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What Gen Z wants

A generation that makes its own rules.

Published
  • The big idea

    Gen Z is the first generation to bypass traditional cultural gatekeepers. They are accustomed to defining their own tastes, trends, and values. That has major implications for the way this generation shops and spends, even as the coronavirus pandemic shifts the stakes.

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  • By the digits

    40%: Percentage of global consumers made up by Gen Z, according to McKinsey & Company

    $150 billion: Gen Z’s spending power in the US alone, according to the consulting firm 

    45%: Number of US teens who now say that they are online “almost constantly,” according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey.

    70%: Number of teens who say that they use social media multiple times a day, compared to 34% in 2012, according to a 2018 Common Sense Media survey

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  • Brief history

    Image copyright: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko
    The coronavirus pandemic will be a watershed moment in the lives of Gen Z.

    Not so long ago, magazines, advertisers, and other media had a big role to play in shaping youth culture. But today, thanks to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other social-media platforms, young people spend the bulk of their time with content created by their peers. That has big implications for the future of Gen Z’s consumer habits.

    Teens may not be running for office or heading up Fortune 500 companies just yet. But social media has enabled them to exert an unprecedented amount of influence over one another—and, as a consequence, over companies, too. They’re using that influence to reshape the consumer landscape of the future, with attitudes toward the environment and gender identity that set them apart from their older peers. And companies are responding to their demands.

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  • Quotable

    “Millennials use social media as a platform, but with Gen Z, it’s woven into the fabric of their very beings. They spend more time with online communities than they do with real-life friends. There is no separation between the online self and self. They are the first generation who create what they consume and consume what they create.”

    Chloe Combi, UK-based author of the book Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives.
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  • Person of interest

    Image copyright: Eitan Bernath
    “I try to do something in the first five seconds that grabs the audience’s attention,” says Eitan Bernath.

    The key to being successful on TikTok is to grab your audience’s attention—fast. For teenage chef and social media star Eitan Bernath, that means chucking various items over his shoulder. A coffee mug, say, or a package of Oreo cookies. An iPhone, once, when he was presumably feeling confident in his case of choice.

    Having gotten his start in the food-media world at age 11 while competing on a kids-only episode of the Food Network show Chopped, Bernath’s success on TikTok seems to come down to a unique mix of cooking chops, business acumen, and a merrily frenetic style.
    “The way most people go through the app, they’re just kind of scrolling,” he explains. “If it doesn’t catch their interest in the first five seconds, they’re not going to give the video a chance. So I try to do something in the first five seconds that grabs the audience’s attention.” This strategy has propelled him to an audience of more than 815,000 followers in just a few months.

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  • Gen Z priorities

    Today’s young people have an unprecedented amount of power over the many companies hoping to court them—using their power to push companies forward on big social concerns. They include

    • Pushing brands on their plans for combating climate change
    • Demanding sustainability
    • Purchasing used and secondhand clothing
    • Flocking to eco-conscious wares
    • Favoring genderless consumption
    • Embracing body positivity
    • Sharing ideals and ideas across cultures
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  • Commonly held question

    What is greenwashing?

    Greenwashing refers to a company’s inaccurate claim that an investment, product, or program is sustainable or climate-friendly. “Gen Z is very in tune with ‘greenwashing’ and seeing when brands are just pretending or throwing out a little bit of a capsule collection but won’t do anything else,” says 20-year-old Maya Penn, an entrepreneur and animator who founded the eco-conscious clothing company Maya’s Ideas when she was just eight years old. 

    Already, several brands have experienced the risks of greenwashing firsthand. H&M attracted unwanted attention in 2019 when it was grilled by Norwegian regulators over the marketing of its Conscious collection as sustainable. As Quartz’s Marc Bain has written, while the clothing in question was made from materials like recycled polyester or citrus peel, “its low-cost, high-volume business model is arguably at odds with its sustainability goals.”

    That disconnect doesn’t sit well with Gen Z consumers, who are an inherently skeptical bunch when it comes to corporate intentions; and largely do not trust businesses to act in the best interests of societ

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  • Billion-dollar question

    What impact will the coronavirus pandemic have on Gen Z?

    The pandemic’s ultimate impact on young people is still uncertain. That said, historical evidence and psychological and economic research hint at a few possibilities as to how this crisis could impact young people in the years to come. Possibilities include

    ➡️ An already thrifty generation doubling down on prudent financial decisions,

    ➡️ Or, an increase in consumer spending after months of restrictions.

    ➡️ New and greater demands on governments and companies, 

    ➡️ Greater and more radical politicization, 

    ➡️ An increase in distrust of institutions and other people,

    ➡️ But perhaps also a greater appreciation for social safety nets.

    ➡️ More desire to fight inequality and racism,

    ➡️ And greater resilience to traumatic events becuase of what they have already weathered

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  • Keep reading

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