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Gen Z and the power of packaging

by Stephanie H.
    Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.

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    Gen Z is known for their love of authenticity—flaws and all—but when it comes to product packaging, looks matter. So do a few other factors as well. 

    Gen Z are a principled and pragmatic bunch. Truth is important to them, and they’ll call foul on anyone (including peers, politicians or corporate entities) they deem to be double-talking or less than transparent. They value authenticity over curation and honest imperfections over phony beauty. 

    But, don’t get it twisted. For a generation that believes it’s what’s on the inside that counts, Gen Z still very much cares about how your product is packaged. And they’ll show you with their dollars. 

    Before we jump in, don’t forget:

    So, without getting into what you might put inside the box, container, bottle or bag (that’s a post for another day), how can brands catch the eye of Gen Z from the outside

    Saving the planet (and your brand) with sustainable packaging 

    Gen Z cares deeply about the environment and expects others, particularly the companies they do business with, to do the same. They want to know what your corporate practices are around sustainability – and that includes how you package your products. 

    Brands spanning many verticals have begun to take notice, like the footwear industry, for example. Notorious for the wasteful amount of cardboard, tissue paper, inserts, etc., that accompany new shoes in their boxes, many footwear brands have started taking steps to reduce their packaging footprint. 

    Back in 2010, Puma was the eco-OG when they eliminated the shoebox and introduced the reusable “Clever Little Bag.” Nine years later, old-school brands like Dr. Scholls are following suit. They recently made a public sustainability pledge to reduce the amount of paper and plastic used in their packaging. They’re also launching a sustainable box that uses only one box to both ship and house the shoes.

    Sustainable packing ad from Dr. Scholls

    source: Dr. Scholls

    And then there are the new, eco-native companies like TwoDegrees. For every pair of shoes they sell, they pledge to protect 1,000 square feet of endangered habitat around the world. And the box your new kicks arrive in? The world’s first plantable shoe box. (Interesting sidenote: TwoDegrees eschews the term ‘sustainability,’ stating that it’s “a vague and misused blanket term highlighting what is wrong with the industry.”)

    Caution: Always be sincere when marketing to Zs

    We’ve said it before. If Gen Z senses your marketing efforts are only paying lip service to a cause, they won’t hesitate to put you on blast, and pretty soon, social media will be ‘lit’ with your brand—and not in a good way. 

    That might sound harsh, but it’s definitely a possibility. Gen Z will call you out if your marketing efforts are insincere. But by all means, if you are making strides—even small ones—to impact change (the environment is a good place to start), tell your story. Don’t be shy, let Gen Z know. Frankly, when it comes to getting Gen Z’s business, the question isn’t  if you should you join the sustainability conversation, but rather how and when

    Are you using ethically sourced materials for your products and their packaging? Would it make sense to feature a blurb of your business practices on your packaging? Are you using natural, non-GMO ingredients? If so, don’t bury it on your website, tout it. One way to do that is right on the packaging itself.  

    Let your packaging do the talking

    One of the most obvious examples of packaging transparency is RX Bars. They play to what makes them unique in their market: They use only minimal, whole-food ingredients like eggs, dates and almonds in their protein bars. 

    On every RX bar you find, you’ll see each ingredient listed in clear, large font on the front of the package. In fact, the ingredients list takes up the entire front of the package, even dwarfing the RX logo. But the message is clear: What’s on the outside of the package is indicative of what’s inside (and what’s not inside, compared to other protein bars), who they are, and what their values are. As they boldly claim on their site: We make protein bars with no B.S., and we’re real upfront about it.

    Another example of transparent packaging is Lush, a beauty and skincare brand, who counts ‘Naked’ as one of their six core values. Their packaging reflects it. Thirty-five percent of their items are sold unpackaged (naked). The company no longer offers gift wrap or cellophane, instead offering their eponymous, reusable ‘Knotwraps,’ made from either organic cotton or recycled plastic bottles. 

    For a final note regarding transparency and telling your brand’s story, we’ll turn again to TwoDegrees. On their site, they’ve provided a self-assessment of their organization’s environmental impact, including where they’ve succeeded and where there’s still work to do. Smart marketing strategy? Yes. Good for the environment? Still yes. If your brand can answer both questions in the affirmative, then a similar approach could likely be a win-win for you and for Gen Z.  

    So whether your product packaging is environmentally sustainable, minimizes waste, or offers something so good you just need to claim it—do it! Gen Z will be glad to see it. 

      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.


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      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.