News & Insights

Culture Next: Why digital audio plays a major role in millennials’ and Gen Zs’ lives

Chapter one of Spotify's annual global trends report is packed with insights into what millennials and Gen Zs want from streaming audio — and how brands can connect with them through digital audio. Download the full Culture Next report.
It’s no secret that digital content plays a starring role in young peoples’ lives. In our 2021 Culture Next research, we found that audio has become an increasingly essential part of a balanced media diet for millennials and Gen Zs, acting as a much-needed escape from too much screen time. And in a year where IRL activities were still mostly on pause, virtual experiences became a welcome way to mix realities and bring people "together” — with sound as an essential component.

  • 69%

    of Gen Zs feel "more centered and generally happier" when listening to their favorite music on a daily basis.

    Source: Spotify Culture Next survey, U.S., among 510 respondents 15-40, April 2021

Sound escape

From doomscrolling to bingeing, unhealthy tech habits are part of everyday life for millennials and Gen Zs — especially during a pandemic. With so much bad news, respondents from both generations told us that audio is a welcome escape from the scroll.

A more holistic platter of audio content now enriches the lives of millennials and Gen Zs, helping them to achieve balance in their tech habits. Millennials especially are finding comfort in the warm embrace of nostalgic playlists that deliver the best of decades past, with increases in streaming across Spotify playlists like 80s Hits, 80s Rock Anthems, and 70s Love Songs. Gen Zs, meanwhile, seek to soothe the effects of digital oversaturation with diverse content like positive-thinking podcasts, ambient sounds, and even — gasp — the sound of silence.

Podcasts and music make me a better person. It's a type of therapy.


26, Mexico City

It’s all part of a global cultural shift toward wellness, self-care, and healing — and immersion within a mixed world of sound is how millennials and Gen Zs are looking to achieve it.

Blurred lives

As live shows and other in-person experiences took a pause in 2020, immersive virtual experiences helped millennials and Gen Zs find new ways to explore and connect. From virtual concerts to gaming, audio helped make those experiences feel more real. In fact, 73% of American millennials feel that audio is the most immersive form of media.1

Within this all-encompassing soundscape, fact and fiction become blurred as listeners are transported to different locations and realities. Whether it’s during a livestreamed concert or in a playlist curated as an alternate online gaming soundtrack, brands that connect with audiences in these spaces should focus on ads that enhance the listening experience. Consider 3D audio, a recording technique that mimics how sounds move — and how people hear them in real life — making it possible to conjure a waterfall or an explosion. Or create a rich ASMR experience that brings the audience out of their headphones and into a new reality.

  • 56%

    of Gen Z gamers agree that audio can make or break the experience of a game.

    Source: Spotify Culture Next survey, Global, among 9,000 respondents 15- 40, April 2021

Symbiotic creation

With the influence of social media (especially for Gen Zs), collaboration between musicians, podcasters, audiences, and brands are changing the sound of culture from the inside out. With creators more accessible than ever, both generations now respond to musicians’ work-in-progress drafts, choose their favorite hooks, write lyrics, retitle songs, and even play a role in deciding which tracks get made.

Advertisers can create meaningful connections with millennials and Gen Zs by treating them as more than just consumers. Pull back the curtain, and give them a chance to be part of the creative process.

What it means for brands

Millennials and Gen Zs lean on audio to achieve balance in their tech habits, immerse themselves in virtual worlds, and connect with their favorite creators and fan communities. Advertisers can tap into these hyper-engaged, attentive audiences on Spotify with a range of digital ad formats built for performance, coupled with advanced targeting options and real-time campaign measurement. Check out even more best practices for advertising to millennials and Gen Zs on Spotify:

  • Go with the flow. Make sure your messaging matches the mood of the audio it accompanies — whether it’s a chill playlist for studying, a high-BPM playlist for working out, or a soothing playlist for winding down.

  • Help listeners escape through education. Create a custom podcast midroll to place within educational shows, and you'll connect with listeners who are primed to learn.

  • Take them to another dimension. Leverage 3D audio to immerse listeners in an authentic virtual listening environment, creating a dynamic and sensory experience. Learn more about 3D audio and other immersive formats with our quick-start guide to creating digital audio ads.

  • Think about interests, not demographics. As the most culturally diverse generations, millennials and Gen Zs can’t be defined by basic demographic indicators. Spotify offers advanced targeting options that go beyond age, gender, and location to help advertisers resonate with listeners based on their interests, listening behaviors, and off-platform behavior.

  • Keep up with culture in real time. Audio offers a unique opportunity to deeply engage listeners using minimal production resources. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a startup, Spotify Ad Studio offers free audio ad production, including custom voiceover, allowing creative teams to produce new messages easily and get them live quickly.

  • Build campaigns for collaboration. Foster connections with Gen Zs by including them in the creative process. For instance, Calvin Klein drove Zs to a digital experience to ask, “What do you hope for?” Once they answered with their specific dream for the future, they could then add one song to a collaborative playlist for that specific hope.

  • Bring millennials back to the beginning. Before it reaches the masses, every hit song begins as a simple idea — and great products are built in a similar fashion. Create custom podcast midrolls that start with a fact about your brand (the original name, a description of the garage/basement where a prototype was made, etc) and discuss how the spark of an idea led to the finished product.
  • Ready to reach millennials and Gen Zs on Spotify? Get started instantly with Ad Studio.

    1 Spotify Culture Next survey, U.S., among 510 respondents 15-40, April 2021

    Looking for something a little more custom? Let's talk.