Z is for...?
What does Gen Z want?
It's the perennial question: what does the next generation want? How do they relate to media?
Implicit in the question is the goal of selling them more products — usually junk food and information services. At a talk on Monday night as part of Design Week Portland, the issue was framed as "Designing for Generation Z." Nine members of the Beaverton-based Oregon Dream Team cheer team were there at the behest of their coach, Cher Fuller, who is also a senior strategist at a digital marketing agency called eRoi in Old Town.
Gen Z were born between 1995 and 2009 and are now aged from 9 to 23.
This panel ranged in age and interest from insanely cute Maddy (7) who watches JoJo Siwa (ex Dance Moms fame) on YouTube to Brady (19) who considers cheer his safe space.
The kids talked with various degrees of frankness and originality about such subjects as the media clichés about Gen Z kids, (can't form relationships, never go outside, want everything handed to them) to school shootings and what ads, shows and apps spoke to them.
From a design perspective, the message was to present everything faster than ever. These kids have even shorter attention spans than their Millennial half-siblings. Quite a few times audience members joked that Gen Z have eight-second attention spans, and three times the two young men on the panel lost their train of thought mid-sentence.
They are also known as the first generation who can't remember there not being an internet, and there's a pretty good chance they have always had high speed internet around them in the form of the smart phone.
Fuller works full time on the Taco Bell account, at eRoi, trying to keep it fun and relevant.
"They want to be entertained. If they fall in love with you and they feel you get their humor and what they're into, they're more likely to take that brand into their lives," she said. The focus is not solely on sizzling cheese and salty meat. "It's less about the product and about the image of the brand. Do they see themselves in the brand?"
In the audience, Kellie Heath, 25, and Nicole Niederhofer, both graphic designers at Mad Fish Digital, were there because they felt Millennials and Gen Z had been lumped into one and she thought there must be differences.
They do video and still graphics.
Niederhofer said the customers they design for range from healthcare to ecommerce, "So it's good to know how they purchase and how we can design for them."
Heath said, "They look at brands differently. They want the honest side of brands and they know when they're being fake. Everything's really quick — if it's not worth their time in six seconds they're going to keep going."
Speaking to the Business Tribune in the green room before the event, the children said they see themselves more as consumers of design rather than makers. However, several of them watch YouTube to learn hacks and how to sew or repurpose clothing.
Fuller said these consumers can look up anything they want any time, and communicate quickly with others, which shapes the way brands are consumed. She pulled up some ad agency stats:
• Forty percent of all consumers will be Gen Z by 2020.
• 60 percent of them want their jobs to do some good in the world.
• Seventy percent of them watch at least two hours of YouTube every day.
• They use on average of five screens, in contrast to the Millennials' three.
Fuller said they prefer Instagram, SnapChat and Whisper, but none of these kids had Whisper, the anonymous social media tool.
Gen Z-ers have an attention span of eight seconds, so we're not in the long content game.
Other things said about them by their elders include being antisocial because of their smart phones, and they are growing up too fast.
Fuller complimented them that their hair and makeup was better than hers even now, and the girls said they had been on YouTube grooming tutorials since fifth grade.
They don't all get an allowance, and several of them had a side hustle selling clothes and unwanted toys on either Facebook Marketplace or the app OfferUp.
That crazy rap music
Fuller screened four commercials to see how they reacted.
A T-Mobile ad with Justin Bieber talking about "unlimited moves" left them neither impressed nor engaged. They did not think they would be sharing videos of their dance moves with JB any time soon.
McDonald's happy meals with the Snoopy toy and the McPlay phone app just got eye rolls and one disgusted comment about using a phone at the dinner table.
The Kendall Jenner gives cops a Pepsi ad was also a damp squib. Brady said he was only wearing a Champion brand sweat because other people wear them now, and he usually checks to see what celebrities are endorsing brands. There was enthusiastic nodding when he said this. But even a celebrity like Jenner could do nothing for them in a confusing context or with a patronizing script.
