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GenZ Cheat Sheet
Congratulations, you are going to find out what’s the difference between an ‘e-girl’, a ‘clean girl’ and a ‘this girl’; oh, and how you can march in a Climate Strike wearing clothes bought on Shein.
Here is an exercise: go for a walk to the nearest high school or university. Sit on a bench. Observe the kids… but try not to look creepy. What do you see? Bucket hats, crop tops, and flared jeans that we deemed fugly and unacceptable circa 2008. Some of these kids look like they chose something at random from their closet (with their eyes closed) - but, hey, it’s comfortable. Many will look exactly like your besties in 2002. Others will go for a full face of makeup and all bells and whistles. What the hell is going on, who are these aliens and how are we to understand them? We did some research, asked many questions, talked to them, and here it is: a little GenZ manual.
So, who are these aliens?
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Let’s start with a short disclaimer: we (as a society) like to generalise and pigeonhole people. We like clean-cut categories with clear distinctions, but the post-modern world is fluid and multifaceted and so are its new generations. American Zoomers may be slightly different than their Polish counterparts, however, both groups may also share some attitudes with Millennials. Don’t get too attached to details, in this article we’ll try to paint a bigger picture.
Putting a sociological hat on: GenZ are the children of GenX, born roughly between 1995 and 2005 (although some stretch it to 2010). The oldest ones are now in their mid-twenties, building long-term relationships and sometimes even having children. The youngest ones are in their late-teens, about to enter the labour market, vote, make money and spend money. According to the GlobalWebIndex, GenZ in 2021 were:
One of the most important characteristics, though, is that Zoomers are the first generation that doesn’t know the world before the Internet. Growing up plugged-in, these digital natives find it easier to connect with their peers around the world rather than their older compatriots (GWI).
When following Zoomers online, one may get a slightly dissolute impression: this is the generation that was born into the reality of a global climate disaster that they didn’t cause, but they will fully experience its results.
Moreover, the cards have already been dealt in terms of housing and jobs and Zoomers don’t want to subscribe to the Protestant ethics of working hard for a decent lifestyle, it doesn’t work for them. The cost of living has become Gen Z’s biggest concern. According to Delloite, GenZ’s top concerns are: cost of living (29%), climate change (24%) and unemployment 0%).
Source: The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey
This impoverished generation inherits a polluted environment and an unequal world, where the old ways don’t work - so they refuse to accept them. 46% of Zoomers feel that their workplace is so demanding that they feel burned out, while 44% report that they know someone who quit their job due to workload pressure. They also experience solastalgia - a deep emotional distress, caused by changes in the environment - which sometimes turns into a full blown climate depression.
On one hand, this causes frustration and anger that pushes young people to the streets in Climate Strikes and makes them reconsider their consumption choices. Zoomers rummage for pre-loved / vintage clothes in charity shops and online second-hand marketplaces like Depop or Vinted, as they are no longer viewed as an embarrassing necessity for those who can’t afford new clothes, but they are now all the rage.
On the other hand, there is a common feeling of an impending apocalypse and the doom-tension that some relieve though escapism and compulsive shopping on fast-fashion platforms such as Shein.
GenZ beasts and where to find them
You might have heard of it before, but it has to be articulated: Zoomers' natural habitats are TikTok, Discord, and Instagram. Facebook is old and uncool. Zoomers prefer streaming platforms such as Netflix to traditional television. Bite-sized TikTok content is even more in demand than the longer Netflix pieces, which is believed to be the cause of the recent Netflix’ crisis.
What else do they spend their time on? Gaming, of course. Marketers who want to target Zoomers are doomed to fall into the gamirfng trap. It’s not enough to proudly add “gaming” to your strategy, as gamers are a highly diverse group. Which one is your target - the competitive e-sport fans? those who like to go on adventures as a Witcher? or perhaps those who create their own reality in Roblox?
Sometimes the weird, overwhelming digital reality is confronted with weird digital meta-ironic humour -Zoomers are famous for their quirky and abstract sense of humour, full of inside jokes.
