Comfort, control and balance: Correcting the Gen Z myths
Brands are obsessed with Gen Z because of their perceived influence and spending power. Thousands of articles out there will tell you how to connect with this powerful consumer block.
The only problem is, they’re not a block. As the most diverse generation to date, thinking of Gen Z as a single clump misses the mark. Brands that take this idealised depiction too literally will struggle to connect.
So, what’s more fabrication than fact, and what should brands be paying attention to?
Myth: Gen Z are a group of 90s wannabes.
Reality: It’s not the fashion, it’s the comfort.
Millennials are up in arms at the idea of Gen Z stealing their youth with the 90’s fashion trend — guilty as charged. But this fascination with the decade extends beyond fashion; Instagram accounts such as 90sanxiety have gained millions of followers by posting aesthetically pleasing images of 90s pop culture. But don’t go reaching for your bucket hats just yet.
Fauxstalgia is nothing new – it boils down to the generation of the moment feeling wistful for a period and what it represents, rather than a past experience. For Gen Z, the 90s were a time before social media, the internet and updates accessible at the click of a button. For these young adults, it’s a form of escapism when struggling in uncertain climates. Did somebody say cozzie livs crisis?
An examination of the low-fi aesthetic shows an exhausted generation looking to put their real selves first after a decade of stylised selfies and a constant online presence. They’re seeking comfort in the unedited and embracing imperfection to authentically present themselves to the world – now isn’t that comfortable.
What does this mean?
The youth become nostalgic when the economy is struggling, seeking comfort and connection.
We have permission to facilitate fun and playfulness for consumers looking to escape.
Myth: Gen Z are health freaks.
Reality: Gen Z are control freaks.
Gen Z are being dubbed the healthiest generation yet — for all the wrong reasons. Yes, they’re prioritising health, but it’s their investment in mental health that sets them apart from the rest. Millennials might have set a healthy precedent, but was it actually healthy? Gen Z have been given the luxury of information and a choice of benefits, but it’s mental and emotional health that’s driving them.
Everybody’s talking about Gen Z drinking less, but are they consuming less alcohol for the benefit of their physical health, or are they just avoiding hangxiety? We’ve all been there: waking up with a distinct feeling of regret, and a sudden urge to check that you’ve not posted anything embarrassing on social media. Gen Z recognise that the loss of control from drinking can have real-life consequences offline. A massive 49% of Gen Zers say their online image is always at the back of their minds when they go out drinking. Letting loose is associated with risk, and many are beginning to feel as though it’s just not worth it.
The rise of remedy drinks is further proof that priority is being placed on mood over physical health. Brands are modernising drinking rituals with a wave of no- and low-alcohol beverages that provide functional benefits and Gen Z are lapping it up! For young adults, a trip down the pub no longer winds up with a loss of control and deep regret, healthy alcohol alternatives now provide the sober curious with a new drinking ritual without sacrificing wellbeing.
What does this mean?
Young consumers are more self-aware than ever and recognise the adverse effects of alcohol on their mental health.
Clued-up and risk-averse: cautious of the implications that come along with drinking Gen Z prioritise their mental health and how their peers perceive them.
Myth: Gen Z are lazy.
Reality: They’re ditching hustle culture to avoid burnout.
Gen Z are often on the receiving end of criticism, especially about their work ethic and lifestyle, but as we’ve already established, this generation prioritises their mental health. They’ve taken note of overworked, overwhelmed millennials and said enough is enough – it’s time we demand better.
To fulfil their lives outside of the corporate setting Gen Z are rejecting burnout culture and embracing balance. Working all hours to climb to the top, neglecting social time with friends, and burning out is not what they see as success. Nor is it what they place value on. They want a workplace that prioritises well-being, provides opportunities to develop, and above all else, builds their personal brand.
That’s right Gen Z are not just another number, they have a brand to build and as a generation motivated by developing their identity and finding purpose, they’re not going to let mediocre business values stand in their way. Their jobs aren’t their whole identity but they do contribute to it. So, it’s no surprise that Gen Zers seek out working cultures that reflect their values and work-life balance takes the top spot.
What does this mean?
It may seem like Gen Z have high expectations, but they’re putting in the legwork for a better future.
Personal brand wins out. Gen Z want to show their authentic selves and expect the same in return.
Gen Z want the freedom to express themselves in their workplace - understanding their motivations, interests and values is a pretty good place to start.
Myth: Sustainability is non-negotiable.
Reality: Unless it feels unpractical…
Gen Z are referred to as generation green – the climate-conscious, eco-warriors of our era. Despite the data reflecting that sustainability ranks highly amongst their list of demands from brands, they don’t always live this truth. Gen Z’s relationship between their values and purchase decisions is murky.
It’s a constant battle between responsibility and temptation: they’re aware of the damage consumption and overproduction puts on the planet, yet they feel the social pressure to follow trends as a form of self-expression. Trendsetters looking to hop onto the latest fads turn to fast fashion to satisfy their desire for OOTDs, popularising contradictory brands such as Shein and Amazon. And we can’t ignore the strain the cost-of-living crisis has put on Gen Z’s wallets. The high upfront costs of sustainable shopping make it difficult for young people trying to remain eco-conscious.
The good intentions are there, but the most important values influencing Gen Z's purchase decisions are convenience, cost, and choice. To align with these values, brands need to help this generation stay true to their sustainability goals by making sustainable choices more accessible. It’s about time sustainability stopped being an aspirational, or even luxurious purchase decision and became the norm. After all, consumers shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege.
What does this mean?
Despite the fact that Gen Z are considered the most eco-conscious generation, a combination of peer pressure and financial instability means they’re finding it hard to meet their own sustainability expectations.
Almost every retailer has launched a sustainability promise, but being authentic isn’t as easy as posting on social media. Being a part of the change Gen Z want to see means taking action.
Gen Z’s influence is undeniable, stretching beyond their peers into the generations before them and the brands in front of them. With all of this power, it’s important to know what Gen Z really want. Brands should be wary of red herrings surrounding Gen Z and investigate what it is about their brand that meets the expectations of this demanding generation to form a genuine connection.
Watch out: no two are the same! It’s about going further than targeting a generation based on a flat-out presumption and instead targeting subgroups based on shared behaviours and attitudes.