Marketers are Turning Attention to Generation Z

Stephen DeAngelis

June 5, 2020

There’s a common belief that younger generations, especially teenagers, believe they are invincible. I’m not sure it’s invincibility they feel; more likely it’s possibility. Before them lies the future and all the choices they will have to make along life’s journey. The current coming-of-age generation is Generation Z (aka Gen Z). Generation Z is often defined as people born between 1995 and 2015, making the oldest members of the generation 25 years-of age. The Covid-19 quarantine put their lives, like all of our lives, on hold. As a result of their age, however, they are likely to be some of the first individuals to attempt living life normally as we emerge from the pandemic. They are likely to view the quarantine as a pause in rather than a change of lifestyle. Members of Generation Z are more likely to engage in social activities, go shopping, and participate in numerous other activities older generations will hesitate participating in for months after the quarantine has been lifted. This fact makes members of Generation Z good targets for marketing campaigns as the world emerges from the current pandemic.


Generation Z is a powerhouse


Sarah Todd (@SarahLizChar) writes, “Once upon a time, not so long ago, brands had a fair amount of influence over what teenagers thought was cool. … But online culture has upended the traditional relationship between influencers and influencees. This generation has never known life without smartphones and social media. That’s allowed teens to wrest power away from brands and traditional cultural gatekeepers. Companies hoping to appeal to this demographic will have to follow Gen Z’s lead.”[1] Why do marketers have to follow Gen Zers’ lead? Todd explains, “Appealing to teens these days is as important as ever for businesses. Gen Z makes up 40% of global consumers today, with about $150 billion in spending power in the US alone, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.” Experts predict the COVID-19 pandemic will advance the acceptance of e-commerce by years; however, Michael Wilson, AFFLINK’S Vice President of Marketing and Communications, notes members of Generation Z are already ahead of the curve. He writes, “Gen Z has grown up with two-day and same-day shipping. Most of Gen Z is used to purchasing things online — even local goods. Gen Z is able to order food from their phone, or even order a taxi through an app. Thus, this generation is far more accustomed to on-demand purchasing. Products need to be delivered fast, and without any type of human interaction. Going into brick-and-mortar stores is becoming rare.”[2]


Even though Generation Z’s impact on the economy is impressive on its own, the generation actually punches above its weight according to Natalie Koltun (@natalie_koltun). She explains, “While a majority of Gen Zers are not the primary purchasers of CPG products within their households, delivering ads to them sways sales, according to new research by Snap and NCSolutions shared with sister publication Mobile Marketer.”[3] She adds, “All eyes have been on Gen Z in recent years as marketers look to unlock insights into the young but influential cohort. … While the study by Snap and NCSolutions … is less about decoding how and where Gen Zers spend money, it demonstrates the power they have in swaying their guardians’ purchase decisions and how advertising on their preferred platforms impacts that.” Platforms like Snapchat and TikTok are becoming platforms of choice for younger generations.


Connecting with Generation Z


Analysts at Bloomberg assert Gen Zers are different. They insist, “Fusty companies that want to sell them stuff have to crack the kids’ code.”[4] They add, “Good luck with that.” They also note, “People in generational cohorts are never as uniform as marketers would like.” That makes reaching Gen Zers even more difficult. Emily Ketchen (@Emily_J_Ketchen), head of marketing, Americas at HP, agrees targeting Gen Zers won’t be as easy as some marketers might think. She explains, “It is critical to begin understanding members of Gen Z and nurturing long-term relationships with them. But it will not be easy. Gen Z is the first generation of true digital natives. Gen Z-ers spend 74% of their time — outside of school or work — online, according to Commscope. They are constantly bombarded by marketing content and ads, and those messages are beginning to become white noise to them.”[5] She suggests three ways marketers can break through the noise. They are:


1. Leverage technology. “Some aging generations — including Millennials,” she writes, “have concerns about the value that technology brings to their lives. … Gen Z, on the other hand, sees technology as a potential enabler of social change. And in contrast to Millennials, who have a reputation for complaining about problems, Gen Z believes in doing something about them.” She adds, “Because Gen Z wants to change the world, brands will need to follow their approach. … Marketers must learn how to position themselves at the intersection of technology and social causes to engage with Gen Z-ers when and how it matters.”


2. Show them the future. According to Ketchen, “Marketers need to tap into Gen Z’s constant hunger for what is coming next. They have grown up in a world of such rapid change that, to them, constancy or consistency equals complacency. That makes sense when you consider the rapid changes in culture throughout their childhood. … They are always ready for the next evolution. Face recognition? They cannot wait for it. Virtual reality? Bring it on. Artificial intelligence and personal assistants? Sounds good. In fact, for Gen Z, a primary driver of trust is innovation.” She adds, “Marketers must keep up with these fast-paced minds if they want to gain and retain Gen Z’s loyalty.”


3. Make them productive. Ketchen believes Gen Zers have more in common with people who grew up in the Great Depression than with Millennials. She explains, “Most of Gen Z … grew up during the Great Recession of 2008. They watched their parents lose homes and jobs. They were forced to become adults before their time. Not surprisingly, they are a more serious generation. Consequently, they are intentionally drawing the line between time that is productive and time that is not.” The pandemic will only make them feel more kinship with people who grew up during the Great Depression. She adds, “Whereas older generations are still struggling with how we might use technology to strike the perfect balance between work and play, that doesn’t appear to be an issue for Gen Z. They move fluidly among technologies, and they use quite a few.”


Bloomberg analysts note that just because Gen Zers grew up during difficult times doesn’t mean they have eschewed consumerism; nevertheless, Gen Z “will put a new spin on consumerism.” They explain, “Gen Z consumers don’t much care about brands. Or labels. Or corporations. They see themselves as entrepreneurial; around half may never work for someone else if they get their way. They’re ethnically diverse, socially tolerant, globally connected, environmentally aware. One nickname for the group: Philanthroteens. They don’t much use email or Facebook; think Instagram and YouTube instead. They’re into thrift-shopping and internet influencers. They sure don’t watch ads on TV, whatever that is. They prefer word-of-mouth (preferably through meme or post or video) when it comes to enlightenment about what to buy.” Since Gen Zers are going to be prime targets for advertising as we emerge from the pandemic, figuring out how to communicate with them is job one for marketers.


[1] Sarah Todd, “Gen Z consumers are making companies bend to their will,” Quartz,
[2] Michael Wilson, “How Gen Z’s Consumer Expectations Drive New Supply Chain Trends,” AFFLINK Blog, 19 November 2019.
[3] Natalie Koltun, “Gen Z sways household buying decisions after seeing Snapchat ads,” Retail Dive, 30 September 2019.
[4] Bloomberg, “Gen Z: The Kids Corporate America Just Can’t Afford to Ignore,” SupplyChainBrain, 10 April 2019.
[5] Emily Ketchen, “Marketing Beyond Millennials: Connecting With Generation Z,” MarketingProfs, 29 April 2019.