However, when Fuller played the 2016 Sprite commercial with LeBron James and Lil Yachty (b. 1997) on piano, the music hit and three seconds later they all started dancing in their seats. They loved it, much to the audience's bafflement. "Most kids these days love rap," said Miles, 11.
Then the kids were shown two live pitches.
One was introduced by Allen Landver via Skype from his home in Los Angeles, California. "Broke-Ass Rich Kid" is a web series based on his own life of being cut from the family payroll at 29 and trying to survive. (brokeassrichkid.tv) The actors had a certain grotesque look that was different from normal TV. The kids' reaction was at first muted — this was mostly a bearded guy arguing with his mother — but they all said they would watch more to see how it turned out.
Finally, Stephen Bamford and Ryan Mowery pitched an app called Good Day Bad Day. It's a mobile social media app based on a mood journal. You show your mood with a bitmoji when you log on so people can see whether you are happy, sad or something in between. "It's hard to tell how someone is doing on Facebook, all that curating life..." Bamford told the Business Tribune. They both do digital design in their jobs in insurance companies, and the app is a sideline and still under development.
The kids liked it a lot and wanted to know if there were other emotions available, such as excited and hangry.
Afterwards audience member Ildiko Toth, a UX design apprentice at Bloc, a boot camp, said she was there to learn more about the next wave. "You can't really get kids in a room talking about this stuff anywhere else."
She was not really surprised by their answers. "I believe children are programmed to search for what is real, and now they have so many more tools, like YouTube. I mean real versus fairy tales. All I had was my parents. They find out about the real world so much faster than I did."
Cher Fuller concluded that Gen Z wants to feel different and special "There's a big need for community in all generations, but we're now dealing with a generation that has community built into their technology. Maybe what's normal for us is what they're seeking. Having real conversations, face to face. A lot of these kids will put Facetime on just to have someone there with them. These kids live hours apart from each other but they use the technology to create meaningful relationships with people they are not that close to. Technology helps bridge that gap."
The dark side
The forum turned into asking the kids about pressing issues. There was a 15-minute detour into the stress of living under threat of a school shootings. They talk about escape strategies with other kids. Miles, a boy who likes to play the number-one shooter game Fortnite, said he wants to be in a SWAT team when he grows up. One girl, Maya, 16, who has become dedicated to the #NeverAgain gun control cause, said she had been in more lockdown drills than earthquake or fire drills. (All nine kids had been in lockdown drills.) Little Maddy said it was difficult because there was just one corner to hide in, by the sink, and it couldn't fit all 27 kids.
Fuller was surprised to hear one of the teenage girls, Amaya, loves Facebook and is "on it all the time" looking for fashion hacks. Another girl, Katy, 16 is already in college and resents the idea that people think her generation does not work hard. Having said that, she knows of "kids today getting whatever they want whenever they want, they ask for an iPhone X, they get it. A lot of kids do get what they want because they whine until they get it."
Brady the 19-year-old is already manager of a Palm Beach Tan, has left home and pays his own rent, food, car and phone bills.
They showed a trailer for the suburban coming out love story "Love, Simon" and Brady and his best friend Maya told how they had bawled their eyes out after seeing the movie separately and Snapchatted each other their reactions.
Kendall, 14, was there with her mother, BobbiJo Hahn, and talked about drugs and suicide, and how she had helped keep a suicidal friend alive by staying in touch on social media all night. "We talked about it and how she should handle it," said Kendall's mother BobbiJo. "We had a lot of the same issues when I was that age, but social media has changed the way kids see the world. It becomes less real to them. For example, it's easy to bully on social media. But they also talk to each other more. They need to have a parental figure checking in. I've always told my kids if you use your phone to hurt somebody...What happens?" she asked Kendall. "I'll never see it again," said the girl. "Until I can afford to buy my own."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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