All Eyes on Z

Ok, let’s get it out of the way; there is a lot going on this year. Riots, pandemic, hurricanes, international tensions, more pandemic—oh, and that thing that happens every four years, the election.

            Both sides are treating it as the most important election in their lifetime—while one age group will be treating it as the first election they can participate in. Generation Z is about to embark on their first political journey, and amidst everything else going on, it seems that focusing on them has fallen through the cracks.

            Right now, when you hear about Gen Z in the media, you either hear about how they deserve sympathy for emerging into adulthood amidst COVID-19, or you hear about how they should be ridiculed for throwing parties and seemingly shrugging off the seriousness of the pandemic. What we aren’t seeing much of is how their behavior may or may not impact the election.

            Will they share the same slacktivist attitude that Millennials had in their early twenties? Will they, having grown up online with a world of opinions and knowledge at their disposal, be more educated voters? Or, perhaps, will having access to a global mindset since birth affect how their generation votes as a whole?

            It makes sense that Gen Z will impact the election. After all, they have been stealing attention across shopper categories, just as brands pushed forcefully into the minds of Millennials ten years ago—which worked great to sell their childhood back to them. But when it comes to the bigger picture, Generation Z seems to be willingly ahead of the curve, the brands, and the messaging—as well as ahead of their Millennial counterpart.

            Gen Z is demonstrating a clear disdain for marketing, a willingness to be hostile online towards corporations, and an eagerness to make their voices heard in person. And yet, it is becoming clear that companies, services, and political groups are sleeping on the potential impact of Gen Z. Sure, brands are enthralled with aligning to their purchase power and tweaking their moral compass and messaging to them, because they want loyalty moving forward. But there may be some surprises in store.

            The question is, what does loyalty really mean to the generation that created its own celebrity culture, made an entire social hierarchy online, and sees no clear delineation between the real world and the virtual? While brands are chasing Gen Z, Gen Z is chasing new brands, people, and services that they deem worth being loyal to.

            This doesn’t sound like a generation that is going to simply accept a party line. However, what is worth watching is to see if they’ll care enough about an antiquated process to bring about significant change.

            This shift, among other tech-driven generational traits, is leading to a new discussion surrounding Gen Z affinities and influence: is there a dramatic difference between what matters virtually and what matters in the real world? Which outweighs the other? And, most importantly, is something like an election a little too “real world” for the tastes of Generation Z?