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By Teens – For Teens: Make the Most of Marketing to Generation Z

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Special to the Philanthropy Journal

BC/DC Ideas

BCDC Ideas LogoOften deemed the “lost generation” by media marketers, how can nonprofits effectively reach Generation Z to meet their communications goals?

With the right mix of storytelling, creativity and fun, engaging materials, this niche audience can evolve from a communications challenge to an amazing opportunity for success.

SHIFT NC (Sexual Health Initiatives For Teens), through the Teen Playbook initiative, cracked the code on marketing to young people with a teen ambassador program and tailored social media tactics designed to appeal to a truly niche audience – 18-19 year-olds in Gaston County, North Carolina.

Young people can be a vital resource to engage, educate and provide insight into a rapidly expanding market. With this project, the team leveraged the talents of real teens to reach their peers, drive the organization’s mission and deliver amazing results.

Identify the Challenge

The Teen Playbook is a colorful, honest resource to help teens find the truth about birth control options and access to care. The resource is a part of a broader community-wide initiative, Gaston Youth Connected, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has cut teen pregnancy rates by nearly 40% since 2010.

Through teen focus groups, the SHIFT NC team went straight to the source to identify the problem. They found that prevalent myths abound in regard to safe sex and birth control methods. The communications challenge was not only to reach teens but also to bust specific myths surrounding birth control use.

If You Build It, Make Sure They Come

The Teen Playbook is chocked full of educational resources regarding birth control methods, where to find health services, real sex facts and much more. But it can only be a resource when teens know where to look. Just because you build a great tool, doesn’t mean the teens will use it.

How did SHIFT NC attract audiences to the Teen Playbook? They created brand ambassadors within the group they served – the local teens! These teens were selected as ambassadors to represent and talk about the Teen Playbook in a positive way and to make the conversation about sex and birth control much more approachable. Utilizing ambassadors is a great way to tap into a new audience by using those already embedded in the community to build trust for a product.

The project turned the conversation of sex and birth control on its head. Traditional methods of pamphlets and dry conversations from health professionals don’t work for this audience. Teens have grown up in a digital world. Traditional marketing and advertisements don’t appeal to this group because they’ve learned to tune out.

But SHIFT NC found that bright colors, cheeky language and plenty of pop culture references can be the secret to successfully breaking through the noise. Most importantly, these teens trusted the messenger. Short videos produced for Instagram and YouTube featured the girls they already saw in the high school hallways.

Enlisting the help of real teens was a hit. SHIFT NC developed and distributed a suite of easy-to-share materials to reverse specific birth control myths identified through the focus groups, provide real sex facts and encourage teens to feel empowered to take control of their sexual health. Since enlisting the teens, the promotional tools have been utilized and successfully raised awareness about the Teen Playbook to its target audience – Generation Z.

Find Your Own Secret to Success

How do you know if this method will work for your nonprofit? The participating teens were mature, brave and fearless in tackling the tough conversations needed to encourage their peers to take control of their birth control methods and overall sexual health. More importantly, they truly believed in the mission and the goal of the project.

When marketing to Generation Z, authenticity is the golden ticket. When teens are excited, engaged and given the right tools, they can contribute significantly to the success of a campaign. Just give them the opportunity! With the right messenger and materials, nonprofits can break through the noise to reach your target audience.


See some of the materials used during the campaign:

  • My Birth Control Story Video SeriesThese short, personal stories share the facts about getting birth control and gaining the confidence to #finditloveit.
  • Sex Myths Revealed Video SeriesBy teens for teens. These videos get down to the dirty details to show how teens are talking about sex and birth control.
  • Know the OddsWhen you ditch the pill for a long-term birth control option like an IUD, the odds are definitely in your favor. This poster series helps diminish the fear of injury due to LARCs.
  • Sex Slang ShortDo it safely…no matter what you call it! This short video can be used on your social media channels to get a smile and drive teens to the resources they need for sexual health.
  • Check the BoxWith a series of viral images, the Teen Playbook showcased ALL the benefits of IUDs and other long-term contraceptives.

BC/DC Ideas is a creative agency in Raleigh, North Carolina that specializes in strategic communications planning, social media, advertising and marketing, public relations, and video production for nonprofits. 

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