Born between 1996 and 2010 (1) Gen Z are the first generation of true digital natives. Having never lived in a time before social media, they’re trained to process floods of information at speed, with their attention continually split between multiple apps and devices.
• They're natural researchers. Having grown up with the ability to find information almost instantaneously, the internet is an extension of their own brains. As a result, they’re inquisitive, questioning conventional forms of media to find the truth beyond surface claims.
• They’re self-taught entrepreneurs. Having the internet at such a young age means they’re able to educate and equip themselves with skills using the likes of YouTube tutorials, meaning they’ll be bringing a multitude of skills into the workplace.
• It isn't all optimism for Gen Z. Anxiety and depression in young people has risen dramatically in recent years. The demands of social media 'perfection', cyber bullying, as well as a strong fear of terrorism has all contributed to a generation fulled by panic and concern.
• They're politically and culturally passionate. For some of Gen Z, these fears have developed into an inherent desire to change the world and secure a better future - leading to the 'Gen Z Revolution.'
It’s commonly quoted that Gen Z have a filter of just 8 seconds, meaning they’re ruthless when filtering through content, deciding what is or isn’t worth their time. With just 8 sections to capture their attention, content needs to be impactful, digestible and quick; which is why visual platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat are incredibly popular for this age group. YouTube alone has grown from 64% to 72% amongst teens over the past year (2), suggesting brands need to get visual if they want to win the hearts of Gen Z.
Brand Example: ASOS
With financially savvy Gen Z wanting both value for money but lacking the time to discern quality through lengthy product descriptions or reviews, ASOS are tapping into this generation through their ‘Catwalk’ feature on their website. The feature allows consumers to watch a catwalk video of a model wearing, moving and posing in items of clothing, meaning consumers can judge the quality, the fit, and the size of the product in a couple of seconds. This condenses the information consumers want, whilst minimising the issue of product returns in the fashion industry.
Gen Z are independent and resist conventional stereotypes. They’re a generation of DIYers – looking to YouTube tutorials to learn make-up skills, musical instruments or home design through the click of a button. They’re able to utilise the sources available to them to build on and improve their own personalities – meaning more opportunities are available to them through this immediate source.
This has given way for a generation of individual-minded people. Whilst previous generations may have been defined by common stereotypes exposed to them through their immediate friendship circles, Gen Z are curating and crafting their personalities through their wider array of influences. Through exposure to these personalities, Gen Z are more culturally aware than ever before.
Equally, Gen Z are seeing ‘everyday’ people rising to celebrity status online – which is giving them optimism and entrepreneurial spirit that they, too, can impact the world. This can be seen in the success of 17 year old influencer Tanner Bell – who posts DIY craft videos online and engages a huge following.
Joshua Browder, a 19 year old entrepreneur, is a self-taught coder who created ‘DoNotPay’, the world’s first artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot which helps appeal parking tickets. The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as ‘were there clearly visible parking signs?’, and then guides users through the appeals process. DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets. Browder is an example of Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit, willing to independently learn and create in order to tackle issues they feel are important in society. (3)
Although their fluidity between the online / offline world is advantageous, Gen Z are experiencing increasing anxiety in regards to the impact of the online world on their own self-image. As many as 42% of Gen Z feel their online image has an effect on how they feel about themselves, showing how the online / offline self is blurred more for Gen Z than any other generation, significantly affecting their self-esteem. (4)
Although Gen Z are unconventional, they’ve created their own stereotypes and barriers, as with new behaviours come new expectations. For Gen Z, aesthetic is everything when it comes to social media profiles – and a trend amongst Gen Z is to leave no more than 25 photos on Instagram, savouring the spots for only the most beautifully curated images. (5) This pressure for perfection is placing even more necessity on genuine human interaction, with Gen Z wanting to relieve the pressure of carefully crafted posts which might cover up true feelings. As a result, apps such as Whisper offer a platform to post secrets, thoughts and feelings anonymously – allowing the discussion of genuine feelings without judgement, removing the pressure and anxiety from expressing oneself on social media.
Brand Example: Adidas
Brands can tap into this desire for genuine human interaction through making their brands more relatable, and creating communities for customers to express themselves. Adidas is connecting to consumers on a more intimate level through the use of dark social media – which is hard to track. Adidas are creating micro-communities of consumers through an app where they can discuss new product launches, leave reviews and gain news before anyone else. Although this is still a digital experience, consumers are engaging with Adidas on a human level, through a genuine community rather than at a distance. (6)
Changing Milestones – Teenagehood
Due to technology playing a fundamental role, children are getting out less with an alarming three-quarters of UK children spending less time outside than prison inmates. For many, childhood no longer means playing outside in the mud but instead playing on an iPad.
In addition, traditional markers of ‘being a teenager’ are shifting. Where teenage angst, rebellion or generally acting out were descriptors of teenage hood; for Gen Z, drinking, smoking and eating junk food are dated teenage stereotypes. Due to the health and wellbeing macro trend taking the globe by storm, Gen Z are being influenced by healthier parents, friends and through social media influencers. As a result, youngsters are more mature than ever, making considered choices about their bodies and consumption habits. The exposure to this content means Gen Z and Gen Z parents are more focussed on wellbeing than any other generation.
