Navigating the ‘Woke’ Generation

Matt Smith, Trends Analyst at GWI, discuss the changes of Gen Z persona and the impact for the advertising industry

Gen Z is unlike any generation before them. They are the first generation to have grown up entirely in the digital age; most have never known a world without the internet. Their everyday lives often revolve around the latest technology, and they have become well-versed in quickly adapting and incorporating these changes into their life.

This increased exposure to technology enables them to learn about people, places, and products from everywhere around the world, shaping them as individuals. This generation is typically associated with values of progression, acceptance, and a willingness to campaign for change, so much so that in recent years, Gen Z has often been regarded as the ’woke’ generation. Brands have sought to reflect this in their advertising campaigns, tailoring content to appeal to them.

But there’s more to the story. Our data at GWI has recently shown that Gen Z may not be as ‘woke’ as they seem. Staggeringly, less than two-thirds (60%) of this generation in the UK believe in equal rights.  Although it may sound alarming, this understanding should prompt brands to reassess how they engage with Gen Z. It’s important that brands challenge these preconceptions in their ads and delve deeper into understanding evolving attitudes and behaviours to truly engage.

Cracking Gen Z’s character complex 

Gen Z are currently experiencing a shift, and advertisers need to be aware of this. With their commitment to social causes on the decline, interests such as fashion and beauty are taking precedence. In fact, according to our research, Gen Z are expressing more interest in fashion (36%) and beauty (32%) than current affairs (35%). Instead, Baby Boomers are currently considered the most ‘woke’ generation, with 70% believing in equality while the number of Gen Z holding this view has plummeted by 15% over the past five years. The passion they had for sustainability is also waning, as only a quarter claim they are interested in the environment (26%) which is even less than politics or social issues (27%).

For brands, this means reassessing their messaging to better resonate with the current interests of this generation. The traditional advertising approaches may no longer be as effective as they once were. Gen Z values authenticity and transparency. Broad statements focusing on social and environmental issues might not be enough. Instead, advertisers could consider incorporating content that aligns with their internal interests of self-expression – developing content around their current values and interests will allow brands to build meaningful connections with this group.

A maturing generation 

So, why is Gen Z changing? For starters, Gen Z aren’t kids anymore. 13% of Gen Z are now married, and those with kids have increased by 76% in the last five years. As Gen Z transitions into adulthood, their attitudes are changing, but so too are their behaviours and circumstances. The various life milestones they’ve experienced along the way will bring about a shift in priorities, interests, and values, which in turn impacts their consumer behaviour.

Advertisers would benefit from targeting their campaigns towards this “grown up” generation. As they continue to establish themselves in their careers and start families, their disposable income and spending habits evolve accordingly, while their interests and desires change. Recognising the increased purchasing power of this maturing group, and understanding their shifting values and aspirations, will help identify new routes to entry for new products and tailor their campaigns to maximise their impact and drive meaningful engagement.

Gen Z at the centre of digitalization 

As we know, Gen Z is considered the vanguard of the digital age. They’re incredibly connected with smartphones and social media serving as their constant companions. In today’s world social media influencers have emerged as influential tastemakers, shaping the preferences and behaviours of Gen Z consumers across industries.

In the skincare market, trust is paramount, so influencers have a sway over consumer decisions. One in five (20%) female Gen Z are likely to buy a product after seeing an influencer endorsement. Understanding this generation’s digital behaviour is crucial and presents a unique opportunity to build authentic connections with the audience. There is a real opportunity here for brands to become established as trusted sources, earning the loyalty of the generation.

Embracing the changes 

Understanding the changing dynamics within Gen Z presents an opportunity for advertisers to innovate and differentiate their approaches. With an increased understanding of the Gen Z audience, advertisers can properly identify emerging trends and consumer needs enabling them to develop products and services that resonate the audience. Advertisers will also do well by recognising the increased purchasing power this generation possesses. This generation is all grown up, having kids, and focused on building their career. With various new life milestones, understanding the shift in their consumer behaviour is ideal in maximising the impact of ad messages.