Meet generation Z, the 12- to 19-year-old cohort, who care deeply about ethical consumption, are the most progressive generation to date, use digital technology more than any previous group, and are set to change the world with their optimism and ambition.
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changing the world
e XeCUTIVe sUm maRy
Like the badly behaved older child, millennials are getting
all the attention. Ignored is their younger sibling—the
ambitious, engaged, sensible child. It’s time we looked at
generation Z, a group that wants to change the world
and might just do it.
GENERATION Z 3
Generation Z are today’s teenagers. And they’re full of surprises. Born
from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, they are the first true digital
natives. Making up about a quarter of the population in the UK and US,
under-20s have got a lot to say and a lot to spend. In the US alone, they
have $44 billion in annual purchasing power.
Like the badly behaved older child, millennials are getting all the
attention. Ignored is their younger sibling—the ambitious, engaged,
sensible child. It’s time we looked at generation Z, a group that wants to
change the world and might just do it.
Unlike millennials, generation Zers have
grown up in tough times and, if anything,
have watched millennials and learned
from their mistakes. They know education
needs to be active rather than passive
and that unemployment is a real risk. In a
celebration of generation Z, energy drink brand Lucozade called them
“self-starters, not selfie-takers.” They’re active and aware.
If millennials are content to use the internet to browse paparazzi shots
of the Kardashians and wallow in 1990s nostalgia, generation Z wants to
create, connect and change.
i-D magazine’s recent “Activist Issue” looked at generation Z: “The
internet has helped us in making the world a better place. It's our
generation's ears and eyes, giving us the knowledge and tools to
Ian Van Buskirk, Minerva Schools student, San Francisco. Photography by Winni Wintermeyer.
GENERATION Z 4INTRODUCTION
“The generation before could be
characterized by excessive consumption
…it makes sense for the next generation
to distinguish themselves from their older
siblings and cousins.”
Fiona Measham, Durham University
The caricature of a millennial is Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s
character in Girls. The series opens with Hannah’s parents telling
her they will no longer pay her rent. Hannah, 24, self-obsessed and
directionless, is appalled. Her generation Z counterpart is Alex Dunphy
of Modern Family. She’s ambitious, always worrying about school work
and getting into a good college. She doesn’t break the rules and worries
about the world around her, especially the environment.
Generation Z is a remarkably mature generation. While the teenage
years are typically seen as a time for experimentation and reckless
behavior, that isn’t the case with generation Z. Drug use, alcohol
consumption, smoking and teenage pregnancy are at their lowest
levels for decades.
“The generation before could be characterized by excessive
consumption,” Fiona Measham, an academic at Durham University
in the UK, recently told The Daily Telegraph. “It makes sense for the
next generation to distinguish themselves from their older siblings
Generation Z is rebelling by conforming. There’s a greater sense of
responsibility as today’s teenagers are more concerned about the
future. Professor Measham explained, “I talked to a 17-year-old who
said, ‘We have to stay sober to sort out the mess your generation
have made of things.'”
GENERATION Z 5TRENDS
G e n e r ation Z by nu m be rs
Connected and conscientious,
generation Z is not easily typecast.
They’re always online…
86% use their smartphone multiple times a day
…and they worry about that
79% agreed that “people my age spend too much time connected
to digital devices”
Technology brands are important to them…
73% say the brand they buy is important to them
…but that doesn’t mean they want the latest gadget
Just 35% thought that if you didn’t have the latest device you weren’t cool
They still watch TV…
69% watch more than two hours of television a day
…but they favor YouTube
70% watch more than two hours of YouTube content each day
They still love Facebook…
71% of our SONAR™ survey used Facebook, more than any
other social network
…but they’re cautious about what they post
82% think carefully about what they put on social media
They’re happy shopping online…
68% of our survey said they were as comfortable
purchasing online as offline
…but they prefer shopping offline
67% would rather shop in stores
They’re preparing for the future…
83% agree it’s important to start saving for their future now
…but they’re concerned
64% worry about how successful they’ll be in the future
1 Think about your vocabulary
Talk about “the internet” not “the Internet.” It’s not a brand
name or a destination. It’s just there, another part of our life.
Remember that the internet is now classed as a utility, like
water or electricity. Even words like “online” are problematic.
Generation Z is always connected; there is no offline anymore.
2 Don’t underestimate them
They aren’t just teenagers. They’re consumers, activists, and
3 Don’t stereotype them
Generation Z is racially diverse and moving beyond binaries
like “straight” and “gay,” “male” and “female.”
4 Have a positive impact on the world
Generation Z wants to change the world. Brands
should join them.
5 Don’t assume you speak their language
There’s more to engaging with this generation than
adopting teen slang.
