Friendly Advice
Sep 29, 2023

New Hope for Targeted Ads

Charlotte Pearse

Countless different methods of online advertising exist these days, and targeted ads in particular have become incredibly popular. 

With a targeted ad, you can promote your product directly to the people who are most likely to click on or even buy it! But how does this work, and how do advertisers determine the best ways to reach different age groups?

After all, different people will respond to marketing campaigns completely differently, so something that could be successful with Gen Z might fall flat with older generations. Whether you want to target a specific age group or promote your product to absolutely everyone, it’s important to know what will yield positive results with all demographics.

Keep reading to learn the history of targeted ads, and how you can use them to appeal to different generations.

Background: Targeted Ads

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you know that a lot of changes have been made to internet marketing strategies. Let’s start with a brief history of what targeted ads are and how they’ve evolved over time.

When internet ads were first getting started, the same stuff was showing up for everyone, usually via big banner ads and pop-ups. These types of ads definitely still exist, but they’re now designed to promote something to a specific audience.

Now, however, there is an enormous amount of data related to advertising available. Not only that— analyzing it is also easier than ever. As we learn more about what kinds of ads show positive results, we’ll only see more of them.

Some of the first deviations from the pop-ups and banners you’ll see on websites were email marketing and sponsored results in search engines. While all of these emerged in the 90’s, video advertising online— now one of the biggest generators of ad-related revenue —didn’t come into the picture until the 2000s.

As more and more methods of online advertising were developed, reaching one’s intended audience became super competitive. Thus, research into targeted ads began in earnest.

An image of several advertising billboards lit up at night on a city street.
These days, we see advertisements everywhere— walking down the street, and on every device we own.

Doubleclick, an internet advertising company, was a very big influence in what targeted ads look like today. They figured out that by tracking data, such as who clicks on what, ad placement could be optimized so that companies were always marketing to an ideal audience.

Upon buying space, the advertisers could then track clicks and move ads around in order to influence those numbers.

Banner ads didn’t see too much success from this change, but the ability to have multiple windows open on your browser at a time did revolutionize pop-ups. The goal with the latter was to shift the user’s interest onto the ad from whatever they were looking at prior.

As targeted ads generated more success, the companies behind them were able to devote higher and higher budgets to their marketing campaigns. This cycle made the already popular strategy reach new heights.

Social media also had a hand in turning targeted ads into what they are now. Suddenly, through a variety of different sources, companies could access information about user’s shopping habits, friend groups, and more.

How do advertisers use this information? Well, when you visit a websites today you might notice ads popping up on websites you’ve already browsed. The ads that play prior to YouTube videos are also geared either towards the specific user or the anticipated audience on the video itself.

While advertising used to have a lot to do with making your marketing material look perfect, now making sure that your intended audience sees it is far more important. Promoting your ads to a particular type of internet user across all of their devices is the current most popular way.

Targeted ads have already evolved a seemingly impossible amount in recent years, and we have it on good authority that they will only continue to do so.

Advertising to Gen Z

If you’re looking to advertise to a young audience, we have some good news! Gen Z is typically more comfortable with targeted advertising than older generations, and research suggests they may even prefer it.

For example, this generation is three times as likely to allow websites to track their data, and they also block cookies and ads much less frequently. Gen Z consumers do use VPN far more than older generations, though, so it’s a bit of a give and take.

Overall, the Gen Z population has shown that they are far more likely to prefer tracking and targeted ads. A lot of them would prefer to see relevant ads that they might actually want to buy as opposed to products that don’t interest them at all.

Let’s go through some general tips for how to best market to Gen Z. For starters, they’re  more likely to do research into products before deciding to purchase. Whether it's looking a brand up on social media, reading reviews, or just conducting a search, Gen Z typically wants to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.

For this reason, you should make sure your values as a brand are clear. Trustworthy, transparent brands will always find more success when advertising to Gen Z. The company is just as important as the product, so share your brand’s story.

A good example of this would be for clothing brands to be upfront about what materials they use as well as where and how they make their clothes.

Research has found that Gen Z is both more diverse and liberal-leaning on average than preceding generations. People may be inclined to support brands that stand for the same issues that they do, but performative allyship and activism has the opposite effect.

Don’t put out pride gear in June or upload a rainbow profile picture if you’re not doing anything else. Putting on a show of activism without actually doing anything to help important causes will make it look like you’re only using them for more sales.

If you want to build trust in your brand by aligning yourself with certain causes, then actually try to make a difference. Donate funds, uplift marginalized voices, attend protests— show your support the right way.