All the time is me-time
The most important generational experience for Zoomers is surely the Covid-19 pandemic. The conclusion they draw from two years of lockdowns is that self-care and mental health are important – surely more important than superficial status symbols like careers, cars, and striving for a white picket fence. The overworked feminist girl boss trend that propelled Millennials is not quite dead, but it has rebranded into that girl. That girl works out, makes her bed, and eats aesthetically pleasing, balanced breakfasts. Journaling and self-reflection are also an important part of her self-improvement project. The cult of hustling turned into the cult of wellness; the rest stays pretty much the same.
When asked what is fashionable these days, GenZ will frown. ‘Everything that you feel comfortable wearing, or everything that makes you feel good about yourself’ they’ll answer. Comfort, mental and physical wellness and avoiding any unpleasantness are what truly matters. They dress to de-stress, not always to impress.
Flowers, bees and identity galore
Since Millennials ruined divorces, it was hard to believe GenZ could eff up even more, but they did - they are ruining marriages. The vast majority of Zoomers doesn’t want to get married and many of them don’t see the point in being totally exclusive with their partners. Gender fluidity is a norm and so is introducing oneself with a first name, surname, and a pronoun. It’s not surprising that one of the TV series most-watched by Zoomers is Euphoria - a story of high school friendship between a trans-teen, Jules and a drug-addict, Rue. A couple of months ago bloodcurdling news hit the headlines: Zoomers have less sex! However, when we had a better look at it, it turned out that they seem to have less casual sex and more quality, consensual sex. They also display more sexual behaviours that don’t traditionally count as sex - such as sexting.
Focus on mental health
The openness, curiosity and tolerance stretch much further than just sex. Gen-Z is happy to experience other cultures and the paths trailblazed by Millennials are now frequented by the Zoomers, as the interest in K-pop and Japanese culture keeps growing. The focus on mental health that we all experienced during the pandemic has also opened the door for discussion, sharing mental health issues and acceptance for those who are experiencing it, especially among the younger generation. One of the latest American Psychological Association surveys discloses that Zoomers are more likely to report, talk about, and seek help to treat their mental health issues. And when they add TikTok to these discussions, this is what you get:
The pandemic has shattered young people's sense of security and control over their lives. Such catastrophes have always pushed people towards religion or magic, but Zoomers don’t see themselves as religious, they are probably the least religious of the generations. Spirituality, however, is another kettle of fish. The difference is that religion is a highly communal experience, while spirituality can be practised in the comfort of your own home, or in front of your own screen. Interest in witchcraft, astrology, and tarot has boomed recently, suddenly Mercury being in retrograde became a real thing, and new-agey online shops can’t keep up with shipping sage and palo santo. Crystals are another thing that everyone went wild for, just check #crystaltok trend on TikTok. This stuff is not cheap, and if you can’t afford it, you better follow one of the popular ezo-tiktokers, who will tell you how to practise money manifestation rituals.
Aesthetics, fashion and nostalgia
In the GenZ world, aesthetic is everything, it’s instagrammable and tiktokable. There is a great variety of aesthetic trends in which youngsters express themselves.
Y2K and the great comeback of the nineties is clearly visible: chokers, tie-dye, low-rise jeans and crop-tops are everywhere. But nostalgia stretches far into 2010’s, welcoming back a more traditional and less pronounced wes-anderson-esque twee style. Do you remember that short period of time, when ballet flats, pleated skirts and puff-sleeved blouses with Peter Pan collar were in? A stuff that Zoey Deschanel would wear? If you still have your stuff from early 2010’s in your attic, you can re-use it, as the twee style is back.
Feel more grunge than cute? No problem, a new take of 2010’s indie style is called “indie sleaze”, so you can totally wear motorcycle boots, torn tights and anything Kate Moss would have worn in 2012.
