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Why many brands are seemingly unattractive to Generation Z

The estimated $3 trillion in spending power predicted by 2030 in this generation may be lost on them due to many modern day brands failing to connect with this seemingly ‘misunderstood’ and ‘game-changing’ generation. 

Now, many may be asking whether this naturally always occurs with new-coming generations. Shows like Mad Men even showcased how the wartime generation in the advertising generation struggled to comprehend and translate the wants and desires of the 60s youngsters. 

Gen Z has different priorities than Millennials and Gen X. Despite unprecedented generational diversity (from race to ethnic identity, sexuality, gender, and beyond), there are core values that drive this generation as a whole; they want to create a more equitable society for not only themselves, but future generations. Happiness is genuinely prioritised over mass profit because we have come to accept that sure we will most likely never be able to own a house in London but we do have the power to reverse some of the damaging effects of global warming. 

This is exactly where brands should try and relate to their existing and potential Gen Z consumers; equity, sustainability, and mental health. 

In March of this year, Adolescent Content and Shots.net collaborated to release a report titled Do not disturb: An investigation into brands, influencers, and why Gen Z keeps leaving you on read. The report gathered data collected throughout 2021 from nearly 400 Gen Z respondents, addressing the Gen Z mindset and presents new statistic-driven perspectives for Gen Z marketing. 

What was concluded was that Gen Z, despite their differences in age, experiences, interests, and ambitions, expect honest, positive change at the corporate level if companies want to earn their loyalty. And it’s not enough to just purport to hold the same values as Gen Z – you have to evolve with them.

Currently, it does not seem that brands are fluent with this idea. So far, only 8% of Gen Z feels strongly that brands understand their generation. That number’s pretty shameful.

The marketing world lacks true and authentic equity and diversity, so marketing professionals, both agencies and in-house, don’t innately share the Gen Z perspective. Our research revealed that Gen Z respects brands that use their corporate coin to improve society and actually view Gen Zers as individuals; not a monolith.

On this note, many may think that posters around London do indeed showcase diversity in the form of interacial couples, groups of black friends and lesbians holding hands on the tube. Arguably, much of the diversity feels artificial. While we see black, queer and disabled faces and bodies in the ads, Gen Z can feel that behind the camera, this is a different story. True, relatable queer stories, stories of colour, disability and other diverse, marginalised experiences are not told. 

Take the recent choice of Coca Cola to make Kate Moss the face of Diet Coke. As y2k fashion trends have soared back (mainly thanks to TikTok), many Gen Z users are worried about the return of ‘heroin chic’ bodies and eating disorders. Choosing to make the queen of the ‘waif’ look the face of a near calorie free soda has sent Gen Z up in arms and worries. A prime example of marketing that alienates this generation rather than make them feel seen. 

99% of Gen Zers identify mental health as extremely important, taking precedence over physical health, their career, their education, and even climate change. Considering that 83% of Gen Z are concerned about the health of the planet, that says a lot. 

For Gen Z, disengaging with anxiety-inducing content is a high priority. Racism, violence, and inequity are some of their biggest fears—brands don’t have the opportunity to toe the line and not make a stand anymore.

We ask then, perhaps Coca Cola aren’t trying to appeal to Gen Z with this marketing but instead those old enough to feel nostalgic about this era? Those in their 40s and 50s who still ask ‘does my butt look big this?’ with a negative connotation when asking about their outfit. Gen Z at the end of the day are waves deep into student debt and with the cost of living rising are struggling to leave their parents’ home so spend the income they do have at their local charity shops and on Depop (motivated by environmental and financial circumstances) rather than in the hands of big brands. 

78% of Gen Zers believe that brands are all talk and no action and that brands say things they simply don’t mean. And who can blame them? Greenwashing is rife among fashion brands like Zara, Shein and ASOS. 

Even though they don’t expect brands to solve any major world problems, they don’t tolerate a lack of transparency. Since 82% of Gen Zers research a brand before making a purchase, those skeletons are bound to come out of the closet. Gen Zers are conscious consumers and demand brands make amends with their wrongdoing.

While Gen Xers are often associated with consumerism and meritocracy, only 31% of Gen Z strongly agree that capitalism can work for them. This generation is not interested in the rat race of the American Dream but instead focused on pursuing purpose and creating a better world for themselves and the next generation.

At the same time, blanket statementing is difficult. As with any generation, Generation Z showcases extreme disparities – but perhaps take it to another level. 

On one hand you have Pippa, a 23 year old from Wolverhampton who is pursuing a freelance career in photography. In her spare time she makes vintage inspired mood boards on Pinterest and collects vintage lingerie she finds at flea markets and second hand stores. 90% of her wardrobe is secondhand, she rarely eats out and prefers picnics or dinners with friends. Her friend group is diverse and she lives in Stoke Newington. 

On the other hand we have Amy, a 21 year old true party girl from Watford. She shops at Missguided and Shein, goes to the sunbed once a month, gets her nails and lashes done on a regular basis at the salon and is training to be an estate agent. 

The two young women are pursuing very different lifestyles and therefore have different priorities. So, although part of the same generation, brands would need to market to Amy and Pippa very differently. 

My point is that while the report concludes that “Gen Z doesn’t want to work for the man” this is simply not true for all members of this generation. A third still strongly agree that capitalism can work for them and that’s a rather large statistic. We’re not all shroom-taking, vintage wearing, oat milk drinking, creative hippies (as for myself, however, count me in all that!)

In a similar vein, 63% of Gen Zers believe that breaking the mould is more important than stability. Gen Zers like to do work for themselves and their community and lift each other up where they can. Working for organisations that are more invested in profits than people is not cute. Many of this enterprising, internet-savvy generation don’t find sacrificing one’s wellness to be worth the stability of a toxic work environment. And when word gets out that a work environment is toxic? They don’t want to spend their hard-earned dollars there.

So where does this leave the modern marketer who’s staring at a lot of statistics that don’t quite line up with what they learned in university? Gen Z doesn’t care about your aesthetically pleasing influencers if they’re not educational and thoughtful. 

They expect a lot more than previous generations in terms of transparency, clarity, and a dedication to creating non-hostile work environments. They expect equity, sustainability, and mental health to be front and centre from the few brands they trust, and when those characteristics aren’t there, they’re not afraid to start their own thing. 

If marketers can’t bridge the gap, trillions of dollars will be left on the table for the next generation of entrepreneurs. It’s time for surface-level corporate metrics to shift—Gen Z is there if you’re willing to meet them where they’re at.

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