An image of young people celebrating at a Pride festival.
Activism is important to a lot of Gen Zers, and showing that you support the same causes that they do will help you build trust in your brand.

Another important thing to help your brand build a good reputation is to work with online influencers. In the past year, over 75% of Gen Z participants in a particular study reported that they bought a product based on an influencer’s recommendation. That percentage is even higher for beauty and food products.

A lot of people use influencers as a way to learn about new products. So, working with influencers that Gen Z considers trustworthy is a good way to generate trust and interest in your brand by extension.

Sales can also generate a lot of interest in a product, which is why a lot of brands collaborate with influencers to create things like discount codes. Gen Z really likes a good deal, so they may be more inclined to make a purchase if the cost is marked down. Then, if they like it, they’ll probably pay full price to buy it again.

Of course, you also want to make sure you’re promoting your product on platforms that are popular among the Gen Z population so they can actually see it. For example, if you’re looking to promote to Gen Z, TikTok is your best bet.

Instagram also ranks really high in terms of ads and influencer posts, but Facebook and Twitter likely won’t get you the numbers you want.

When promoting to Gen Z on social media, you should endeavor to make your ads entertaining. Especially via TikTok and Instagram Reels, you want to create an ad that keeps people watching. Be funny and engaging!

You can even play into popular Gen Z topics and trends on these apps, so pay attention to what content gets a positive reception with Gen Z viewers. Be careful to keep it natural, though, because trying too hard to look cool is never a good look.

If you’re looking to promote your product to older generations, though, speaking Gen Z’s language may not be the best bet. Instead, here are some strategies for advertising to millennials, Gen X, and Boomer audiences.

Advertising to Older Generations

It can often be a little more difficult to promote your product to older audiences, especially considering the fact that they’re less fond of targeted ads. Millennial, Gen X, and baby boomer users are all more inclined to reject cookies and install ad blockers.

However, there are still plenty of strategies you can employ to make sure your brand’s content reaches older generations.

First, let’s get into some millennial-friendly marketing strategies. Much like Gen Z, millennials like to be frugal, and so they may be more inclined to make a purchase if you have a Rewards or Loyalty program that provides discounts in the long run. 

One study found that 77% of millennials are either willing to participate in one of these programs or already do.

You can also promote your brand’s social media sites and email mailing lists to millennials by offering discounts in exchange for following or signing up. Providing incentive is a good way to encourage continued interest in your brand.

Millennials are also very inclined to look at reviews of a product before they buy, so you should regularly check-in on your online presence on websites like Yelp to make sure that people who check reviews are getting a good impression.

When it comes to Gen X, you may find success by marketing via direct mail instead of just solely online. One study shows that 86% of Gen Xers check the mail every day, and 68% are inclined to use coupons mailed to them.

An image of a mailbox outside of a brick house.
Just because online advertising has become super popular doesn’t mean you should stop your previous marketing practices altogether, especially if you’re trying to reach an older audience!

Every generation loves a good deal, after all, and coupons specifically are one of the best ways to market to Gen X. Email marketing, Facebook, and Pinterest are also good methods of reaching them.

Gen X may be less motivated by popular trends, but they will be more likely to support a brand if it benefits the environment, society overall, or some other cause. Organic and ethically produced items are very popular among this generation.

Last but not least, baby boomers are seen as one of the tougher generations to market to. For this reason, it may surprise you to learn that it’s possible you won’t have to change all that much.

Brand loyalty is very important to baby boomers, and they will often make big purchases of their favorite products if they know something about it is going to change. Proving to this generation that you have a high-quality product could earn you long-term, consistent customers.

To that end, traditional marketing and sales methods are still very successful with baby boomers— and oftentimes more successful than online advertising strategies. Television and newspaper adverts are the best way to reach this generational audience.

When it comes to baby boomers, it can often be wise to go for the upsale. They like to get more for their money, even if that means paying a bit more money. This also means that you can generate new revenue offering updates to existing customers.

Most baby boomers are currently entering retirement or have been retired for some time already, so even though it may sound counterintuitive, you can skip the discounts. They typically have money to spend, so market your products at full-price.

If you want to offer some sort of deal, cash-back programs also have a lot of appeal to baby boomers. You will likely find more success advertising them to this generation than younger ones.

These are just some of the ways you can successfully advertise to several different generations. At the end of the day, the marketing strategies you employ— via targeted ads or otherwise —will depend on your intended audience.