NEWS16 October 2023

MRS Gen Z Summit: Inclusivity, crisis and the ‘real’ self

Cost of Living Covid-19 Inclusion News People Wellbeing Youth

Inclusivity, authenticity, the digital world and the lingering impact of Covid-19 were among the key themes that emerged in the Market Research Society’s Gen Z Summit, held in London on Thursday 12th October.

Gen Z teens

Inclusive and community-led environments are important for Gen Z. Tim Donald, creative director at Sneak Energy, said that Gen Z wanted to connect with others and share their passions. “They were fanatical about their hobbies and their passions, but they were also highly inclusive. They respected people for passion, not for what their passion was. They found a lot of solace online, where there was no need to conform and they could leave behind normality or rules and real differences could be celebrated. They got a sense of achievement, pleasure and success from nurturing, running and growing their communities.”

Lisa Balestrieri, senior consultant at Kantar, added that this approach to community was also affecting trends in the luxury market. “Younger generations are revolutionising what luxury means. While previously luxury was about conformity and tradition, it is now about self-expression and authenticity and is rooted in community.”

Emily Porter Salmon, director of semiotics and cultural insight at Sign Salad, said that many in Gen Z were moving away from curated experiences towards those that felt more authentic, and which were “unapologetically human” and showed the real self underneath any facade. “Gen Z have been brought up in a time of information overload,” she explained. “Authenticity is something that cannot be taken for granted. We don’t know what is real, and there’s a constant challenging of reality.

“Gen Z are sceptical about taking things at face value. A great case study we saw was the rise of influencers driven by the demand for authenticity. Rather away from the veneer of the Instagram influencer, where it is all about perfection, what we were seeing with Gen Z influencers is increasingly a tongue-in-cheek acceptance of imperfection.”

Covid-19 and crisis
Gen Z has lived much of their formative years in a world of numerous crises, from Brexit and climate change to the cost-of-living crisis, and Covid-19, and its curtailment of life events that were available to older generations, had a big impact.

Oliver Sweet, head of ethnography at Ipsos, described work with beauty company Coty that examined Gen Z’s motivations, their connection with beauty, but also the tensions around identity. “They felt like a group of people who felt rather downtrodden by life,” Sweet said. “In their rather short life, they have experienced Covid-19, the cost-of-living crisis and have had far fewer job opportunities than other generations have had. They have also experienced a whole raft of pain on social media and a mental health crisis.”

Covid-19 affected how they grew up and lived their life, with some missing out on ‘firsts’ while others did not, so some had restricted development while others had reacted well.

Helenor Gilmour, director of insight and strategy at Beano Brain, noted how many Gen Z schoolchildren were rebelling against rules and systems they felt were dated. “They are pushing against the whole education system, and in many ways they don’t feel it is fit for purpose. They feel they have grown up in a world that has gone bad, that is in permacrisis.”

Gilmour added: “Boys are really frustrated with the system and feel it doesn’t suit them, fit them or work for them. The girls are more focused on academic routes and put themselves under pressure to achieve.”

The digital world
Alex Maguire, insights and measurement director – Europe, Middle East and Africa at Twitch, noted the importance of digital worlds to Gen Z. “It is an audience that has only ever known the digital world and have always been connected. In doing so, they expect their digital and social experiences to be dynamic, real-time and tailored to them.”

Gen Z expects fluid and seamless experiences, Maguire added. “Seamless and worthwhile connectivity creates a sense of fluidity, which is what this audience is craving. If you want to build a degree of brand engagement, is to integrate the brand in a way that takes advantage of the creative opportunities available in digital experiences that are not available in physical experiences. The holy grail is to mix the two together.”

This offers opportunities to brands, but also risks if they do not embrace the medium. ”Improvements in technology means more people can come together,” Maguire explained.  “In terms of brand, it is being open to all and featuring diverse voices. This is an audience that is incredibly socially aware, and they expect brands to be as socially aware as they are. They can see virtue signalling from a mile off, and brands that get it wrong can really, really get it wrong.”