How ViacomCBS is Creating Cultural Connections with Gen Z



Relationships thrive by tending to what creates them: connection. ViacomCBS’ Angel Bellon and Harwa Arsala emphasized this notion as they discussed how to create cultural connections with Gen Z during #SMWONE.


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Ghosts, zombies, and zumpers—oh my! The study of symbols and language is called semiotics, and for ViacomCBSAngel Bellon and Hawa Arsala, it’s a part of their 9 to 5. Working together as Directors of Creative Strategy and Cultural Intelligence for Viacom Velocity means keeping culture at the core of everything they do. Culture is ever-evolving so monitoring tiny imperceivable shifts that ladder up to overall changes in the zeitgeist is part of that work.

More immediately, the rise of social distancing, reprogramming of the traditional family unit, expansion of desire, and friendship beyond the human are affecting the expectations and values system of Gen Z. The way young people relate to each other is in massive flux, and thus the way they connect to brands. During #SMWONE they explored the current culture of relationships to help brands understand how to reach Gen Z during this time of crisis.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Express the importance of a good, healthy relationship with oneself
  • Let the talent drive the conversations
  • Don’t discredit the value and gravity of digital experiences driven by physical isolation

Physical boundaries drive virtual experience

“Connection is essential,” Angel says, to us as humans and it’s instinctual that we name and brand each new experience as it happens, hence the birth of ‘zumped’ (which means being dumped via Zoom, btw). As we come together and create new experiences brands that are able to respond to and reflect on those experiences will take the lead.

For example, Net-a-Porter has partnered with Animal Crossing to allow you to dress up your avatar if you meet up for virtual drinks. Sound weird? Consider that 70 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are down to meet online for a pre-date gettogether. If all goes well on the island, you can take your date IRL and have the actual outfit delivered to your door.

Love thyself

Another trend spotted by Angel and Sawa is “the evolution of self.” In an age of social distancing, self-care is turning into self-love. Specifically, there is a growing focus on soul searching over face masks. Examples supporting this trend include Spotify unveiling a ‘Self-love’ playlist for its Valentine’s Day listeners this past February. More recently, the platform has announced the launch of a curated “Daily Wellness” playlist that will include a range of specially selected podcasts and tracks to help one practice mindfulness.

In addition, Calm, the popular meditation app, announced a partnership with LeBron James to give away free subscriptions in an effort to help consumers keep their mental health in check during these difficult times. These are but a few examples of efforts by platforms to step up and offer resources for brands to deliver on consumers’ breathing a little easier and keeping our minds at ease amidst the uncertainty.

Beyond humans

As we move further into “always online” territory, people have found innovative ways to connect in search of their bases instincts: love, partnership, and affection included. By chance or by choice, the vast majority of our connections are online now, and one-third of people have established the habits of making and maintaining friendships through gaming, streaming, social media, and by sharing tête-à-tête any way they can.

For example, in February 2019, 10.7 million people attended a DJ Marshmello concert inside a Fortnite game. And that huge number doesn’t include attendees who experienced the concert in-game. If you factor in those who watched it live-streamed on Twitch and other platforms that number jumps to an estimated 27 million people. All together, but apart.

How might a brand position itself in alignment with those innovations without appearing inauthentic? Sawa notes that “letting the talent drive the conversation” is always best as they’ve already gotten the ear of the audience and know what’s likely to connect best.

Relationships thrive by tending to what creates them: connection. Once the spark is ignited, it’s just a matter of maintaining the heat.

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