Keeping it real: Key considerations for engaging, empowering and inspiring Generation Z

Last week IFF attended the MRS Kids and Youth research conference hoping to learn more about the next generation, Generation Z, and more importantly how to engage them with insight.

The day started with an opening from the chair and we were all very proud to be familiar with some of the crazes that rocked the world in 2017 like ‘the floor is lava’, ‘bottle flipping’ and ‘fidget spinners’. Our delight at being down with the kids was short lived however as we were told that these fads were so last year and a quick survey of the room revealed that only one delegate was young enough to qualify as Gen Z having been born post 1995. We were out of touch once again but ready to learn!

An introduction to Gen Z

The line-up was made up of a host of youth brands and young speakers from the likes of BBC Radio 1 Extra, IKEA and Channel 4 as well as several research organisations who have done work with this age generation in the last year.

Martin Oxley from BuzzBack revealed 8 truths about Gen Z in the ABC’s of generation Z. The group were shown to be anxious, lonely and quite stressed. This was said to be due to the pressures of coming of age during economic and environmental crisis, and spending their lives online – having to keep up the appearance of having the perfect life on social media. Maybe because of this pressure, compared to Millennials, Gen Z are more privacy oriented and more like to ‘press pause’ on the digital world and unplug.

One of the most interesting topics was Gender and Gen Z. We’ve all heard the term gender fluid and Emily Porter-Salmon of Sign Salad talked about some of the key shifts in attitude from Millennials to Gen Z. For this generation, the lines have blurred and gender is no longer defined by a person’s sex. There are no correct behaviours and people can identify as whatever gender they like and this can change from day to day. Her message was that we need to be aware of this new outlook and question our own predispositions.

In The new rules of engagement for advertising to Gen Z we were introduced to one of the key take outs and a common thread for the day, the idea that this group loves choice. The advice given was that immersive, multi-platform experiences work best for engagement and that Gen Z enjoy controlling everything from music and filters to advert outcomes and pathways through voting and skippable content.

Keeping it real: authenticity, honesty and imperfection

The next theme that emerged was the importance of authenticity and honesty or, to put it in old people speak, keeping it real. In the panel discussion about finding authenticity in modern media products we were told that imperfection, mistakes and real people resonate most with Gen Z. The stars of today are individuals like Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and Scarlett Moffatt who are honest and don’t care about revealing the quirkier sides of their personalities. Celebrities are no longer seen as unreachable. Social platforms remove the barriers to connecting with anyone and, in an age where everyone has a profile or persona to upkeep, those who shine a light on all aspects of their life and don’t hide behind a mask are given the greatest respect.

Are Generation Z really that different?

By the end of the day it felt like we were less distant from the teens of today. Although the fads, technologies and fashions have changed Generation Z are fundamentally not that different from everyone else. They are value driven, they have insecurities and they want to be understood and accepted. It may seem like mobiles, apps and online games are their best friends but they are human after all and the best way of ‘connecting’ with them is to recognise, acknowledge and embrace the fact that they are real people too.