According to Spotify Advertising’s annual Global Trends Report, Gen Z is eager to leave virtual events behind in light of in-person experiences, unlike their millennial counterparts who’ve more readily accepted virtual events like concerts. Titled Cultural Rebirth, Spotify’s report includes valuable insights about millennial and Gen Z’s audio consumption and how advertisers can act on their shifting tastes. It frames its findings through the lens of two generations navigating a common goal: rebuilding culture by listening, creating, discovering, and magnifying new voices.

The global pandemic placed something of a pause on Gen Z’s development, making 2021 the year that they prioritized searching for connection and meaning about themselves and the world around them. Despite reporting more feelings of loneliness through the pandemic, music and podcasts have helped, as 66 percent of the demographic reported. 

Spotify’s data also shows that Gen Z is actually taking over the platform. In May 2021, for example, there were 75 percent more ‘Gen Z’ playlists streamed than ‘millennial’ playlists. Moreover, there was a 235 percent year-over-year (YoY) increase in playlists created with Gen Z-specific keywords and a 343 percent YoY increase in streams to Gen Z-specific playlists.

Millennials have experienced a different set of challenges over the last 18 months. As they ventured into their careers and started families, expectations of work-life balance went out the window. Nevertheless, audio entertainment has become the go-to source for connection, information and self-care, with some millennials reporting a “strong emotional connection” with favorite podcast hosts.

The two age groups do, however, overlap on the goal of inclusivity. Both agreed that now more than ever, we as a culture are open to hearing from diverse voices as 53 percent of respondents report having sought content from diverse creators and podcasts in the past year.

Millennials and Gen Z recognize the importance of balance, and in particular, the importance of self-care in an increasingly cluttered world. To this aim, they’re balancing their intake of media after a year of lockdown bingeing, and are using audio as a form of enrichment rather than pure entertainment. 

Audio as a tool for stress reduction is employed by 83 percent of millennials and 69 percent of Gen Z. Luckily, the current state of audio allows for an array of genres and podcasts for any time and every mood.

As millennials and Zs incorporate audio into all areas of their day, from morning rituals and self-care routines to study sessions and workouts, brands have the opportunity to become a part of any activity, especially given that listeners are more receptive when messaging matches their mood. Brands looking to make the most impactful impression should lean into contextual targeting and create the appropriate tone and message for the moment.

Additionally, given that the more we hear something, the more we like it, brands can sponsor Spotify On Repeat playlists for listeners who can’t get enough of certain songs in order to increase positive sentiment. And in the realm of podcasts, short knowledge drops that spark curiosity tap into listeners who are already in a learning state.

In the arena of gaming, audio plays a crucial role in how satisfied a Gen Z gamer is with their experience. Spotify’s research shows that 57 percent of Gen Z gamers believe that audio can make or break the experience of a game.

When it comes to marketing, Gen Z gamers who game daily are 1.6 times as likely to pay attention to brands mentioned in a game than those who don’t play as frequently. And given that hardcore Gen Z gamers engage with the gaming community even while not playing themselves, for example via podcasts and online forums, the opportunity for increased brand exposure is present. In Spotify’s most popular gaming podcasts among Gen Z, hosts discuss gaming experiences and which tech brand took their craft to the next level—a welcome opportunity for brands in this space.

According to the report, “collaborations are changing the sound of culture.” With 34 percent of Gen Z Spotify users claiming to have searched for a song on the app after hearing it on social media, interconnectedness in the modern era has facilitated the discovery of new content with ease. Spotify has capitalized on this by promoting playlists of emerging artists that fit within a certain user’s tastes and that align with a brand’s campaign theme, e.g., exercise playlists for a sneaker retailer or GRWM (Get Ready With Me) playlists for a beauty brand. These playlists automatically update to adapt to shifting campaign themes and seasons in part, to ensure that a brand’s message is never out of place.

According to Spotify, “audio has become the ‘it’ source of information and entertainment for a new generation,” which is evinced, in part, by the fact that Gen Z influencers are creating their own multi-platform podcasts more frequently than ever before. Globally, millennial’s and Zs’ trust in traditional societal institutions is lower than ever. Nevertheless, they want to remain engaged and informed, so they’ve turned to a medium they feel brings them closer to the truth: namely, podcasts.

In this context, host-read ads produce notable increases in emotional connection as compared to Voice Talent ads. This is no surprise given how intimately associated with podcasts hosts their listeners are. As long as the Voice Talent ads are under 30 seconds and the Host-Read ads remain conversational, brands can expect to penetrate a new subset of listeners here.

