5 Ways to Win Gen Z’s Hearts with CTV Ad Creative


  • Gen Z loves phones, but they also love TV—and they are streaming more than ever.
  • This level of Gen Z engagement on the living room screens, mixed with cross device behaviors with their mobile phones, has created a big marketing opportunity for brands.
  • But are brands actually listening to their target audience to craft creative tailored to what they actually want to see?

People love to say Gen Z is addicted to their phones. But let’s be real: every generation gets a little overly attached to their digital devices, whether it’s Millennials in the golden age of the Nokia 3310, or Gen Xers tip-tapping away on their PalmPilots. Even Baby Boomers are not safe from the time-sucking power of the smartphone.

But even though mobile devices do command a lot of attention for younger audiences, they’re still inclined to consume legacy media, from shows to movies, on their TV screens. (After all, where do you think they get those TikTok audio clips from, anyways?) The number of Gen Z Connected TV users has even been increasing year-over-year since 2020.

Number of Gen Z Connected TV Users in the Untied States (2020-2025)

According to a report from Horowitz Research shared with Marketing Dive, now 8 out of 10 Gen Zers report streaming TV content at least once a week. Between TV content and non-TV content, they’re splitting their screen time evenly.

Brands, on the other hand, may be dropping the ball on reaching Gen Z audiences via Connected TV. If you want to engage this demographic, you’ve got to meet them where they’re at. That means using the digital tools of CTV to bring authentic creative that speaks to their shifting interests and lifestyles to the living room screen. 

Gen Z is telling you what they want to see—all you have to do is listen. But if you ain’t got time for that, here’s five thought starters to help you wrap your head around best practices for engaging Gen Zers with CTV ads.

TikTok-ify Your Video Advertising

TikTok is where the lion’s share of viral trends are born right now, and that includes creative approaches to your video content. You don’t have to be on TikTok to know what a TikTok-style video looks like. The platform’s user base has effectively created their own type of video content, one that is authentic, creative, funny, and downright weird. This hallmark experience gives marketers the freedom to experiment, while also striking a more authentic, and less corporate, tone with their messaging.

On TikTok, people expect brands to get a little weird (just look at what Duolingo’s doing), so you should feel permission to test the boundaries and see how bold you can be—and then carry those creative wins over to a CTV campaign.

Think about TikTok as a lookbook for Gen Z-friendly creative approaches to borrow or riff on for TV marketing campaigns.

But how do you translate that TikTok aesthetic into the native format of television advertising? Start by reviewing the tone of voice you use in your messaging so it feels authentic, both to your brand and your audience. Striking a relatable tone TikTok users are familiar with can do a lot of the heavy lifting connecting these audiences to your CTV creative. 

The pace and duration of your ads are important, as well. The classic TikTok style features an enticing hook with quick cuts that drive a sense of urgency, which can be easily adapted to CTV ads. But plan the path from TikTok to CTV in advance. When you’re producing creative, aim to capture all the footage your campaign will need at once—that includes shooting the same concept in multiple aspect ratios so you can test creative on TikTok, and then use the 16:9 version of that same winning ad in a CTV campaign.

Take a Digital Approach

At MNTN, we believe that TV—specifically Connected TV—has become the third pillar of performance marketing, right alongside paid search and social campaigns. That means tactics you’ve routinely used on other digital channels can be replicated on the TV screen.

“Instead of looking at CTV like a slightly more innovative form of linear TV, advertisers should see it as a digital channel and treat it accordingly, rather than using a ‘spray and pray, one-ad-fits-all approach’ — especially when targeting Gen Z,” one CEO told Marketing Dive. With this approach, you can get hyper-granular with audience targeting, pinpointing niche segments that might drive better engagement than if you were attempting to deliver a message to a broad (i.e. general) audience.

This specificity naturally facilitates more personalization of your ad creative. When you’re talking to unique audiences, your creative can reflect that. This is vitally important for Gen Z, who want to see more authenticity and realness out of ads targeted at them. If your TV commercials look and feel formal or focus-grouped—like they were created by a bunch of dudes in suits sitting around a conference room—you’re going to have a rough time trying to get Gen Z audiences to buy what you’re selling. Because it’s going to be painfully obvious to them that you’re just trying to sell, rather than giving them something fun and entertaining that says, “Hey, we’re just like you. That’s why we thought you might like this.”

The ability to target locally also helps reinforce those authentic vibes. Producing TV ads for specific markets requires a nuanced approach to your creative so you don’t seem like some outsider mimicking the behaviors of a local community to boost your bottom line. (See also: “How do you do, fellow kids?”) By crafting a commercial that can speak to the lived experience of your audience, without being brazenly salesy, your ad will have a better chance of resonating with Gen Z audiences.