Brand Example: Headspace for Kids
Tailored towards the younger members of Gen Z, Headspace for kids aims to teach children how to medidate and de-stress, setting them up to be more relaxed, healthier and happier humans starting from a young age. The new holistic approach to wellbeing will become the norm for them as they adopt this lifestyle. (7)
Changing Milestones – Adulthood
When it comes to movement into adulthood, the Millennial generation were the first to experience a ‘prolonged’ youth – living with parents for longer, delaying traditional markers of adulthood such as buying a home or starting a family. Millennials have tipped this, and now Gen Z redefine ‘adulthood’ as a feeling rather than an event. “Adulting” is now a verb, to describe moments or snapshots of responsibility - the feeling gained from earning your own income, going out for a meal, or buying a newspaper (8), for example.
Brand Example: Splitwise
With more young people sharing homes with friends both now and in the future, ‘Splitwise’ is an app which controls bills, groceries and other ‘IOU’s’ with friends – displaying how much you owe, how much your friends owe you, and your total balance. The app makes shared living effortless whilst still providing the feeling of being organised and independent (9), crucial to ‘adulting’.
Following on from the Millennials who are dubbed ‘generation rent’, Gen Z are aware of rising house prices, the competitive job market and the implications of another recession. Having adopted their parents’ savvy shopping skills post-recession, Gen Z have paired this with their own online research skills to become a generation of true bargain hunters. Nicknamed the ‘responsible generation’, they’re more inclined to comparison shop online than Gen X or Boomers, resisting the urge to impulsively spend money. Recognising economic uncertainty is on the horizon, over half of Gen Z would rather save money than spend it (10) , and many are already investing in their futures using technology and apps to save money.
Brand Example: Quapital
Quapital is an app aimed at young generations, which integrates saving into everyday life. For example, users can choose to deposit an amount of money for every indulgent purchase they make – meaning they can treat themselves as well as investing. The app can also round up every purchase made to deposit the excess. This means Gen Z are integrating saving into their everyday purchases as a necessity rather than an effort.
Seen and heard
Gen Z are more politically and socially engaged than earlier generations. Growing up post 9/11, through terrorism, wars in the Middle East and the recession, Gen Z have come of age at a time of political turmoil and have experienced enough distress to want change. Dubbed ‘Generation Katniss’ after Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, like Katniss, they feel the world they inhabit is one of perpetual struggle – dystopian, unequal and harsh. (11) This has led to the popularity of dystopian narratives amongst this age group, with the success of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner franchises due to their themes of political resistance. (12)
In Britain, we’re seeing this generation taking action, with more youngsters voting in the 2015 General Election than ever before. In the recent Brexit vote, three-quarters of Generation Z voted ‘Remain’ in the European Union. (13) Shocked by the results and fearful for their future, teenagers headed to Parliament Square in London to take a stand and protest “Our future, our Voice” (14). The hashtags #notinourname trended on Twitter and Instagram allowing Gen Z to stand in unity and make their voices heard.
Brand Example: Dorito’s No Choice
Brands can connect with Gen Z by acknowledging political issues. An example of this is Dorito’s in their ‘No Choice’ campaign. Launched before the US election, the campaign depicts a Dorito’s vending machine which vends the same grey packet of crisps no matter the choice selected. The point is to show how they’ll be forced to deal with the product they’ve been given if they don’t vote in the election. This campaign appeals to Gen Z by tapping into political issues they’re increasingly caring more about, whilst educating those who aren’t yet politically aware.
Challenging social norms
Having grown into this society, they are more aware of issues such as multiculturalism, gender and sexuality, Gen Z’s attitudes towards social issues are more open and accepting.
One way Gen Z are shaking up social issues is through their increased blurring of gender identities. Whilst today’s society in general is more open to gender fluidity in the mainstream, shown through the ground-breaking popularity of programmes such as ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, Gen Z were born into this more tolerant society with these debates at the forefront. As a result, we have a generation of disruptors willing to go further to challenge archaic societal norms. This can be seen in the likes of Tyler Oakley – a popular influencer amongst Gen Z. He’s an activist, pop culture enthusiast and is passionate about LGBT rights.
Brand Example: Louis Vuitton Womenswear
17 year old actor and musician Jaden Smith landed a gig as the face of Louis Vuitton’s Womenswear. Popular amongst the Gen Z audience for his gender fluidity, his integration into the brand is challenging the way society thinks about gender and fashion. (15) Not only does this bring a Gen Z influencer into an unconventional backdrop, but it also highly resonates with this audience, who are more open to gender and sexuality being fluid and subject to change. (16) This comes as a contrast to brands such as Zara and GUESS, who released gender neutral clothing lines but faced backlash for their ‘safe’ approach – putting only basic items such as white t-shirts and grey sweatpants into their ‘ungendered’ clothing line failing to make a true statement.
Veganism, environmental sustainability and ethical trade are some of the areas pioneered by this generation. These issues have been growing in consumer awareness for some years, but Gen Z were born into this consciousness. It’s second nature for Gen Z to cross-question sources, delving beyond traditional news and into a more developed understanding. Discovering the reality behind the damage humans are causing the planet, teens are determined to do something about it. Whilst other generations may be aware of these issues, Gen Z are actively taking responsibility for them.
Brand Example: Earth Guardians
Earth Guardians are a tribe of young activists, artists and musicians from across the globe, coming together to protect the ‘Earth, Air, Water, and Climate.’ As the next generation, they believe they can alter the future. Their tribe, ‘RYSE’ (Rising Youth for a Sustainable Earth) is a movement of young climate leaders taking action and encouraging youth around the world to do the same. The group is led by 16 year old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an activist and hip-hop artist.