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David Lucas
| 9TH MAY 2023

Zeno Thinks: What Brits’ takeaway habits tell us about the media landscape

Here we go again! We might only be in May, but 2023 has already seen a wave of publications downsizing, refocusing or closing altogether. BuzzFeed News was wound down last month, while this week Vice Media is rumoured to be heading for bankruptcy. Specialist media such as long-running technology news sites CNET and ZDNET have also cut their teams, with reports suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) models will take on some of the writing.

Although motivated by cost cutting, we need to go a bit deeper to understand why publications like these (and many more) are making these moves and the implications for brands.

This year has seen a slowdown in ad spending. But, at the same time, publications (especially those targeting younger audiences) have fewer visitors. Combined, these factors make it harder to generate ad revenues on the scale needed to survive.   

Sites like BuzzFeed News and Vice target the Gen Z and Millennial cohorts, designed to appeal to digital natives. So, if these audiences aren’t turning to them for their news, where are they getting it from? Looking at their consumption habits, particularly Gen Z, who will quickly become the big spenders and decision makers that both consumer and business brands want to court, gives some clues.

Last year, Ofcom reported that TikTok is the fastest growing source of news for UK adults, and now matches the Sky News website and app in terms of users. And this growth has primarily been driven by younger generations, with half of TikTok’s news users aged 16-24. While TV news remains the most trusted news source, viewership of these channels is in decline.

With TikTok’s popularity as a news source firmly in growth mode, it’s also taken some of the role that earned media has traditionally had in setting the news agenda. Stories and conversations are now just as likely to begin on social channels.

Last month, the International Paralympic Committee went viral after posting a series of TikToks that seemed to poke fun at Paralympians – later saying that the content was designed to educate the audience on the achievements and diversity of its athletes. With BBC News running the story, the campaign quickly jumped from social to traditional news media and started a broader conversation.

It’s not just consumer-focused stories either. LinkedIn’s hiring of established journalists to run LinkedIn News shows that the trend goes into business reporting. The site now provides insights on the most popular business topics of the day, along with commentary from influential users. While these stories might not trend to the same degree as those started on TikTok, it’s clear that LinkedIn has an aspiration to be a news source in its own right.

What does this mean for brands? Traditional news outlets won’t disappear completely and remain vital for any comms strategy. But brands need to think about whether they’re the best channels for their audiences. Broadening campaign launches beyond the press release and onto social media channels like TikTok and LinkedIn gives opportunities to be creative, with shorter, more engaging content that starts a conversation on one or multiple platforms.

Including these in their news hijacking strategies is also key – LinkedIn posts commenting on breaking stories can be as powerful as issuing comments to media, while video formats allow for fun and engaging ways to jump in on the latest trends.

Whether Gen Z is a target or not, brands will benefit from broadening their channel strategy and thinking about new ways to tell their stories. And, while it’s difficult to predict a lot of TikTok trends (who knew that Brits’ takeaway habits could provoke such a big discussion?), analysing what sparked them will provide clues to what makes the audience stop scrolling and find out more.