As a new year is upon us, it’s a good time to reflect on what the past twelve months have brought. It’s safe to say that 2018 was a rollercoaster of events. For young people, 2018 was a particularly turbulent year, with many highs and some lows as well. Let’s take a look at what the past year has been like for this young generation, “Gen Z,” and what they’re hoping for in 2019.
Gen Z encompasses the young people who have been born between 2001 and 2018, including everyone up to seventeen years old. Though close in age, Gen Z is very distinct from their preceding generation Millennials in their consumer preferences, cultural responses, and ideological priorities. Here are some things we learned about Gen Z in the past year.
Gen Z could be described as a generation of activists. For them, being involved in social causes is almost mandatory, and 2018 saw a dramatic increase in teenage activism. Gen Z expects those around them to reflect this activism, including brands and retail companies. According to a recent poll, 73% of teenagers aged 13-17 are drawn to brands that champion causes they care about. Another poll gauged that 82% of teenagers either always or oftentimes purchase from brands that align with the causes they believe in. Similarly, others discovered that 67% of teens report that they are more likely to buy from brands that endorse causes that are close to teenagers’ hearts, versus those that do not.
Gen Z expects more brands to step up to the plate and see themselves as responsible for the social issues around them. Only 28% of teenagers believe that brands are currently doing enough to address today’s social ills. Fashion brands or retail companies that platform causes not resonating with Gen Z will struggle to keep up with this generation. Even Dolce & Gabbana wasn’t immune to this curse. The luxury brand was shunned by young audiences after tweeting controversial messages. Another brand, Calvin Klein, saw popularity growth among young consumers after Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown wore a custom “March for Our Lives” top by the label.
The generation’s emphasis on social activism is fueled by the troubling, often-violent events they have weathered. Gen Z frequently notes school shootings, gun violence, and rampant sexual harassment as primary causes for their personal stress levels. An astonishing 91% of young people aged 15-21 report experiencing physical effects from this chronic stress. Three in four 15-17 year old teenagers state that a key cause of their anxiety comes from mass shootings. These are sobering statistics. This anxiety-inducing and uneasy year has left Gen Z looking to dark humor, media outlets, substances, and mental health-related products to ease their stress. It has contributed to one million more teenagers using vape pens this year than last, and 35% of teens report that their friends vape. While Gen Z’s risky behaviors are at an all-time low, this could be considered their one vice.
One positive development of 2018 in the midst of hard times has been the rebirth of the teen movie. While previous generations were defined by teenaged movies like Clueless, Breakfast Club, and Mean Girls, Gen Z has fallen in love with Netflix hits like The Kissing Booth, which the New York Times named “The Movie Hit of the Summer;” Set It Up; and the recent smash hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Netflix reports that teen romantic comedies, like the title above, were the most re-watched content on their streaming site.
Another cultural feature celebrated by Gen Z is the Snapchat app. Despite many headlines to the contrary, Snapchat continues to thrive and Gen Z is using the app heavily to stay connected with peers. In fact, Snapchat is Gen Z’s favorite social media platform, and it’s the one Gen Z most frequently reports they can’t live without. More than half of Gen Z teenagers state that they use Snapchat, a statistic which brands looking to connect with young audiences would do well to take into account.
Gen Z, who has come of age in a video-first generation, is most drawn to social media platforms that heavily utilize video. Whether Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, or Tiktok, Gen Z consistently favors video-centric apps over those that are not. The majority of teenagers watch these videos on their phones, seven in ten teens to be exact. Around 59% of teenagers prefer YouTube for their education, and the majority of Gen Z would prefer not to learn via print. Not surprisingly then, Gen Z consumes most of their TV shows via their phones rather than traditional TV sets, leading to more and more shows being produced for these more interactive platforms. Popular social media platforms such as BuzzFeed and Snapchat are launching shows to appeal specifically to Gen Z and their video preferences.
This technologically-savvy and video-centric generation is also pursuing future work in the tech sector. Google, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, Buzzfeed, and NASA all top the list of dream companies that Gen Z aspires to work for, revealing their preference for STEM-based and web-driven organizations.
From their anxiety to angsty teen rom-coms, from video apps usage to fashion brands, we have learned a lot about Gen Z in 2018. Consequently, 2019 is certain to bring many new changes, but the lessons from this past year will help companies, social media platforms, and brands to be better equipped to effectively connect with Gen Z over the months to come.