Gen Z – who are they?

8th April 2016

A hot topic of conversation at the moment are millenials and post-millenials – those elusive Gen Ys and Zs – who they are, and how to engage them with effective marketing.

To better understand this audience, we recently attended a talk by youth specialist Joeri Van den Bergh titled How Brands Stay Hot; marketing to millenials. We thought we’d share some of the insights and examples of well-executed campaigns by the likes of McDonalds, Nike and Coca-Cola that Joeri referenced.

If you are not entirely sure, Gen Y loosely refers to those whose birth years range from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, while Gen Z are generally defined by birth years ranging from the late 1990s through the early 2010s. But what are the differences, or in fact the characteristics of Gen Z compared to their older siblings the millenials? What you need to remember about Gen Z is they’ve never lived a day without mobile phones, social networking or online video in their lives.

Therefore, with an average attention span of 8 seconds, there is an overwhelming use of ephemeral media; think 6 second Vines, 15 second Instagram videos and of course the elusive Snapchat. While text communication for Gen Y saw the advent of LOL, YOLO and LMFAO, for Z’s we’ve seen the rise of the emoji; short, sweet, snackable content.

On demand experiences are inherent; Uber’s 10 minute delivery service, Starbuck’s pre-order app and Amazon’s ‘phygital’ dash buttons are such examples. Influencers for this generation aren’t necessarily big name celebs but rather social influencers; the likes of Instagram personalities Kylie or Kendall Jenner or YouTube sensation PewDiePie.

So what, you may think, half Gen Z’s don’t have earnings to spend. Well you are wrong. Their purchasing power comes from their allowance, 62% of 4-10 year olds in the UK receive a weekly allowance, of which they spend 80%, much of it online. Moreover, the influence they have on their parent’s buying decisions is significant. What does this mean for brands, and which have been successful in marketing for millenials and post-millenials? Live content is big.


Joeri gave the examples of McDonald’s Whistler snow report live billboard or Royal Carribean’s use of periscope live streaming. Brands will succeed not if they try to speak in a youthful language, but instead if they create their own language for teens to use, for instance McDonald’s creating their own range of emojis.

There is an element of narcissism, as well as a celebration of imperfection that appeals to this audience. Instagram and YouTube have in one way given rise to the celebration of people who have imperfections, as well as products that are imperfect or able to be personalised. The game Minecraft, or Coca-Cola’s What’s in a Name campaign are two popular illustrations of ‘unique’ experiences, which are therefore more personal to the user.Nike is another great example of brand that renews itself across each generation.

Again, moving away from being the ‘perfect’ athlete, Nike now celebrates our imperfections. While snappy content is important for platforms like Instagram and Vines, what is equally significant is the quality and legitimacy of branded content. ‘Unskippable’ pre-roll adverts are a rarity but still exist. Geico’s 1 min 2 sec advert saw 7.4 million views in one week, proving millennials and digital natives can still be engaged through longer, smart content.

The real challenge for marketers will be keeping up with a generation that is constantly switched on – but can switch your brand off – they are incredibly content selective and smart when it comes to being ‘marketed at’. Brands will need to be innovative, and approach this audience from their perspective if they hope to navigate the digital jungle alongside these digital natives.