Marketing to Gen Z: Cynicism

  • November 10, 2022

Want to make meaningful connections with Gen Z? Then you need to get comfortable with contradiction. 

Born between 1996 and 2012, and making up roughly 15% of the UK population, Gen Z are beginning to age into the work force and earn their own income – so it’s no wonder every brand is trying to understand them right now. 

But how do you pin-down a generation still figuring themselves out?  

Delving into the data shows us the overarching characteristics of Gen Z are authenticity, creativity, stress, and cynicism. Beyond that, a deeper, more human look at their lives suggests they are a generation defined by paradox and contradiction, something brands will need to get on board with if they want to connect with them in a meaningful way.   

What the data shows us 

Having sifted through the mountains of data on Gen Z, there are 4 clear themes that emerge, and best define their behaviours: authenticity, creativity, stress and cynicism.  

Today we talk about: Cynicism 

It’s no surprise Gen Z have an inherent mistrust of authority figures when you consider that they grew-up digital natives, accustomed to a fast-paced way of life, but when they looked to parents for guidance, their elders were themselves still trying to wrap their heads around this ever-changing world.  

Seeing their parents lack of understanding in the digital space, Gen Z have become, if anything, overly cautious. 9 in 10 are concerned about their privacy online, a worry not always shared by their boomer parents. In fact, Gen Z have gone as far as to mock their elders’ inabilities in the online world. The Facebook page ‘A group where we all pretend to be boomers’, is a never-ending stream of posts from Gen Z playing-pretend as boomers who over share or incorrectly post a private message. On a page with over 284,000 members, one post simply reads “What’s my wifi password? Thanks amen”. Where data privacy is concerned, rather than being a guiding light, boomers have become the butt of the joke. 

The lack of trust Gen Z feels online extends out into the real world too, where an inherent scepticism for authority figures has led to pessimism about the likelihood of meaningful change in their lifetime. They’re acutely aware of issues like climate change and racial injustice, and how much social revolution their generation is expected to bring about, but only 5% think the world is a fair place. How high is the likelihood of change actually happening, when the odds are so significantly stacked against them? They fail to see any institutions around them that actually work and can’t help but blame older generations for the sorry state they see. Despite that, their youth-driven momentum is still high, but “they’re taking matters into their own hands – in part because they’ve lost faith that anyone else is capable of helping them”.  

Similarly, growing up under the dark cloud of the 2008 crash and subsequent recession has meant they are financially very cautious – with 65% considering themselves savers, not spenders, and “see job stability as more important than a high salary”. Their fiscally conservative approach has meant they are less materialistic than generations before them. In fact, 73% prefer experiences over products, valuing the opportunity to connect with friends and family as more important than a physical product.  

Putting little value on high-price items, distinguishes Gen Z from Millennials who enjoy treating themselves to something special. When asked “if you had £1,000 to spend on any one item, what would it be?” Gen Z were most likely to say they would “save it” or that they simply “didn’t know”, whereas Millennials would suggest a splurge on something like a “luxury holiday” or “designer item”. Again, we are seeing Millennials defined by their aspirational, idealistic lifestyle, whereas Gen Z can be characterised by their more realistic and sensible approach.  

Who’s doing this well? 

Netflix: Knowing that Gen Z value experiences, Netflix have been quick to create immersive, experiential pop-ups to promote some of their biggest shows, like Stranger Things and Squid Games. These have been hugely popular with Gen Z, appealing to their desire for IRL connection and shareable experiences.  

The take-away for brands 

  • Gen Z don’t look to elders or authority figures for guidance – instead, they find answers themselves. Help them in this by being a leader in education for your category 
  • They’re smart with money, and reluctant to part with it for material possessions, so focus on experiences when connecting with Gen Z 

Article written by Rose Alexander, Media Director 

Sources: Prospect, Impact, Relative Insight, National Youth Trends, JWT Intelligence x Snap Inc, Princes Trust,GWI, Deloitte, Lifeworks, StressMatters, Clear Pay, McKinsey

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