Make Way for Generation Z

It started with the baby boomers. They were the first widely recorded demographic cohort, coming of age in the post-World War II childbirth explosion. Then came Generation X, those born from the mid-1960s to the early ’80s. Millennials followed, surpassing boomers as our nation’s most sizable generation according to U.S. Census Bureau reports released circa 2016. Now, enter Generation Z, the term coined for our newest demographic. These are today’s teenagers ages 12 to 19, born from the late-1990s to the early 2000s—and a group that’s not to be overlooked.

“This sector makes up 25.9 percent of the United States population, currently our largest percentage, and contributes $44 billion to the American economy,” says Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, a top New York City-based advertising agency. By 2020, they’ll comprise one-third of the country’s inhabitants. Beauty retailers and manufacturers wishing to remain relevant will want to learn more about this unique clique: what attracts them and wherein lie their loyalties.

Also known as the iGeneration, they are the first true digital natives—born into a world ruled by technology. Millennials may still recall the days of dial-up internet, but “you’ve got mail” will never ring as a nostalgic catchphrase for Gen Z. Nearly 40 percent of the bracket identify as digital-device addicts, which means they can research a paper on their iPad, while taking notes on their laptop, while texting a friend. They’re the ultimate multitaskers, able to systematically shift focus from work to play while dialing out background distractions or tuning in to a stream of dialogue that suddenly piques their interest.

While the downside may be slightly lower attention spans, the upshot equals a remarkable ability to quickly and efficiently process information. Woe be to the brand that remains static—failure to concept multiple platforms for stimulation might just mean the kiss of death. “This is the first generation raised in a time of social networks and mature digital marketing,” Greene points out. In fact, 92 percent of Gen Z members bear a digital footprint.

In a practical sense, how does this translate for companies—and beauty retailers? Start by being social-media savvy first. A recent example is 19-year-old Kylie Jenner’s Lip Kits from her eponymous cosmetics brand, Kylie Cosmetics. The celeb debuted her line via the creation of an aggressive e-commerce campaign. Fans swooned, and within one minute, all her matte glosses had sold out—causing her site to crash. Since then, the youngest Kardashian has made the most of her more than 95 million Instagram followers. While many of her posts are selfies or snaps with pals, each simultaneously promotes her kits in a calculated way by not-so-subtly showcasing top makeup trends executed with her products.

WAH Nails likewise strikes the right note. The brand’s proprietary Virtual Reality Nail Designer lets customers “try on” various lacquer colors and hip talon-art designs, before visiting the flagship London shop to get polished at one of six mani desks, set up next to a cocktail bar.

Arguably because they came into awareness during the recession, under-twenty-year-olds are also economically conscientious. “Millennials are splurgers, not savers, whereas Gen Z demands value,” Greene says. “When it comes to fashion, they are less concerned with obvious logos for validation.”

Instead, many buy into the culture of experiences, spending on festivals and travel, since singularly memorable happenings count as social currency. Their take on personal wellbeing reveals sophisticated acumen. Simply glance at Teen Vogue’s content to find articles on sexual and mental health, spirituality and relationships. This is a savvy generation, which—perhaps unsurprisingly—also gravitates to tech-centric companies. Glossier, the direct-to-consumer beauty startup that aims to celebrate “real girls in real life” is therefore popular for its tech literacy and pithy tone of voice. From the start, the breakthrough skincare and makeup group created a two-way conversation wherein devoted clients post Instagram photos and hashtag personal beauty habits, effectively making consumers brand advertisers.


“To date, Generation Z is the most ethnically diverse class, and very progressive in attitudes to race, gender, sexuality and feminism,” Greene says. “Malala comes out over Beyonce as a hero to admire.” As such, they demand heterogeneity in how they’re represented. This is the group that called out Marc Jacobs for using dreadlocks in his spring 2017 catwalk show, accusing him of cultural appropriation. They are vocal, critical, conscientious and unafraid to speak their minds.

“While Millennials care about issues like the environment and politics on quite a superficial level, Gen Z are planet Earth’s true activists,” Greene divulges. Brands can respond by taking care to always be transparent, and forgoing binary notions of gender, especially as it relates to beauty categories.

CoverGirl is a good example. The 28-year-old cosmetics company recently got a fresh makeover by launching its first campaign staring James Charles, a young teenaged male influencer. “Among Gen Z, gender fluidity and neutrality prevail, and will endure as consequential themes,” Greene predicts.

Of course, the lines between worlds virtual and real get blurred: Online, these forward-thinkers likewise play with their identities. “They see their faces, like their Snapchat social channels, as canvases to manipulate, waxing creative via the application of filters, emojis and multicolored accent marks,” Greene explains.

