaking their truth” and are more than happy to call out phony behaviors and doublespeak from politicians, corporate entities, and even their own peers.

While we’re willing to acknowledge that Gen Z is an outspoken bunch, package designers need to remember another key facet of this market: Many members of Gen Z are a somewhat image-conscious group.

We’re not trying to paint them with an unfair brush, but consider the following: This is the definitive social media generation, a group who grew up with iPads in hand and who have an endless supply of social interaction at their fingertips.

Statista illustrates how this group favors heavily visual social platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok—all of which let users create carefully cultivated narratives around their lives. As most of us know, these narratives tend to portray the positive over the negative. They present a social “face” that isn’t necessarily representative of who they really are.

Balance Aesthetics With Genuine Appeals

So what does the above paradox mean for CPG brands? We offer two takeaways:

  1. Gen Z IS more marketing-savvy than previous generations due to their broad exposure to online media, advertisements, and corporate branding. As such, they’re less willing to tolerate lip service from corporate entities and will demand concrete evidence of brand claims that attempt to target them.
  2. Gen Z has a curious taste for un-reality. They tend to crave beauty but are more than happy to accept a lack of authenticity in the media they consume. Although this has broader implications from a social perspective, in packaging design terms, it means that packaging needs to be attractive, fit in with the Gen Z lifestyle, and represent the values they connect with.

Consider Their Digital-Native Upbringing

Of course, it’s not fair to define Gen Z entirely by some broad criticism of their digital attunement. Many Gen Z entrepreneurs have leveraged social media as a tool to build their brands and become invested inside hustles that give them more control over their lives than their parents or grandparents did.

As a group that has lived alongside the internet, this market is quite familiar with how companies build and market their own brands, especially given that many are basically brand managers in their own right. Nielsen estimates that 54% of Gen Z-ers are budding business people who want to start their own companies.

This group is highly cognizant of being “sold to” and has finely tuned filters for things that deserve their attention. But when messaging manages to break through, they’re able to hone in on it with a laser focus exclusive to digital natives. 

So, which types of messages are most likely to resonate?

Design Transparency

A defining feature of Gen Z is that they have been exposed to more advertising in their short lives than Baby Boomers would have seen throughout decades of print and television ads. The internet has made this possible. As noted above, this means that Gen Z can pass through the noise more easily and “see” key marketing elements that really speak to them.

In packaging terms, consider how a brand could play into this idea. Protein bar manufacturer RXBAR illustrates this well with a minimalist packaging approach that showcases its component ingredients. It’s not complicated—but it does a good job of cutting through the BS and sticks to the facts.

Market Diversity

One interesting shift we’re seeing in Gen Z markets is diversity. According to Pew Research, a mere 52% of Gen Z-ers are non-Hispanic whites—which makes this the most racially and culturally diverse market we’ve seen so far.

This means that CPG brands will need to start thinking a little differently when they attempt to reach their audiences. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t do the trick; brands will need to perform extensive research to zero in on who’s actually consuming their products and what that particular segment wants to see.

Additionally, we expect to see more diverse perspectives on the design level as companies test packaging strategies that go against the “best practices” and attempt to appeal to a broader range of users with multi-cultural branding. 

These trends are already taking off. We see big-name players like PepsiCo re-evaluating several of their long-time brands to shake off stereotypes and ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

Environmental Consciousness

Clearly, Gen Z is a market that cares deeply about the environment and sustainability. This is one of those ongoing trends in which each generation seems to care more about it than the previous one did. But it bears particular weight with the youthful Gen Z market and the dire warnings we see about climate change.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z views climate change as a matter of life and death. Who knows what the world will look like 30 to 40 years from now? This market will be living with long-term climate effects for years, so it’s crucial to engage with them on this level and show a commitment to protecting their futures.

We’ve covered the consumer demand for sustainable packaging at length in other articles, so we won’t delve into it too deeply here. Just know that this is an inseparable part of effective Gen Z marketing, and companies that want to make an impact can’t put it off much longer.

Evolving Design Strategies to Connect With Gen Z

In many ways, connecting with Gen Z isn’t that different from connecting with generations past. 

Many of the same practices still apply but with a few twists that help brands cater more specifically to this market. Reaching this group won’t require a complete redesign of your packaging strategies, but you should know which tweaks can be applied for the most effect.

At SmashBrand, our data first process does just that. We’ve built ongoing partnerships with companies over the years to help them define and evolve their packaging strategies as each new market emerges.