4 Reasons Why Brand Marketers Can’t Resist Gen Z (or whatever the youngest generation may be)

It’s no secret that Gen Z (born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s) is the “it generation” for marketers. But the truth is that the youth market – whatever generation it belongs to – has been a highly desirable demographic going all the way back to the 1960s.

What Was So Different About the 1960s for Marketers

Before the 1960s, most advertising focused on established adults. Then, multiple things changed. Young people were stepping out of their parents’ cultural shadows in a way that captured public attention. Many had money but were against materialism, desperate to stand out against societal norms. And this iconoclasm made them a virtually irresistible marketing target – a dichotomy to be resolved and leveraged.

Pepsi was among the first brands to align themselves with 1960s youth, calling them “The Pepsi Generation.” Coca-Cola quickly followed with its famous “Hilltop” commercial, which invited a diverse group of free-spirited young people “to teach the world to sing.” The approach was attractive and successful enough to inspire other brands to get in on the action with campaigns that leaned into the hippie culture, psychedelic colors, and “cool” imagery and messaging.

Why the Youngest Adults Remain a Source of Marketing Fascination

Ever since that initial, groundbreaking explosion of youth-focused marketing, GenX, then the Millennials, and now Gen Z have enjoyed time in the marketing spotlight as they have risen to adulthood. However, the attraction comes from more than just the age of these consumers. There are four compelling reasons why “newly minted” adults are so compelling to marketers:

  1. They have independence. Whether they are in college, living in their first apartments, or even still living with their parents, people over the age of 18 are able to make decisions and spend money with or without their parents’ influence.
  1. They have few financial commitments. People entering adulthood usually do so without commitments like marriage, children, or mortgages. That means that a greater percentage of their money can be spent on… pretty much anything else.
  1. They’re asserting their identity – and want to be seen. As young adults begin flexing their autonomy, they’re defining themselves both as individuals and members of affinity groups. And they’ll respond to brands that reflect how they see themselves.
  1. They’re new (to us). As new generations rise to adulthood, marketers are likely to see them as lacking deep loyalty to brands beyond candy and media. In other words, they’re ripe for branding influence. And because they’re different from the generation that preceded them, these young adults give marketers new areas of focus, inspiring fresh ways to be creative.

The Evolution Revolution: What Happens as a New “It Generation” Rises

Sorry to break it to all the Gen Zers out there, but you won’t be the cool kids forever. As Gen Z matures and gains affluence like the Millennials, Xers and Boomers before them, things will change. New responsibilities and commitments will inspire new wants and needs. And marketers will have to keep pace, balancing their generational assumptions against changing circumstances.

For instance, today’s typical Gen Zers are community-oriented and pragmatic about addressing social and environmental issues. Those fundamental qualities are likely to stay strong over time. That said, Gen Z’s favorite food brands are M&Ms, Doritos, Kit Kat, and Oreo. Those brands may always have a soft spot in their hearts, but as they get older and pay more attention to their health or the health of their own children, those preferences are likely to evolve.

This evolution of behavior has happened to every generation that was once a marketing darling. In the 1960s, many baby boomers were anti-establishment and eager to “do their own thing,” often adhering to the maxim, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Today, those same people have long since celebrated their 30th birthdays; indeed, they are the establishment. Gen-Xers, the original “latch-key kids,” are today’s “helicopter parents.”Millennials were the first generation to grow up online, making Facebook and Instagram explosive brands. Today, they’re not alone in their technology adoption (they’ve largely abandoned Facebook as older generations have embraced it), and newer tech like TikTok often confounds them. It happens to the best of us – and chances are good that it will happen to Gen Z, too.

What It All Means for Marketers

If Gen Z represents a high-potential audience for your brand, pursue them with authenticity. Show that you recognize who they are and how your product belongs in their lives. Pay attention to their present circumstances and how their wants, needs, and lives will likely change in the future. And, if you really want to elevate your marketing efforts, look for a partner who can help you take a deep dive into key trends and turn strategic insights into creative communications. Strengthen relationships with your current audience – and keep a close eye on the future generations following them into adulthood. They’re coming your way sooner than you may think.