Sarah Unger: Gen Z Fans Don’t Mind Being Marketed To, Just Be Transparent About It

Sarah Unger: Gen Z Sports Fans Value Authenticity and Transparency

Sarah Unger currently serves as Senior Vice President of Global Insights and Strategy at Civic Entertainment Group, an agency in Ryan Seacrest’s global portfolio that creates unique engagements among media, entertainment, technology, sports, and consumer brands. In this week’s Agents of Change soundbite, Unger shares how entrepreneurship helps athletes connect with kids and why authenticity and transparency are key to reaching the next generation of fans.

Read or listen below to learn more about why sports gives marketers a tremendous advantage in connecting with Gen Z.

Why entrepreneurship helps athletes connect with kids

It just really occurred to me after having gone through reams of Nickelodeon research on entrepreneurialism and kids having a passion point for being able to create their own businesses and translate what they love into platforms to connect with other people. This is something that kids really admire in athletes today.

That sense of entrepreneurialism that makes athletes so interesting to kids is actually something that you can lean into and is a big through-thread to connect with kids. Often the entrepreneurialism is stemming from just true love for the game, and that’s such a credible story to come to the table with. I think kids respect that.

Don’t be afraid to experiment on social media

For a lot of companies—especially legacy companies that aren’t building their brand on Snapchat or other platforms from day one—that little bit of openness and experimentation really helps. Especially for younger demographics, content comes and goes; it’s fleeting, it’s ephemeral. So you can try out more things on more platforms, [and have] more chances to see what sticks.

Normally for sports engagement on linear, that’s a finite amount of time where you have a certain thing you have to show, certain points you have to hit. Other platforms give you ancillary tools to humanize your athletes, show different sides of your team.

So I think it’s important unless you’re building a sports offering specific to a platform. No, it’s not going to be your main source of revenue, but it’s a great ancillary tool to drive fan engagement—and sports is about fandom and engagement. These are engaging platforms, but you have to put in the time.

You have to assume that you’re [engaging with] an audience that has a discerning eye, and so if you can accept that, and if you’re putting out something that comes from a place where you can credibly play, then you have a great opportunity to engage.

Authenticity and transparency are a one-two punch

Aside from it being table stakes, the transparency element when added to authenticity makes for this awesome one-two punch where each is more impactful when in line with the other. When you’re transparent, it makes it much easier to be authentic.

For sports marketers, it’s okay to market your product to Gen Z; just be forthcoming about it. You can have an agenda, just make sure it’s not hidden.

Maybe they will even like your agenda and want to co-op you on it, but be forthcoming with it because the price to pay is if you’re not transparent or authentic, you will be discovered.
We’re in this world of “fake news” and a lot of resources are available at [kids’] fingertips. You can find information more easily than ever before—the risk of not being authentic is so extreme. Why would you not be?

How data from connected devices helps brands engage the youth market

Kids are growing up in continual feedback loops with [products that offer] tech input so something that to a different generation might be intimidating—to have smart sports devices—is so intuitive and inherent to them.

It’s an easy way to not only maximize their time invested, but to hold their attention in a really concrete way in an attention starved economy. It also kind of gamifies the experience, and I think that’s really appealing for the kids’ market. I’m all for it.

I also love when you can add a community element into it like FitBit challenges, like doing step challenges against kids. I think that feedback loop offers a kind of continual engagement cycle that’s really interesting.

Sports marketers have a tremendous advantage in using families to engage kids

When I think about entertainment programming, co-viewing is the ultimate goal. You get parents to tune in with their kids—that’s a win-win for Nickelodeon. It’s a special challenge: intellectually you have to write content that’s not only appealing to a parent, but a kid as well.

In sports, you don’t have to write two storylines. It’s so innately appealing across generations, and that’s [part] of the magic in terms of the passion point that sports contains—it’s really like truly an ageless thing. You can also breed your child [to be a fan], and to grow up to engender the passions that you have and specific fandoms from birth. Like putting your kids on the Green Bay Packers season ticket waiting list from the [day] they’re born; sports allows for those opportunities.

Sarah Unger spoke about understanding and engaging the Gen Z market at Hashtag Sports 2018, an annual conference designed for digital decision makers. Learn more here.