Partnership Reports

How Brands Can Use Sponsorship to Engage Gen Z

September 12, 2023

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with the internet and social media, and members of this demographic group value authenticity above all else. They can quickly detect when something feels forced or inauthentic, so sponsorship activations that feel genuine and align with Gen Z values are more likely to resonate. 

When creating a sponsorship deal targeted at Gen Z, consider the following:

Social Media Integration

Gen Z lives and breathes on social media. Brands tap into this by creating content tailored to each platform's unique dynamics: the snappy videos on TikTok, the visually driven world of Instagram, or the fast-paced conversations on Twitter. 

TikTok and its short-form videos are especially popular amongst members of Gen Z: The volume of sponsorship deals on TikTok has increased four times since 2021, and the volume of branded engagement generated by TikTok has increased by over six million in the same time frame. 

YouTube & Streaming

Gen Z has a strong and unique relationship with YouTube and has made the platform a cornerstone of its media consumption habits. YouTube's diverse content ecosystem aligns perfectly with Gen Z's desire for authenticity and relatability, allowing the cohort to engage with creators who mirror their interests and values. 

YouTube growth within the Gen Z demographic has pushed sports leagues to enhance their YouTube content. As a matter of fact, within the past 12 months, 40% of Major Pro Sports properties have included a YouTube sponsorship element. Furthermore, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify have seamlessly integrated into Gen Z's daily lives, offering a treasure trove of content at their fingertips. With Gen Z at the forefront, these platforms are redefining how we access, consume, and interact with media.

Augmented Reality (AR) & Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Tech-savvy Gen Z appreciates immersive experiences, so brands are utilizing AR to create brand experiences that stand out. Snapchat, for instance, combines social media and technology to enrich the music festival experience, using AR to reach new audiences, cultivate loyalty, and capture attention in a cluttered venue. Brand and rights holder apps can also facilitate advance technology integration to appeal to Gen Z. For instance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Invisalign's in-app AR feature allowed fans to use AR technology (branded with Invisalign) for applying face filters.

In addition, our just-released Technology Marketing Partnerships Report 2023 shows that AI & Machine Learning brands have reached social engagement of 2.5 million with sponsored posts, and 60% of that engagement comes from TikTok alone. 

Cause-Related Initiatives

Gen Z cares deeply about social and environmental causes, and the number of brands supporting cause-related sponsorship activations have seen a growth of 20% in the past two years, so brands might want to implement sponsorship activations around partnerships with charitable organizations. These are the top five values Gen Z wants brands to support:

  • Mental health
  • The environment, climate change, and sustainability
  • Racial and gender equality
  • Ethical labor practices
  • LGBTQ+ rights

Influencer Collaborations

Influencers are the celebrities of Gen Z, and through sponsorship activations on social media, these influencers can introduce products in ways that feel less like advertisements and more like recommendations from a trusted friend, resonating with the demographic and driving sales. 

Fashion Nova, SHEIN, and Walmart lead all brands in volume of sponsorship or digital deals with social media influencers, with total branded social engagement of 29.5M, 18.4M, and 4.6M respectively. And while the volume of brands buying sponsorship or media activations with social media influencers has only increased 5% since 2021, it’s an important strategy to engage Gen Z for two reasons: about half of Gen Z shoppers think social networks are better than online searches for finding new products, and 80% of Gen Z has purchased a product they saw on social media.

Brand Showcase: Nike

Per Insider Monkey, Gen Z’s favorite brand is Nike, which has cultivated a strong and enduring relationship with Gen Z. Nike's ability to connect with Gen Z can be attributed to its commitment to authenticity and innovation; plus, the brand consistently champions social causes that matter to Gen Z, such as diversity and inclusivity, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. 

In addition, Nike has leveraged digital platforms and social media effectively to engage with Gen Z and has harnessed the power of influencers (particularly athletes) who resonate with this generation. Nike's commitment to staying authentic, relevant, and socially conscious has enabled it to maintain a strong and influential connection with Gen Z, making it a brand of choice for this generation.

Nike sponsorship stats relevant to Gen Z:

  • Social media is included in 54% of Nike sponsorship deals.
  • 46% of Nike’s sponsorship deals include a digital media component.
  • Among Athletic and Footwear brands, Nike has the second highest volume of posts and the highest volume of total branded engagement on Tiktok.
  • Nike currently has 59 influencer endorsement deals, and the brand's deals with social media influencers has amassed over 2.3M in branded engagement on social media in the past 12 months.
  • Community and Causes with which Nike includes in sponsorship deals include the Youth Initiative Cause, Women’s Empowerment Cause, Environmental Cause, Racial Equality Cause, and more. Every single one of these causes is near and dear to the hearts of Gen Z members.  


Including Gen Z-relevant activations in your sponsorship deals is not about following a one-size-fits-all formula. Instead, it's about adapting to the preferences, values, and behaviors of the cohort. Successful brands are those that can authentically connect with Gen Z. By embracing authenticity, purpose-driven efforts, and innovative digital experiences, brands can forge meaningful relationships with this influential demographic, paving the way for long-term success in the evolving marketing landscape.

Unless otherwise cited, all numbers are proprietary first-party data from the SponsorUnited platform.

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