Focus on CPG: Gen Z reimagines heritage brands through a new cultural lens

“Taste the feeling.” “Snap. Crackle. Pop.” “Betcha can't eat just one.” These are some of the most recognizable phrases in American culture—and proof of the rich heritage CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands enjoy. However, these long-standing brand legacies must move with the times in order to stay interesting and relevant—especially when trying to connect with new audiences.

Enter Gen Z, the teen and twenty-something consumers taking their first steps into adulthood. They’re passionate about the brands they grew up with—yet this generation speaks a new language and has new perspectives when shopping on Main Street, the web, or via apps.

Digital streaming audio provides CPG brands with opportunities to connect with next-gen consumers through new and relevant contexts, and align their product with Gen Z spending habits

We spoke with Spotify’s Category Development Officer for CPG and QSR (Quick Service Restaurant), Justin Faiber, to understand how Spotify helps CPG brands connect with Zs...

Q: How do iconic CPG brands—some that have been around for more than 100 years—ensure they stay relevant for a new generation?

“The most successful heritage brands—Coke, Pepsi, Kraft, General Mills, Frito, and the rest—understand that, as a brand, you can’t only keep with tradition and expect to maintain relevance. Even though your brand is well established, you have to be a bit malleable. If you only stand for one thing and never change, consumers are going to tune you out and look for what’s new. So, we’re seeing these traditional brands break the mold of their identity while staying true to their core business in order to attract a new consumer base through a reshaped cultural lens. What that looks like in practice will be different from brand to brand, and dependent on the needs of business to recruit or retain consumers. At Spotify we want to help such iconic brands unlock the best of their established brand essence, and let new consumers dictate what it means to them to interact with these brands.”

Q: According to our recent 2022 Culture Next research study, Gen Z is nostalgic but they’re seeking to put their own spin on nostalgia. How are you seeing this in the CPG space?

“That’s exactly right. The reality is that some consumers won’t eat or drink your product, but they will wear your brand on a T-shirt. Or they will share your marketing campaign, because there’s something about it they enjoy. Or they will listen to your branded playlist because it’s really fun. There are all kinds of ways Zs are leaning into nostalgia. Rather than seeing the cultural past as stagnant, they consider the past as fuel for the present and the future. We’re seeing this in the CPG space when brands embrace legacy packaging or famous campaigns in order to hark back to more nostalgic times and prompt memories of positive emotion towards a product or brand.”

77% of Gen Zs like when brands bring back old aesthetic styles, and 73% love when brands produce retro products or content.¹

Q: What are some of the best examples of classic CPG brands getting a modern update that resonates with Gen Zs?

“So many good examples of this in culture recently. I love Coca-Cola’s collab with DJ Marshmello to create a limited-edition line of beverages. It’s the first time a music artist has co-created a drink with Coke, and they actually made the can white with a black script logo. The idea of Coke changing packaging away from red and white even two years ago would have been shocking—it’s groundbreaking in a way as it shows how brands are stretching to meet the consumer versus the consumer having to meet the brand where they are! We’re seeing so many more brands introduce customization and playfulness in order to reach new consumers. Oreos keeps releasing new flavors which are on trend; Frito-Lay is creating packaging for social causes; Mountain Dew is doing Call of Duty collaborations which let you unlock game codes. These are all ways to attract a target Gen Z consumer who has spending power. You can even put your face on M&M’S now; a far cry from years ago when getting a blue M&M was as diverse as the brand got.”

81% of Zs agree, “I like it when brands let me customize their products.”¹

Q: What are some of the innovative ways Spotify helps CPG brands meet a new generation of consumers?

“We try to meet each brand at that intersection of audience, culture and conversation to drive the brand’s narrative. Often, it starts with what audience they want to get in front of, and how to engage with them in the right ways. Digital streaming audio gives brands a platform to share their message with the right target audience, and a meaningful way to join in the cultural conversation. So, we can position brands on tried and true playlists, like Rap Caviar, or we can help them create their own custom playlist if they want to focus on emerging artists. The key notion is customization for the problem to solve.

One great example is Nocilla, a brand of chocolate-hazelnut spread that’s been well-known in Spain for over 50 years. Spotify worked with the brand to roll out a series of ads to win over a new generation. The campaign’s tagline, “Te la comerías y lo sabes” (meaning “You’d eat it and you know [you would]”), leaned into a well-known Spanish meme. Catchphrases got a cheeky update—“Nocilla” became “Nociyeah!”—and we were also able to leverage age, genre and audience data to target Gen Z listeners based on interest, such as Latin & Trap playlists.

With podcasts as well, there’s a huge opportunity to align with CPG brands’ core mission and values—whether they are based upon sustainability, women’s empowerment, health and wellness, multiculturalism, or even a fringe political conversation. Listeners are often deeply engaged as they consume their favorite podcasts, and we can place brands in these cultural conversations in a way that’s very authentic, yet discreet—and that’s a perfect fit.”

For more on how brands can connect with Gen Zs, check out the full Culture Next 2022 report.

  1. Spotify Culture Next survey, MAR-APR'22

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