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"Gen Z: Redefining Authority" – APG event recap.

So...instead of a long preamble: I attended APG's "Gen Z: Redefining Authority" event on September 19, 2018 – and here's a summary with some moderate editorialising from my side (and of course apologies in case I accidentally misquoted anyone...).

Gen Z in a nutshell...

  • Born after 1995 (according to Flamingo, the cultural consultancy which organised the event; definitions will differ though depending on whom you're asking)

  • Will represent 32% of the global population in 2019

  • Consists of true digital natives – unlike Millennials who are closer to being "digital emigrants"

Gen Z isn't overtly averse to authority – but they do have certain expectations of those who are in authoritative positions.
Hence, they expect authority to...

  • Be "enforced by the community" (so it needs to be legitimate and democratic)

  • "Come from those who open and show their vulnerability"

  • Be "grounded in lived experience" (essentially a different way of saying "be authentic")

  • Be "shared between 'us' and 'them'" (so again, democratic and engaging)

  • Have "personal utility" (so it needs to be meaningful, and useful, to them

Though the speakers didn't state this explicitly, Gen Z's more comfortable relationship to authority (they're pretty different from the generation that participated in the 1968 protests) also suggests that they don't seem to see working with big brands as selling out, but rather as a way to drive change from within. This, of course, then begs the question if they actually do want to drive change from within or are more eager to get themselves into the system to enjoy the spoils...but that's getting close to the murky waters of non-verifiable hypothesis.

The bulk of the presentation was structured around this quadrant which Flamingo developed (pic below); essentially, brands should think about where they see themselves along the axes.

Some specific takeaways: 

  • On categorizing people into generations: "Generations are heuristics for change."

  • Advice for brands: "Be a caretaker of knowledge, not a gatekeeper."

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion with

General advice for brands vis a vis engaging Gen Z (from all the panelists):

  • Don't retrofit audience research

  • Every step you take adds to the character of your brand – so every action needs to be considered carefully since Gen Z is generally not forgiving of public figures' missteps

  • Don't try to be everything for everyone (viz. Pepsi ad fail)

  • "If you're commoditising authenticity, you're doing it wrong."

When brands make mistakes (as per Ife Grillo):

  • Be upfront – don't pretend it didn't happen

  • Apologize, and make sure you do it correctly since that will set the tone for the rest of the conversation

  • Be honest about why the mistake happened. Was it a fluke or the expression of a deeper issue within your brand or company culture? If it's the latter, Gen Zers are much less likely to forgive you.

From a marketing psych POV, Chloe Combi noted that for Gen Z

  • Parallel to the general openness and embracing of progressive values, there's a growth of a new, and very specific, conservatism (so not a lot of risky behaviours; not a lot of drugs and alcohol; very close relationships with their BFF parents)

  • This includes a "fetishisation" of childhood (only 00s kids will know), and a new type of social policing (though she didn't call this out directly, I assume this relates to the whole "coddling of the mind" theory)

  • There's a huge element of economic insecurity, and things that were taken for granted by previous generations, like home ownership and driving a car, won't be the norm for Gen Z

  • They want brands to be "nice," kind, and reassuring

For the generation after Gen Z (Combi calls them "Gen A"), she theorised that if the economy is stable as they grow up, they'll pick up on and propagate the best traits of Gen Z...which somewhat implies that if the economy doesn't turn out strong, they'll do the same for Gen Z's worst traits.
Finally, in terms of mental health and Gen Z, Grillo talked about how he thinks the conversation is growing (and people are more open about their issues) for two main reasons:

  • It's harder to hide as a result of our "social [media] omnipresence," which is exacerbating "constant social anxiety"

  • Because it's becoming a more widely discussed, we've been "forced to become more comfortable with [mental health issues]" – especially influencers "can't just show the fun part" of their lives with their communities without sacrificing their authenticity.


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