The oldest among the generation z cohort celebrated their 21st birthdays this year; a group of discerning, perceptive young adults with a particularly characteristic consumer be- haviour. In short, generation Z sees through the bullshit; if it’s not the truth, it won’t sell.
Cast your mind back to April 2017. Kendall Jenner has singlehandedly put a stop to social inequality with a humble can of Pepsi, and peo- ple aren’t having any of it. A myriad of baffled tweets closely followed the release of the of- fending ad; ‘So we should just give Putin, Assad and Trump a can of Pepsi and everything will be fine?’ one user sarcastically quipped. The sentiment seemed to reflect that of a gener- ation; young people had become increasingly switched off to, even adverse to, contrived and ‘try hard’ brand messaging. So much so that Pepsi sheepishly admitted they’d ‘missed the mark’ and pulled the campaign within 24 hours.
Generation Z sometimes known as ‘anti millennials’ faced some harsh realities whilst growing up. Economic recession, terrorism and the failed attempts of Generation Y siblings to leave the nest were no joke and as such shaped a generation of pragmatists. They are savvy consumers who value transparency and are good at identifying it. Carefully construct- ed and maintained brand images are suscep- tible to fierce scrutiny. If it’s not 100% au- thentic generation z knows about it, and will make sure all their friends know about it too.
Earlier this year John Zimmer, President of Lyft, was subject to ridicule and sec- ond hand embarassment following a disin- genuous statement he made when asked how his company would cash in recent fail- ings by Uber. ‘We’re woke. Our communi- ty is woke, and the US population is woke.’
It’s cringeworthy enough that an exceeding- ly wealthy white business man would use an activist phrase to promote his business (the phrase ‘stay woke’ has origins with black ac- tivists, used to acknowledge their suffering). But when you consider it alongside the fact that black Lyft drivers earn over $2 less by the hour than their white colleagues, you’ve got the most uncomfortable brand of irony.
Reaction to Zimmer’s declaration of ‘woke- ness’ was, unsurprisingly, not sympathetic. Consumers these days are skilled at identify- ing and crucifying false displays of familiarity and relatability like this one, and take great pleasure in doing so; many were quick to point out that billionaire Lyst investor Peter Thiel is a close associate of the famously unwoke Donald Trump. Despite public criticism, Zimmer insists Lyft is ‘a better boyfriend’ than Uber; turns out there’s nothing quite like overt greed and corruption for making you want to stay single.
Modern consumers have power of choice like never before and brands will fight like cat and dog to stay relevant. The prospect of being seen as out of touch or disconnected is too much to bear, a pepsi-esque disaster is one many small- er brands wouldn’t be able to bounce back from.
Enter 17 year old Connor Blakley, a high school dropout who realised the worth of his experiences as part of generation Z, and put a price on them. Blakley set up his own youth marketing agency YouthLogic through which he advises brands on how to understand and engage with generation Z. His budding, al- beit very impressive, career has taught him one thing about his generation that he says companies ‘need to know’: it can’t be put in a box, it almost always comes off as fake.
It’s not all doom, gloom and epic PR fails, though. Some brands are ticking all the boxes on generation z’s long long list, with authenticity right at the top. A 2016 surveyidentified Apple as the UK’s favourite ‘sto- rytelling brand’, one which creates it’s own world and forges an emotional connection with consumers. Apple’s marketing is straight- forward, free from gimmicks and focuses more on visuals than it does on cheesy sales pitches. Generation Z clearly approves, try and find anyone born after ’96 who doesn’t own an iPhone or MacBook if you want proof.
The centennial customer wants a ‘don’t call me, i’ll call you’ relationship with brands. They won’t be pestered or manipulated into spend- ing their hard earned cash, growing up sur- rounded by a constant stream of advertising has made them waaaay too smart for that. This doesn’t mean they can’t be marketed to, but it must be subtle and clever. So subtle and clever that anyone above the age of 40 would call it bizarre.
Case in point, Red Bull’s 2016 ‘Can You Make It’ Challenge, an example of Guerrilla marketing at it’s weirdest and most won- derful. The campaign saw 100 teams from across the world travel across Europe us- ing nothing but cans of red bull as currency. Scores were partly based on social media likes and shares; Red Bull were cleverly work- ing their way into our feeds, but it didn’t feel like a chore to watch... it didn’t feel like marketing.
And of course this piece wouldn’t be com- plete without paying homage to a brand perhaps seen as the most authentic of all; streetwear giant and kings of guerrilla market- ing, Supreme. Arguably one of the most talked about and in demand brands on the planet, Supreme somehow remains illusive and lowkey.
Perhaps the brands popularity can be ex- plained like this: generation Z are experiencing the thrill of the chase for the first time in their oh so convenient lives. In a market thats full to bursting with excellent customer ser- vice and constant over exposure the process of purchasing has all become far too easy. Supreme doesn’t market in traditional meth- ods, it can’t be found in any old department store, its drops often sell out in minutes, and it’s employees are ‘simply quite rude, pur- posely.’ It’s not that easy to buy Supreme, which is exactly why generation Z wants to buy Supreme.
This is a cohort unlike any that have come before it. It demands individuality, realness and human connection and is able to see through almost any marketing ploy you throw its way. It’s never been cool to be a try hard, but moreso now than ever before. If a brand wants to connect with generation z (and they ALL do) its gotta be real. Earlier this year Kendrick Lamar rapped ‘I’m so fucking sick and tired of the photoshop’, and quite honestly, he perfectly summed up the frus- tration of a generation that has had enough of mindless consumerism and disingenuous branding.