Explore Emerging Ad Formats

Every year during the NewFronts and upfronts, major media brands unveil new ad formats. Sometimes they’re completely new ideas, like the increasingly popular Pause Ads that appear when a user hits pause on a streaming movie or TV show. Other times, they’re newfound iterations on legacy engagement strategies, tailored to the interests and behaviors of younger demographics. Case in point: the growing popularity among Gen Z of livestream shopping.

Livestream shopping takes the popularity of streaming and combines it with elements of a nostalgic experience: home shopping networks that were massively popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That’s right, folks, the pandemic rebirthed the old-fashioned QVC-style way of selling remotely.

According to Statista, sales from e-commerce livestreaming in the US are expected to rise from $11 billion in 2021 to $35 billion in 2023.

In the near future, as more robust tools for TV livestreaming are introduced, the living room could very well become a shopping destination not unlike a website’s eCommerce store. You may think no one is going to want to shop on their TV, but consider: haven’t you rented a movie (at least once) on iTunes? Or via Roku? Or an Apple TV?

Through entertainment, we’ve already accustomed ourselves to connecting our credit cards to our TVs to make purchases. It’s not that farfetched to think we’ll be purchasing even more on our televisions soon.

As these living room shopping experiences continue to be refined, there are other popular tactics you can lean into today, like QR codes or cross-device experiences, that can turn TV ads into a springboard for action on a separate device.

Consider Cross-Device Behavior

Speaking of which, younger demographics do tend to watch TV with a phone in their hand. (Ok, fine, so young people are a little glued to their devices.) 

The cross-device experience is another major avenue for engaging Gen Z audiences with CTV ads. Now more than ever, brands have the technology to confidently connect the dots from when a CTV ad is served, and when the viewer takes an action on another device. This gives advertisers the ability to serve follow-up ads on mobile or desktop, creating a streamlined experience that naturally coaxes customers down the path to purchase.

MNTN makes this possible in two ways: through a multi-touch approach that extends a CTV ad’s message beyond the living room screen to more households devices, and through an attribution model called Verified Visits. This model allows marketers to track (via an IP address) whether a viewer took an action on a second device after viewing a CTV ad through completion, or whether they were prompted to take that action from another digital channel. 

Long story short, take an omnichannel approach to your Gen Z CTV strategies. With a bigger-picture plan, once you grab their attention on their big screens, you’ve got a better chance of inspiring direct action on their smaller ones.

Entertain First, Sell Second

In Stephen King’s book on the horror genre, Danse Macabre, he describes how the essence of a classic story can be transformed through pop culture. He uses Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to illustrate his point: thanks to decades of cinematic adaptations, Frankenstein’s Monster has devolved from Shelley’s tragically eloquent figure into a grunting brute best personified by Boris Karloff’s classic performance. Today, no matter how many times we say, “Umm, actually, that’s not really how the monster acts in the book,” culturally, we’ll never be able to shake this characterization of the big green boy that Universal Studios established in 1931, then repeated ad nauseam over the next several decades.

What does this have to do with advertising? Even though studies have shown audiences are receptive to video ads—especially in the free ad-supported streaming ecosystem—the popular belief is still that folks hate ads. Really, what’s more synonymous with a commercial break than completely leaving the room? It’s a sentiment that the industry may never escape, just like how it’s impossible not to see Karloff’s stiff-legged, bolt-necked monster anytime someone utters the word “Frankenstein.”

So when strategizing your campaigns, throw out all the data-driven reports about audience sentiment towards ads—look at your creative from the perspective of what they actually want. Sure, you may be able to give your audience a Frankenstein’s monster that would make Shelley proud, but technical accuracy means nothing to an audience that craved a hulking dead dude raising hell across Victorian England.

Put it another way: the best way to be sure that maybe—just maybe—your commercial will be the one audiences love is to produce CTV ads that are entertaining and creative first, and salesy second.

One way to do this is by engaging your audiences emotionally through narrative-driven storytelling. You’re not Stephen King over here writing The Stand, but the elements of a great story—an attention-grabbing hook, relatable characters, a clear arc—are also the elements of a great ad. If you can keep Gen Z engaged with a funny narrative that speaks to their experiences, you can show them you’re not wasting their time. Because that feeling can directly impact consumer sentiment of your brand.

Give Gen Z Audiences Exactly What They Crave on CTV

Even with all the numerous ways they can consume content today, Gen Z—just like their older counterparts—enjoy streaming TV. I mean, c’mon, do you really think it’s the 40-and-up crowd that has made Euphoria a modern cultural touchstone? (Nope. Give those laurels to the youngsters.)

But marketers can learn a lot about Gen Z by simply listening closely to what they already crave, whether that’s more authenticity in advertising, the short-form creativity of TikTok, or the immersive quality of livestream shopping.

Just make sure that, when you’re crafting CTV creative for Gen Z, you keep all of their habits and interests in mind. That’s how your ads become something, you know, they may actually want to see.

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