Annika Gerhard and Jason Modemann: How Media Reach Gen Z

By Martin Haase

Annika Gerhard and Jason Modemann at the Mawave office in Parkstadt Schwabing. Photo: Sebastian Arlt

They understand what Gen Z wants to see on social media: Mawave founder Jason Modemann and creator Annika Gerhard, both 25 years old, successfully create content for a target audience to which they themselves belong. A conversation about connecting with a generation that is becoming increasingly relevant for the media industry.

Jason Modemann was only 20 years old when he and Patrick Brüch founded Mawave Marketing GmbH in Munich. According to the CEO, Mawave is now the leading social performance marketing agency in Central Europe. The average age within the agency is approximately 26. That means there is no generation gap to consider when they are advising brands and companies that want to reach Gen Z.

Annika Gerhard also earns her living with social media. She is a full-time creator; with her channel "annikazion", the Dachau native reaches one million followers on TikTok, half a million on YouTube and a quarter of a million on Instagram. She uploaded her first video on YouTube at the age of 17, followed by ironic and witty commentaries on reality TV shows - which helped her find a niche. Instagram is the most essential platform for her financially, explains the creator: Because she shares authentic impressions of her life there, she can create the most relevant advertising.

Gen Z demands flexibility on social media

Jason, Annika, many media companies are struggling to grab hold of the needs and interests of Gen Z. What is particularly important on social media to reach Gen Z?

Jason Modemann: You need agility and speed to keep up with topics and trends. Companies have learned to throw money at everything over the last few decades. But purchasing new software, hiring expensive agencies, setting up massive workflows - that alone doesn't work anymore. If you want to reach Gen Z via social media, you have to be flexible.

Annika Gerhard: Trends change quickly. On TikTok, for example, it has recently been very popular for brands to post funny comments under viral posts. But that's already overplayed by now. I keep seeing these blue ticks in the comments and the only thing that crosses my mind is: a social media team is trying to be funny again.

Jason, Mawave has been around for five years. Has there been a significant development in the industry during this time that has permanently changed your work?

Jason: There have been a lot of changes. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) changed the entire topic of data. The pandemic turned consumer habits upside down. And TikTok completely changed user behavior. These are just a few big topics. On social media, there are drastic changes happening all the time.

Annika, when everything is constantly changing on social media, how do you deal with it?

Annika: I have to constantly develop myself, reflect on what I communicate and who I am. When I do reality TV videos, I also address relationship and communication problems. I get more serious about the topics and receive valuable comments from the community. I benefit personally from that. My community follows me through this process and evolves as well

»I constantly have to develop myself, reflect on what I communicate and who I am.«

Annika Gerhard, Creator Photo: Sebastian Arlt

Annikazion: Authenticity is valuable but you still need a strategy

It's all about authenticity, speed and flexibility then - is there anything that doesn't go down well with Gen Z?

Jason: What Gen Z doesn't like are slick, high-brow campaigns. However, they can help to build a brand. Even if it's obviously not native content and clearly advertising, that conveys a high-end image. I'm a bit ambivalent about that myself. In addition, it's not like everyone necessarily has to reach only Gen Z now. That would be unwise, especially considering this generation´s purchasing power.

Annika: From my perspective, it really depends a lot on authenticity. If there are too many thoughts and inputs in a campaign, I feel uncomfortable because I have little room to maneuver. It ends up looking too deliberate, you can see that in the post - even Gen Z recognizes that.

How does one portray authenticity?

Jason: If an established company wants to switch to fair trade, for example, and is 100 percent behind it, I would recommend having the community follow the change on social media. This requires making it clear that not everything is perfect yet while showing what steps the company is currently taking. No one expects companies to accomplish this overnight. It's better to set realistic goals and communicate honestly than to launch a sustainable collection that only accounts for two percent of sales.

Suppose I want to launch a business account on TikTok. What's the first thing I should figure out?

Jason: A few years ago, when we started, you could very easily scale up a product just through social media marketing. You can't do that today. There are few things that are innovative enough now to just sell without traditional marketing. You need an overarching strategy. That's why you should ask yourself the question: Do you really want to rely on a single platform like TikTok? Or do you want to broaden your reach? Obviously, this is often a question of resources. We had it easier there in the beginning. The commercialization of social media really took off in 2018, the year we were founded

Annika and Jason plead for more educational work in dealing with digital media. Photo: Sebastian Arlt

And Annika, what question should I ask myself as a Creator at the very beginning?

Annika: Whether you want to make money or entertain people. If you want money - don’t bother. If you want to tell a story and have a lot of ideas, you might be able to make it work. But you'll need a lot of stamina. When I first started, I came home every day after my internship in film production at six o'clock in the evening and edited my videos until late at night. That was a lot of effort for two videos a week. I took a risk and dropped out of my training - after a total of one and a half years of maintaining my channel full time, I earned my first money.

Twitch is very different to TikTok regarding average video length. There are hour-long livestreams. Why this huge discrepancy?

Jason: For me, it's just different situations in which we use the two apps. On Twitch, viewers don't have to actively scroll through a feed, they can passively stream. You could say that TikTok is the new newspaper, and Twitch the new TV.

Mawave: Gen Z is not the "generation crisis" per se

With the climate crisis, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, is Gen Z the "generation crisis"? Can you still reach them with purposeful content?

Jason: I don't think we need to separate the generations so much when it comes to crisis experiences. My parents also experienced disasters. However, in the past, a neighbour might have told you bad news over the garden fence. Today, social media is a catalyst for how quickly and intensely we receive information. That's the difference. That is why it's important that we learn how to deal with this new form of communication.

Annika: The harsh thing is, for example, if you look at a post on TikTok about depression, your entire algorithm is quickly designed exclusively for a depressed mood and that pulls you in even more. Then you're in the bubble and you can't get out. That's very dangerous.

»TikTok is the new newspaper, Twitch the new TV.«

Jason Modemann, CEO Mawave. Photo: Sebastian Arlt

Jason, you say you don't need to separate the generations so strictly - does the term Gen Z even make sense as a description of a target group?

Jason: There are a handful of statistics and studies on this. They say that a new term is simply sought for a generation every 15 years, without it really being significantly different. My parents also thought about authenticity and identity. It's just that these topics are shaped differently by social media today. But the topics are the same.

In my opinion, there are two generations that really stand out the most. On the one hand, the baby boomers, who entered a saturated job market. They were scared for their future and weren't sure what job they were going to get. And then there’s Gen Z, because they grew up with brand new technologies. In marketing, the distinction makes sense since we're targeting a 40-year-old person very differently than an 18-year-old. Especially on social media. However, we focus less on the generations and more on classic characteristics such as age and gender.

Annika, your community is growing older alongside you. How will that affect your social media activities?

Annika: I try not to worry about it so much. I've been doing this for seven years now and it still works. Seven years ago people were already asking me what will happen in five years. I'm getting older with the community, people are evolving and growing with me. I don't have any worries about that at all.

Jason, where do you see Mawave in five to ten years?

Jason: We'll definitely remain experts in social media (performance) marketing. We are the only agency of that size in Germany that focuses on something so specific. We won't make the mistake of waiting too long when new channels come along - even if that means making the wrong investments at times. We did Clubhouse intensively for two weeks at the peak, tried to host daily podcasts there, and after a month no one was talking about it anymore. But that's our mindset. We're allowed to make mistakes, but our motto is: "fail fast" - fall down quickly and learn from the mistake.