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Generation Z are no mugs, so tread carefully

Blog date

23.07.2019

Author

Helen Collingborn
Associate Director

GenZ are angry. They’re impatient. They’re politically and technologically savvy, and they’re almost pathologically intolerant of intolerance.

They’re also a nightmare for brand marketers, unpredictable, outspoken, and unlikely to pop up in any of the places previous generational groups have been traditionally marketed to.

In the latest podcast in our Sound Thinking series, Chloe Combi, author of ‘Generation Z: Their Voices, their Lives’, helps us examine what GenZ think, how they feel, and how they can be reached.
In the year 2019, the Pew Research Centre defines Generation Z as people between the ages of seven and 22. At the top end, these are people currently finishing university, entering the workforce and starting to flex their consumer spending power.

What we know

And there are already some well-worn observations about them. Raised in a forge of social media, under the shadow of austerity, they’re the first generation with no notion of a world without constant digital connectivity. This we can glean without talking to them.

Which is what makes our conversation with Chloe so insightful. In writing her book, she interviewed thousands of GenZers over several years. And instead of surmising what they were thinking, as so many commentators have, she asked them directly.

As an agency whose job is to devise ways to reach new audiences, talking to Chloe gave us invaluable insight that reinforced what we already knew about how we engage young people today.

Curated personal brands

This is the first generation that doesn’t have its own magazine, no NME, Melody Maker or Loaded, and they consume virtually no live media. So how where do we reach them?
The question we ask isn’t so much where, as how. And the answer is with comms and activation they’ll curate and share as part of their own personal brand.

Because for GenZ, social media isn’t a channel, it’s the way they live. For better or ill, the online personas they carefully manage and curate blend into the real world until there’s very little separation between the two.

So for marketers, the way to reach these people is to become part of that brand. The gold standard, says Chloe, is to create content or experiences that are so creative and original they must be shared.
And you have no more than 20 seconds to do it.

A great example is Warner Brothers’ promotion of third-rate 2018 horror film, The Nun, which used a sponsored Snapchat lens that many agreed was far more frightening and engaging than the actual film.

And Coke showed how the this works offline. When their now famous 2014 Share a Coke activation offered consumers personalised drinks bottles, the social footprint was huge, boosting sales to a ten-year high.

Apathy is dead, beware

When you listen to the podcast, what emerges is a picture of a group that’s been shocked out of the apathy that they would say allowed Millennials and GenX to sleepwalk into the situation we find ourselves in today.

Brexit, Trump, sexuality, discrimination, economics, inequality; these are serious issues in the lives of GenZ, and for them everyone is increasingly defined by where they stand. This is especially true for brands. The time is coming, says Chloe, where brands hoping to engage this audience will be expected to say, this is who we stand with, this is who we are.

Our advice is that this is not something to be taken lightly, because fake news and political cynicism has made GenZ hyper-sensitive to bullshit. The backlash against Pepsi’s cack-handed attempt to evoke the American protest spirit last year clearly demonstrates the inherent danger. So if you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, GenZ aren’t shy about letting the world know how they feel about it.

Generation Z aren’t a mystery. They expect the truth. They carry high ethical standards. They respond to engaging, entertaining content and communications. They’ll support brands that genuinely resonate with the issues they care about, but they won’t hesitate to call you out if you fall short.

Listen to episode one of our Sound Thinking podcast series here.

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