When it comes to skin care, they value efficacy, and that puts companies like Proactiv, the dermatologist-developed acne brand, in top running. Here is the demographic that might not only shake but even shatter the status quo by insisting that beauty pros craft products for all skin and hair types, then represent every body shape, gender and sexual orientation in campaigns. Bleach London has so far done it right. An edgy tone of voice, vibrant social-media presence plus a full panoply of rainbow colors for all ethnicities align into a winning combination for this cheeky hair-dye company.

Taken together, such factors might combine to forge a sector of self-starters. Many employers currently predict that students between the ages of 16 and 18 will either pursue an online college education or save themselves insurmountable post-graduation debt by forgoing higher learning altogether, opting to go straight into the workforce or taking an apprenticeship position after leaving high school.

Today’s teens are entrepreneurs: Nearly 72 percent affirm they’d one day like to launch a business. Because they view themselves as content creators astute enough to exploit digital platforms for the successful formation of businesses, entertainment empires and charity networks, they do not consume brands or celebrity culture in traditional ways. “Gen Z looks to peers as celebrities,” Greene says. “And they see themselves—not you—as the brand.”

They vibe to music and entertainment, but they want to be part of the process. In fact, they insist on it. Greene says, “Make them your ambassadors and retailers if you wish to stay pertinent with this dynamic bracket.”

Some of today’s Gen Z influencers

* Gigi and Bella Hadid: Sisters (22 and 20 years old, respectively) and reality TV stars turned it-girl fashion darlings.
* Zendaya: The 20-year-old Disney Channel star is all grown up, now fiercely active in movements like D.C.’s Women’s March.
* Shawn Mendes: At the tender age of 18, this singer-songwriter boasts over 40 million social media (Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) followers.
* Baby Ariel: After her first video on the Gen Z favorite lip-syncing app, went viral, the Florida high schooler, 16, became an overnight internet sensation.
* James Charles, Manny Gutierrez and Lewys Ball: Ranging from ages 17 to 26, Instagram’s beauty boys shattered established gender-fixed stereotypes after posting funky makeup tutorials, then scoring campaigns for CoverGirl, Maybelline and Rimmel London, respectively.

What teenagers and twenty-somethings are spending their money and time on.

* Over 200 million aspiring pop stars use the app to sing along to a favorite song, then post videos on social-media sites.
* Blizzard Entertainment: Unending video-game appetites mean millions of players navigating the virtual worlds of Overwatch and World of Warcraft.
* Brandy Melville: The German clothing company that scorns traditional advertising in lieu of Instagram posts has already won a cult following in America.
* Nike: Partnering with beloved teen gymnast Simone Biles was a smart move for the pioneer athletics brand that’s finding new ways to keep things fresh.
* Snapchat: Flowers, rainbows and unicorn horns never go out of style when it comes to selfie accouterments.

Rachel Johnson, an experienced marketer and trend forecaster, has worked for brands like Cynthia Rowley, Laundry by Shelli Segal and Hyatt. Here, she shares her top 5 tips for best Gen Z marketing practices.

  1. Get Real: Authenticity is key for today’s marketers. Gen Z buyers get instantly turned off when brands push product in a manner that feels disingenuous. Ditto for influencers hocking wares on Instagram. In fact, 63 percent of this demographic said they’d rather see real people as opposed to celebs in ads. It’s obvious to Gen Zers when a known person got paid for a partnership. They quickly realize if it’s off-brand, and unapologetically disengage.
  2. Nix The Box: TV, especially real-time television, is not a high priority for Gen Z, so commercials don’t even hit their radar. Instead, nine out of 10 watch YouTube daily, and 70 percent have stated that they prefer streaming over broadcast or cable. Guerrilla marketing may grab attention, but won’t necessarily translate to sales. Thoughtfully targeted social media ads and personal referrals from pals lure this group. Gen Z is also experiential, so free samples and purchase or discount incentives resonate.
  3. Social Smartly: It’s easy for all of us to grow exhausted by today’s many forms of social media—and Gen Z is no exception. The novelty has worn off, and it’s wearing them down. Jumping from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat is time-consuming, and they’re looking for more instant ways to engage. That’s why “here this instant, gone the next” platforms like Instagram Stories, Secret and Whisper have proven to be such a sweet spot.
  4. Show You Care: Today’s worldly conscious teens are inclined to support those companies displaying community involvement or strong social missions. They want the brands with which they align to take a stance on issues they deem important, be that sourcing artisanal products from third-world countries, spearheading environmentally conscious efforts or supporting organizations like Planned Parenthood. Brands that weave an attempt to improve our planet into their mission statements resonate deeply with this youth bracket.
  5. Tweak the Talk: Gen Z won’t respond favorably if a brand is condescending or elitist. Talk with them, rather than at them, via a two-way conversation. Twitter has perfected this form of direct engagement, making interaction easily accessible. When done right, the relationship is symbiotic. Brands get real-time feedback—from tips if their website is experiencing a glitch or insight on whether consumers want a certain lip color back in stock—and young customers are made to feel important by getting voices heard.

[Photo by oneinchpunch/]