5 Mar 2020

Generation Z – more universal than unicorn

By BRAD REES

Fairy tales are often spoken about the humans who are categorised as Generation Z.

For those who can’t be bothered to google, Gen Z is a term or weapon to describe 2.5 billion people, aged between 7 and 23, younger siblings of millennials, whose parents were probably into the Happy Mondays, Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and the Shamen. I made the last bit up but you get the picture.

A photo of some Generation X people when they were the same age as Generation Z people

There are tribes of agencies, legions of media channels, flocks of coders and technology entrepreneurs who have set up shop to to solve the Gen Z audience engagement conundrum: how do we get money out of them?

Billions of dollars are blown every year to attract the eyeshare of this illusory demographic, across mythical platforms, where these consumer unicorns rear and canter.

There’s so much we know about ‘them’ apparently. Like how they they are the biggest family influencer on holiday destinations and they are always on their mobile phones, which is why they have no patience or attention capabilities.

They are increasingly disaffected by incumbent social media touchpoints but at the same time use the same platforms for their news and purchase information.

They like frictionless transactions more than face-to-face customer service – in short, they are The Awkward Squad but then, aren’t we all?

What is often not sought by the users, believers, receivers of these generational insights is an explanation behind the marketing narratives.

When Mister Percentage starts talking it is right be cynical.

According to one global tech giant, 30% of Gen Zs (750 million people) are willing to share their personal information with companies.

Says who?

The answer, 15,600 consumers, aged 13 to 21, in 16 countries, across six continents might sound impressive but as a representation of billions of people who just happened to be born between 1995 and 2010 is it really that credible?

At the other end of the Gen Z fairy tale arc, there are the ‘Well, My Nigels‘.

These are people whose knowledge of an entire, global demographic is based solely on immediate, familial experience, usually with their children, let’s call all their children Nigel.

‘Well, my Nigel won’t watch anything unless it’s on YouTube’.

Good for him.

‘Well, my Nigel would only consider working for a company that had a spotless diversity policy’.

Quite right too, Nige, but are you really the knowledge-vane for the experience of an entire generation?

Gen Z-ers are often framed as the naysayers of traditional media consumption.

Even if they could, they wouldn’t pay to watch a football game, subscribe to Netflix, pay money to Spotify or buy a tune from Apple Music. I heard all this from a Well, My Nigel just the other day.

At the same time Mister Percentage instructs that although YouTube is the ‘go-to source’ for video content, 71% of Gen Z-ers also have a Netflix seat, more than any other generation.

Where and why do I now put my marketing budget based on this fundamental conflict of insight?

The answer is to look beyond platforms and devices and lean in to what matters: experience.

Research quoted in the FT, based on declared attendance figures in the UK shows that ticket purchases for UK sports events by 16-24-year-olds are growing .

However, that’s only really boosted by Premier League attendance i.e. ‘Let’s take out a loan to watch the Arsenal at the Emirates #YoLo’.

Meanwhile, the gulf between England’s top flight and the rest of the clubs in the English Football League is widening every year.

Research based on actual people who have worked with the lower leagues are cited by award-winning football writer Miguel Delaney who suggests that younger audiences now consume sport in a totally different way.

You can observe this shift in behaviour through a dystopian, apocalyptic lens i.e. the lifeblood of real football is being vampirically drained by a Superleague-hungry elite of six global football teams, in a world of digital hyper-addiction where fake news is king.

Or, you can look at the evolution of younger audience habits in the context of deeper, more intense fan engagement, where fans can immediately access replays of goals and glean insights from a wider fanbase on SnapChat or Instagram close friends.

But as one government source puts it, “If you’re a teenager and you have access to Fifa (the game not the federation), social media, live Premier League and Champions League games, and you can play yourself, where does going to Wigan Athletic games for £20 a pop fit into that?”

Younger audiences are not exotic, evolutionary specimens with alien consumption habits that do not chime with tradition. They share the same passions, enthusiasms, challenges and dilemmas that their great, great, great grandparents faced a century ago and they maybe playing football on consoles instead of grass but they are still playing.

My point is a simple one – we have a lot more in common as human beings than the Well, My Nigels and Mister Percentages would have you believe, especially around sport and more specifically football.