News & Views

Opinion / Gen Z Comes of Age

by Contagious Contributor
Martin Harrison, head of strategy at Huge, on Gen Z’s choices, attitudes and concerns



2016 hasn’t been a great year for Gen Y and millennials. All of our heroes started dying, and our parents made a couple of decisions that it’s fair to say we don’t generally agree with. Plus, our place in the heart of marketers is about to be replaced by a younger, richer version of us. Gen Z is about to turn 18 and start making their own decisions. And those decisions are very different to ours.

They don’t have an eight second attention span. They have been using technology their entire lives. They use up to five different screens and they parse information incredibly quickly. It takes them about eight seconds to figure out whether something is worth their attention.

They also have a very different attitude to privacy. That’s not to say they don’t value privacy or have no concept of what it means. It’s not unusual for them to have several Snapchat profiles. For example – a “public” one, one for real friends, one for family, etc. Rather than spewing their thoughts out into the world unfiltered, they think deeply about what they share.

What I find really interesting is how well behaved they are. Rates of smoking, drinking, pregnancy and recreational drug use are dropping for under 24’s across the board. 20% of under 24’s in the UK claim to be teetotal. This trend continues across the US and Australia. In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the hours per day under 24’s spend at social occasions has dropped from 15 minutes to 9 minutes since 2003. That’s 40% less partying! If your business is about partying you should be worried. Theories abound as to why – the cost, government policy or increase in health consciousness. There is also the fact that they micromanage their online selves, so getting wasted in front of their friends and doing something stupid is fraught with social danger. It’s no coincidence that they favour anonymous, transient platforms like Whisper and Secret.

But, the other reason for this seriousness is that they are worried. They worry about being able to get a job. They are constantly told that the next exam will be the one to determine the course of the rest of their lives. They grew up in the shadow of 9-11. The global financial crisis, the worst since the depression, happened when they were about 12 years old and just engaging with the wider world. So when asked what they want, they want to fix things and they want stability. They want houses and cars, the things the counter-culture dismissed as traps. They want to make a difference to the world. They want to start their own business so that they don’t have to worry about being fired.

It’s a fair assumption that this focus and concern will develop into enormous political and financial power. The fundamental differences between millennials and Gen Z in both outlook and behaviour is massive. Millennials put off growing up as much as possible. Gen Z want to grow up as soon as they can. If you’re reading this, you’re probably the former, and you need to work hard at understanding them if you want to sell to them (You should probably think hard about whether you want to sell to them – millennials are going nowhere fast.)