There were two defining themes in briefs ushering in the 2020 decade. The first was Covid and the second was the emergence of Gen Z as a consumer target.
Gen Z is the label given to the demographic born between 1997 and 2012. Succeeding the Millennial generation whose oldest members are now turning 40, Gen Z was taking over briefs not just as a culture target for youth brands but as a recruitment target for mainstream brands as they started entering the work force and started becoming the de facto primary shoppers for homes that were either restricted in movement or locked down due to the pandemic.
They are now poised to be the dominant consumer accounting for 32% of the total global population, already larger than the Millennial band. The race is on to understand the unique characteristics, both big and small, that the members of this generation share.
In a bricolage of research anchored on local screen-to-screen interviews bashed against global research and opinion pieces we took our first steps towards gaining a deeper understanding of this fascinating generation. There is already one characteristic that immediately stands out – a fierce desire for reality. They have two criteria for judging what is real. The truth of what is said and the authenticity of what is done. And it is only when a message and action are consistent that people, organisations and brands earn their consideration as being real.
- Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash
You want the truth? They can handle the truth!
There are pre-Covid factors that have contributed to this desire for truth. Growing up in a very divisive political climate, as true in Asia as the rest of the world, and the resulting proliferation of propaganda and fake news have honed their lie detectors and grown their hunger for more honest and critical information. Fuelling this hunger is their native connectedness which gives them an unlimited supply of information and they’re becoming experienced navigators at distilling what is essential from what is distraction.
The global Covid pandemic acted as an accelerant where being able to source the correct information became as essential as wearing a mask, washing your hands and staying socially distant. In many households it was Gen Z that was put in charge of establishing Covid protocols armed with the most current and accurate truths to guide their households through the pandemic. And as they now slowly emerge from the pandemic this value on truth will have a ripple of changes that brands will have to adjust to.- Photo by Jarritos on Unsplash
From influence back to endorsement
Where Millennial scepticism about advertising led to the rise of influence and influencers, now Gen Z is doubtful of both. They are acutely aware that influencers and their opinions can be bought. And when it is, they not only close themselves off to the message but call out influencers for selling out. Instead, they gravitate towards real endorsement where they can see the brand or product either used by or making a difference in the lives of the personalities that they follow. What once was as-seen-on-TV that evolved to as-seen-on-FB is now being replaced by as-seen in-real life.
From words to action
70% of this generation want brands to add value to society. The political environment they grew up in has given them an activism streak and they expect brands to act similarly. They want to see brands go beyond lofty written purposes and translate those words into meaningful actions.
Fortunately for brands and organisations, Gen Z is also aware that activism comes in many forms, and they have the capability to see it from small acts like packaging changes that reduce environmental impact all the way to large corporate gestures like hiring guidelines for inclusivity they are all appreciated and go hand in hand in winning them over.
From a fragmented media landscape to a fragmented social media landscape
It is only in the platforms of social media that we see a unique interplay of message & action and of truth & authenticity. The desire for more honest, less curated interaction is most symbolically seen in the shift from picture-perfect Instagram to the more candid platform of TikTok.
This is, however, the tip of the iceberg, as Gen Z is building a whole network of social networks with the ‘old-reliables’ of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube co-existing with more recent platforms like Reddit, Discord, Clubhouse and of course TikTok, all accessible constantly through their mobile.
The key difference is the fragmentation of roles that each platform plays in their lives. More cautious about their online presence, Gen Z selectively assigns different roles to each platform that govern the type of content they will seek and share. This is where we have the opportunity to show all our brand parts – our brand’s ideal on Instagram, its quirks on TikTok, its community on Facebook and Reddit and so on so forth. When all of these are coherent Gen Z has the vision to see the whole Elephant.
From desire to utility
The dominant message that Gen Z was telling us is that they’re seeking for real utility. This is a hacking generation trying to find real solutions that make life a little easier, faster or more entertaining. They very quickly peel away the veneer we package products and brands in to assess the core utility we bring into their lives, their communities and their society. And once they’ve found a practical use for us, they not only take us in wholeheartedly but convince their circles to do the same.
This is just the beginning of both our journey of understanding and Gen Z’s own journey of how they will shape the world. The pandemic has shaped many of their traits and recovering from it and re-entering the world will be equally impactful on their values and beliefs. None of us know what this ‘new normal’ will bring but we’re certain that Gen Z will be one of the primary forces that will define it. To continue to appeal to them we’ll slowly have to move away from our bag of tricks that only exposes what we want them to see to a bag of truths that earn their respect wherever they might be looking.
So, if you’re interested in knowing how your brand can connect with and maximise the Gen Z target market, please do not hesitate to contact your local BBDO representative. We’re excited to help boost your brand awareness amongst these increasingly relevant digital natives.