Nostalgia of any kind is a longing for times when everything was simpler, even if one has barely experienced them, and this is also the case for the sudden interest in the 90's, 00’s and 10’s when the online reality was friendly and controllable.
It seems that subcultures that were pronounced dead quite some time ago are back. While at the turn of the century it was the music that was the common ground for people involved in a subculture, in 2022 it’s the aesthetic. In fact, the number of aesthetic trends that young people express themselves with, can make one’s head spin.
We have a clean girl aesthetic, that focuses on no-makeup makeup, sleek hairstyles and comfortable basic clothes in plain colours. There is also a complete opposite of clean girl - a theatrical and gender-fluid style represented by the e-girls (and e-boys), who sport dramatic, graphic make-up, colourful, heavy-stylized hairstyles and cosplay clothing. For those who don’t like to stand out quite THAT much, there is the VSCO girl style - fun, casual and comfortable, focused on the subculture of people who use VSCO - a more elite and less commercial counterpart of Instagram.
That’s not the end of countless aesthetics and aesthetic subcultures and trends zoomers subscribe to. Want to read more about the phenomena such as soft girl or cottagecore? Go to Aesthetics Wiki (yes, there is a Wikipedia for that).
How to market to GenZ?
Zoomers are slayers of lazy marketing. “Get to know your audience” is a marketing mantra, but not every marketer does this homework. This generation developed an evolutionary adaptation to online marketing - the ad blindness. They instantly recognize marketing content and choose not to see it, but when they see it, they recall it better than Millennials or GenX.
Here are some tips on how to build an effective marketing for GenZ:
Be subtle. Ads that scream “marketing” will be ignored. Go for more natural marketing content, interwoven with the non-marketing content.
Mobile first. Zoomers had a 60% higher engagement in mobile apps per user than the older generations and they spend a whopping 9 hours daily in front of their screens.
Remember that Zoomers have an extremely short attention span. They need 8 seconds to decide whether they like something or not. (Millennials need 12 seconds).
Be authentic - GenZ bullshit-detecting antennas are extremely sensitive for marketing content and they value authenticity. Carefully curated Instagram grids are so 2019, in 2022 it’s supposed to be about spontaneity.
Integrity. Zoomers don’t trust brands and hold them to high standards. They will detect and expose any greenwashing, dishonesty and hypocrisy faster than you can summon your emergency PR team.
Know your audience. Just sprinkling your marketing strategy with some Zoomer humour and Y2K aesthetics won’t fly. If possible - hire a Zoomer who knows how to talk to other Zoomers
Who did it right?
Unsurprisingly - not many. For every good GenZ campaign there are two bad ones that we totally could quote here, but we don’t want to be mean. So, here you go, two decent examples of brands who listen and talk to Zoomers.
If there is one brand that is Zoomers’ all-time favourite, it’s Netflix. Netflix is consistent in all its actions; from creating the product (inclusive TV series that feature the conservatives’ horror: gender fluidity and racial diversity in all shapes and sizes), to doing smart marketing that is discreet and to the point. In its latest campaign promoting a mini-series “The Queen”, a story of an older gentleman by day and a drag queen by night, they asked Polish male celebrities to paint their nails and casually publish the pictures on social media. Here is Maciej Musiał, a young generation actor, who is sporting a rather bold shade of nail polish on his way to get groceries.
Good job, Netflix - a small thing, done on the popular channel, that made a big buzz among the right crowd!
Duolingo… or pretty much any brand that understands TikTok trends and challenges
A girl recording a tiktok about a #dayinthelife. She wakes up, goes to work, tells us about her day working at Duolingo. Is it her own content or Duolingo’s marketing / employer branding? They had to be okay with her filming her work… right? Hard to answer? Perhaps that’s how you recognize good marketing. Very subtle, almost impossible to tell apart from regular organic content present in the Gen Z native channels.
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In this article I used:
The Latest trends for Generation Z by GlobalWebIndex (GWI)
The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey (Deloitte)
Is Gen Z the spark we need to see the light? by EY (EY)
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