Generation Z became the biggest demographic in 2019, outpacing millennials who’d previously held that top spot. They now comprise 32 percent of the world population—and their strength doesn’t lie only in numbers. This is arguably the most diverse and inclusive group, as 48 percent are ethnic minorities and one-third know someone who uses a gender-neutral pronoun, according to Pew Research Center. Born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, Gen Z’s motivations and behavior have been shaped by seismic events, including the Great Recession, national protests against racial inequality and a global pandemic. Here’s how brands can connect with this dynamic group.

Progressive Ideas Push Boundaries
Whether it’s tackling racial inequality, environmental activism or fighting for gender rights, there’s no doubt Gen Z is engaged. This is an open-minded cohort, unafraid to confront injustice and generally liberal when it comes to intimacy. Roughly half (48 percent) of Gen Zers believe gay and lesbian marriage rights are good for our society, compared to only one-third of Gen X and one-quarter of Baby Boomers. Younger demographics’ openness to sexual experiences outside of traditional gay or straight norms is indicidative of a future where gender isn’t a factor in the decision about whom to date. Brands like Unilever’s Axe body spray tap into their evolving viewpoint on attraction with its multichannel “New Axe Effect” campaign, which is targeted to Gen Z men. A 60-second spot, called “The Walk,” shows a guy leaving his house after spritzing himself with the Axe elixir, only to enter a magical world where a wide group of men and women—and even a dog—are seduced by his presence. “The New Axe Effect shows the evolution of our past creative and gives our guys the opportunity to smell good and feel confident so they’re ready for all possibilities of attraction,” said brand director Mark Lodwick. The company further engaged the efforts of graffiti artist Ben Tallon to refresh Axe packaging so it better reflects younger consumers’ sensibilities. Creative elements are meant “to resonate with this generation of men who are notoriously open-minded when it comes to attraction,” according to a press release. Additional Axe updates include the reformulation of grooming products using more plant-based materials, which is important to Gen Zers who prioritize sustainability when it comes to dietary and beauty choices.

Social Still Steals the Show
As digital natives, Gen Z has zero memory of life before cell phones and social media. Three years ago, 95 percent of teens reported having access to a smartphone, while 45 percent said they were online “almost constantly,” according to Pew Research Center. Because so much of their lives are spent plugged in, they expect brands to meet them on mobile and with seamless social-first engagement. Abercrombie & Fitch’s surf-inspired Hollister brand recently met those requirements by launching a Gen Z-focused sub-brand called Social Tourist. The new apparel line features gender-inclusive items, along with trend pieces and clothing basics. It was conceived in partnership with Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, sisters who boast 115 million and 51 million TikTok followers, respectively. The allure of social media influencers remains unmatched. Last March, the top-10 influencer channels reached 29 percent of Gen Z viewers with 150 million unique views, compared to the 71 million unique viewers hit by the top-10 broadcast TV channels. The D’Amelio duo are no strangers to brand collaborations, having previously teamed with mattress brand Simmons and Dunkin’ Donuts, which named “The Charli” cold brew drink in the younger sister’s honor. “Charli and Dixie are the quintessential example of what it’s like to grow up in the digital world, and we’ve always believed they authentically represent our teen customers’ mindset both online and in real life,” said Abercrombie & Fitch Co. global brand president Kristin Scott.

Bring the Fun and Games
Brands must be transparent to win a spot in Gen Z hearts. This demographic can readily suss out a lack of authenticity and they’re not afraid to call out companies that might be perceived as causing harm, which is why eco-friendly beauty brands score top marks. Enter Elf Cosmetics, one of the leading makeup brands among teens and adults under 25. To meet Gen Z members where they’re likely spending time, Elf recently launched its own Twitch channel, which debuted with a three-hour livestream event hosted by gamer and special-effects makeup artist Autumn Rhodes. In addition to Twitch, many important Gen Z moments now take place on gaming platforms including Roblox, Among Us and Fortnite. Case in point: Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert drew over 27 million players who watched him perform hit songs among a flurry of dazzling special effects. Twitch itself boasts over 140 million monthly users, and the video-game live streaming platform enjoyed a viewership surge as a result of last year’s lockdown. Gaming is nearly ubiquitous among Gen Z members, with 90 percent of teens reporting that they play video games while 84 percent have access to their own home console, according to Pew Research Center. Part of Elf’s launch mission is to support women gamers who’d been previously locked out of this traditionally male-dominated world. A survey conducted by the makeup brand found that 70 percent of its fans play video games, while 65 percent enjoy streaming gaming content. Brands willing to dip a marketing toe into gaming platforms may be rewarded with Gen Z’s attention. This group sees the world differently from previous generations. Learning about what makes them tick is key to winning genuine loyalty.

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