Given that both millennials and Zs seek greater inclusivity, Spotify has committed itself to keep up with the social climate by allowing for activist creators to magnify the viewpoints of traditionally underrepresented peoples. The majority of Gen Z audio creators believe that the current climate is more open to hearing diverse voices than ever before. Brands engaged in film and media can convey their support for marginalized communities and other social issues through audio spots that explain how a certain film or filmmaker addresses a meaningful topic. Other brands may choose to sponsor forward-thinking creators and podcasts to represent to listeners how forward-thinking the brand is itself.

With 50 percent of Zs having sought content from more diverse creators and podcasts in 2021, there is one more way they’re exposed to varying viewpoints and experiences—through what Spotify calls ‘Scene & Heard.’ Here, roaming vagabond audio creators have the opportunity to take listeners on audio tours of the places and experiences that have shaped the creator’s social identity, creating a more intimate connection and more trust.

Cultural curation has become a critical pillar of artistic expression among millennials and Zs, and is a crucial element of where culture, in general, is headed. While millennials create to keep audiences interested, Zs curate as a way of developing artistic identities, with 64 percent reporting that digital tech has made it easier to be a cultural curator.

And despite the prevalence of playlists over the last 20+ years, they’ve only recently become a medium for artistic expression. Millennial creators, in particular, have used playlist curation as a way to ensure cultural relevance and support their own art, with 67 percent citing more pressure than ever to be a cultural curator.

This area is ripe for brand engagement through branded playlists, editorial playlists and user-generated playlists. Brands may choose to pair a product or service with a related playlist, or target Zs in their user-generated playlists to engage with a certain mood or activity and with a message to match the moment, for example, something upbeat during an exercise-inducing electronic playlist or something relaxed during a playlist full of binaural beats and lo-fi hip-hop. For larger endeavors, brands can even have their own talent create playlists while offering fans exclusive content recorded by the talent themselves.

The report cites one phenomenon that all successful brands have likely incorporated into their strategies by now—aligned passions and stances on social issues. Audio is ripe for reaching those who believe that this medium has shaped their exposure to the world, with 73 percent of millennials and 57 percent of Zs reporting streaming platforms have significantly shaped how they discover and connect with the broader culture. In this context, collaborations, in particular, stand to expose more listeners to different cultures in a way that appears natural. 

Here, brands have the opportunity to align with listeners in a setting in which minds are already receptive to new ideas. Brands should lean into some of the less-known microgenres or genre-less playlists that Zs, in particular, engage closely with by sponsoring a playlist or creating an audio spot in the same musical style as the one at hand. 

Further, as all are aware at this point, millennials and Zs don’t take kindly to being boxed into certain roles or expectations—misconceptions of what a male or female should or shouldn’t engage with are antiquated. This new normal has created the perfect opportunity for brands to showcase their forward-thinking, socially aligned and barrier-breaking identities to potential consumers who value these elements in a brand.

The pandemic radically shifted millennials’ lifestyles. Work-life balance, parenting strategies, family planning and self-care habits have all changed. Home is still the center of everyone’s lives as opposed to one place of many where we spend our time; as a result, audio listening on home-based devices has increased in the U.S. by as much as 82 percent on TV and 30 percent on smart speakers. Notably, in-car listening on Spotify has increased by 124 percent. And in a time when 68 percent of US millennials and 56 percent of Zs report smaller communities or fewer—the need for connection is at an all-time high. 

Brands can seize this moment by reaching listeners wherever and whenever they are, making up for lost opportunities to engage in public spaces. And given that listeners using smart speakers, game consoles or desktop computers are likely listening while partaking in other activities, brands can tailor their message or call-to-action according to the type of activity likely matched with the playlist or genre. 

As social circles and engagements dwindled during the pandemic, podcast popularity increased—creating the perfect opportunity to reach listeners who trust their hosts as though they were “friends” through unscripted endorsements. The fact that there is no image accompanying the message is of no consequence, as 62 percent of millennials reported using their imagination to picture audio adverts.

To capitalize on these recent developments and trends, brands can utilize Spotify’s Ad Studio, where creative services are free and performance can be measured through real-time reporting on ad delivery, performance and audience. Given the relatively recent boom in podcast popularity, podcasts remain an unsaturated area for advertising, especially given that globally 66 percent of millennials and Zs report listening to a podcast weekly. Spotify’s Audience Network allows brands access to targeting tools in order to reach listeners based on demographics, audience segment, genre targeting and contextual targeting.