As Ziba Design’s Creative Director Jaclyn Suzuki presented at her SXSW Interactive session titled Fluidity and Honesty: Gen Z and Identity in 2025, “Gen Z is developing the largest identity departure from any previous generation, and this shift has significant implications for products and services over the next 10-20 years. Companies will have to not only accommodate these new identity structures, but also support, strengthen and participate in their evolution.”
“Generation Z is still a bit of a mystery to many brands,” explains Sprinklr’s Shauntle Barley. “They’re kids and teens who’ve never experienced a world without internet, social media, or smartphones. They’re even more skeptical, less brand loyal, and more averse to corporate insincerity than Gen Y. They use social media in a unique way, and they consume content differently.”
In terms of content consumption, many have claimed that Gen Z has the lowest attention span of all generations thus far. Barley says, “In reality, they’re incredibly adept at quickly filtering out the content they’re not interested in seeing so that they can devote more time to content that’s relevant to them—Jeremy Finch calls this the ‘eight-second filter.’ This means that understanding how to capture consumers’ attention is even more important with this generation.”
In PulsePoint Group’s own primary and secondary research on Gen Z (including interviews with members of the age group), we’ve identified common threads like a mass exodus of Facebook, traditional TV, and radio, and an increased preference for disintegrating content apps like Snapchat to communicate with friends. Members of Gen Z bypass TV with Netflix and YouTube and traditional radio with Spotify and Pandora. They have a strong adversity toward traditional advertising, making them early adopters of ad-blocking software and a difficult demographic to advertise to.
So, how can companies solve this generational puzzle? Here are 3 learnings from SXSW Interactive that are applicable to brands:
81% of Gen Z say negotiating multiple identities is life as usual - They are “no logo” purchasers; they want simple, stealth branding that doesn’t interfere with their ability to shift identities quickly. Being “on trend” doesn’t matter as much to them as it did to previous generations, and they are known for their “norm-core” mentality, which rejects fads. Thus, brands must de-label and start talking about their company’s overall vision and values (not one-off product benefits), which need to cater to this generation’s desire to support companies that have a sense of corporate responsibility and sustainability. In that vein, Barley explains that “whether the company has a commitment to environmental sustainability, or helps social causes, this generation will notice, care, and hold you to their standard.”
63% of them say they prefer to see real people than celebs in their ads – Companies must place increased emphasis on user-generated content from brand advocates giving their honest, unpaid opinions. They’ll need to lean on loyal Gen Z advocates and identify the appropriate avenues for more customer feedback and participation. “Brands will need to relinquish much more control, and even be open to criticism, or irreverence, to resonate with them,” writes Campaign US’s Lucie Greene. As Suzuki mentioned, brand voices also need to be raw and unpolished – a step further than the “authenticity” model that Millennials respond to.
Gen Z is even more “mobile first” and 2x more likely to shop on a mobile device than Millennials. If your site isn’t already mobile friendly, make that your first priority. And of all advertising mediums, mobile is where Gen Z is most receptive. Young college students -- the oldest of Gen Z -- rank mobile as number one in terms of ad relevancy (in contrast with smartphone users in general, who are more likely to cite TV), according to the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence.
These changing norms have started to challenge existing approaches to and modes of communication. The demand for value-driven, mobile-friendly content has never been greater. Is your brand on board?