6 They listen to their friends and peers
And those peers might be someone they watch on YouTube.
7 Don’t make them wait
Whether it’s ordering a taco on their phone or wanting a new
outfit that day, generation Z isn’t used to waiting.
8 Move beyond the mainstream
Embrace and celebrate niche trends. They might be
tomorrow’s big thing.
9 Don’t be provincial
Generation Z takes inspiration from around the world,
from food to fashion.
10 Let them choose
Whether ordering from a secret menu or hacking education,
generation Z will not respond to a one-size-fits-all approach.
Key Takeaways for Brands
GENERATION Z 7
SAMPLE CASE STUDY
Photography by Patrick Strattner.
GENERATION Z 8
Caroline loves shopping, dreams of owning a Chanel Boy bag, and gets
teased by her friends for the amount of time she spends looking at
clothes on Instagram. But her future plans might surprise you. “I always
thought I was going to be a doctor,” she says, “but as I get older I go
toward the technology and engineering fields.”
Caroline isn’t alone. The girls of generation Z are embracing STEM
(science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The Girl Scouts of
America say 74% of high school girls are interested in the subjects, but
relatively few make it their career. Even President Obama (father of two
generation Z girls himself) is worried: “We’ve got half the population that
is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a
whole bunch of talent not being encouraged… the way they need to.”
Luckily Caroline isn’t easily put off: “It doesn’t turn me off that it’s
seen as a male industry, it turns me on more. Women are equal. If I do
something and enjoy it, why not? Why can’t I be one of the people to
end the inequality?” she asks.
Carolin e , 16, Los Ang e les
Caroline Weiss, photography by Patrick Strattner.
GENERATION Z 9
One way to encourage young women to explore STEM careers is through
mentoring and hands-on experience. For Caroline, it was working with
Genesis that really inspired her, turning an interest into a career path.
Genesis is a California-based organization that offers teenagers the
chance to work with the latest technology, showing them what is
possible through STEM and how it can be used to help others.
Caroline has been involved in the Helping Hands project, where
prosthetic hands are created by 3D printing and sent to children who
need them. Caroline and eight of her classmates were invited to Las
Vegas earlier this year for the International CES, where they met
technology industry figures at the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge, including Megan
Smith, the chief technology officer of the United States.
“It was a very girly place,” says Caroline. “There were manicures and
clothes you could try on. But there were completely powerful women
there from Facebook, and Google and Yahoo. You can be a girly girl and
still be a feminist.”
Caroline, 16, Los Angeles 9
“We’re a generation who’ve always known
technology, and we want to use it for good—to
improve our lives and everyone else’s lives.”
Caroline Weiss, photography by Patrick Strattner.
GENERATION Z 10
It’s not a word she’s afraid to use. “I’m a very big feminist. I use the word.
A lot of people don’t like to use it,” she says.
She cites Emma Watson as an inspiration; her speech to the UN on
gender equality particularly resonated with generation Z. Caroline
identifies with Watson’s observation that, too often, calling yourself
a feminist is confused with hating men. “It was an amazing speech,”
Above all, Caroline is an optimist. “We’re a generation who’ve always
known technology, and we want to use it for good—to improve our lives
and everyone else’s lives,” she says. “You can do everything with STEM,
from saving someone’s life to finding directions. Whatever you make will
help others in some way.”
CA RO LI N E:
I can’t live without my phone
My favorite brand is Alice + Olivia
My favorite store is Bloomingdale’s
The last thing I posted on a social network was a
Throwback Thursday of my siblings and me
The thing I care about most is my family and friends
Caroline, 16, Los Angeles 10
Caroline Weiss, photography by Patrick Strattner.
The Innovation Group is J. Walter Thompson’s futurism, research and
innovation unit. It charts emerging and future global trends, consumer
change, and innovation patterns—translating these into insight for brands.
It offers a suite of consultancy services, including bespoke research,
presentations, co-branded reports and workshops. It is also active in
innovation, partnering with brands to activate future trends within their
framework and execute new products and concepts. It is led by
Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group.
The Innovation Group is part of J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, a platform
for global research, innovation and data analytics at J. Walter Thompson
Company, housing three key in-house practices: SONAR™, Analytics and
the Innovation Group. SONAR™ is J. Walter Thompson’s research unit that
develops and exploits new quantitative and qualitative research techniques
to understand cultures, brands and consumer motivation around the world.
It is led by Mark Truss, Worldwide Director of Brand Intelligence. Analytics
focuses on the innovative application of data and technology to inform and
inspire new marketing solutions. It offers a suite of bespoke analytics tools
and is led by Amy Avery, Head of Analytics, North America.
Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group
J. Walter Thompson Intelligence
Report author: Graeme Allister