Kat Harding, Havas Play: "Two-way dialogue and interaction with consumers are imperative for our brands to move forward..."

Relatability and personalization go a long way when engaging younger audiences

by India Fizer , AdForum

Havas Play UK
Full Service
London, United Kingdom
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Kat Harding
Social Director Havas Play UK

Havas Play utilizes unique digital spaces such as gaming to connect with younger audiences and create experiences that encourage two-way communication between the brand and consumer. Chatting with Kat Harding, Social Director at Havas Play UK, we unveil the key components to marketing to Gen Z and Gen Alpha: purpose, authenticity, personalization, and transparency.

In what ways are you leveraging new platforms and technologies to engage and resonate with the digital-native nature of Generation Z and younger consumers? Further, what channels and formats are you prioritizing and how are you adapting your content for these platforms?

Our core ethos at Havas Play is to play meaningfully in culture and it’s this narrative which ensures we adapt to the dynamic digital landscape and importantly leverage innovation in the right ways to engage any generation whether that be Gen Z or younger.

We’ve leveraged a host of new platforms and tech, and gaming platforms have been just one example of those that we’ve used to engage a unique captive audience. For the launch of Altitude’s new horror film, "Talk To Me", we leveraged Fortnite to stand out. Up against the behemoth of Barbenheimer, gaming offered us a unique opportunity - not only because we knew our young horror audience were big gamers, but it gave us an environment untouched by other film releases.​ We created the world’s first Fortnite integration into the Deadpines map. Bringing the IP of the film to life; allowing horror fans to literally play the film, ensuring it couldn’t be missed.

No one can hide from the meteoric rise of vertical video. This is one of our ongoing priority formats alongside platforms such as TikTok and IG Reels. In addition, platforms where we can play an active interactive role in the lives of Gen Z through the likes of AR, gaming or AI personalization is key for us.

Alongside this, we’ve expanded our path to production, working with content creators, strategic partners, and creative technologists to ensure that whatever new platform or tech we leverage, it is done in an authentic way that’s right for our digital native audiences.


How are you tailoring your messaging to align with the values and interests of modern consumers, and how does this differ from your approach with previous generations?

Younger audiences place a much higher value on authentic and transparent communications from brands and it is this, alongside personalization, which has proven the largest difference between how we’re adapting messaging styles between generations. With many of our brands we’re seeing a change in tone of voice styles and emphasis, especially on social media, that allows us to talk to younger people in the open and transparent fashion that they have come to expect. For many brands this allows them to stand out across the comms ecosystem and engage their audience in a more personal and relatable way.


What role does culture, sustainability and social responsibility play in your brand's communications strategy for engaging with younger demographics?

The insistence from younger generations for brands to make meaningful contributions to societal and cultural issues sets a new standard amongst other generations and means that they can no longer be ignored. 

Our proprietary planning process at Havas Play, Meaningful Brands in Culture, is built around the cultural insights and drivers of our audience. We undertake a culture and people first mindset to find the strategic opportunity for our brands rather than thinking brand first. This means that our campaigns stand up to the cultural rigor younger audiences put on brands nowadays, but which importantly do not jump on the purpose band wagon in the short term for profit.


In what ways are do you utilize user-generated content and interactive experiences to connect with younger consumers on a more personal level?

We lean into Gen Z’s thirst for self-expression and search for connection and community through our work at Havas Play. Two-way dialogue and interaction with consumers are imperative for our brands to move forwards and ensure we’re delivering on their needs. Both user generated content and interactive experiences play an important role in this. 

With EE, most recently, we needed to help build authentic credibility for EE within the gaming community. We launched EE Game Day - a one-day mixed reality gaming treasure hunt conducted for both physical and virtual audiences throughout the UK, broadcast on a 3-hour Twitch stream by Yogscast channel. The mixed reality stunt featured both physical cosplaying characters with AR overlays and was supported by a bespoke online game played by a host of influential streamers as well as 13 EE Game chests hidden across the UK both digitally and physically. Game Day landed EE credibly in gaming, shifting brand metrics and positioning EE as a destination for gamers. With EE now having established a national day to celebrate gaming among this community: 

Can you share any examples of successful campaigns or collaborations with young influencers, organizations, or platforms that have helped shape your brand's communication approach for Generation Z and beyond?

Over two years, we reconnected next gen youth with JD Sports at Christmas through digital culture. In addition to the core advertising campaigns we created a social mockumentary, an 8bit mobile game, a streamable theme tune and plenty of TikTok challenges which allowed us to build an impactful multi-channel campaign delivered by over 70 young cultural protagonists and creators. This resulted in JD Sport’s most successful sales periods in recent years, and showed that our talent strategy and use of channels proves effective in reaching our audience of digital natives.