Braver design for a brighter tomorrow.

Myth-busting generational stereotypes and cultivating brand relevance.

Top take-outs from our latest Brave New Word event.

by B&B studio on 05/12/2023

Miriam King is co-founder of research and co-design studio LIVING PROOF and works at the intersection of youth culture, communities and social impact. We were lucky to host LIVING PROOF and a group of young people at B&B throughout autumn as they worked on a six-week creative programme to gain the skills needed to carry out creative commissions focused on social impact.

Miriam’s experience is high value for brands looking to forge closer connections with young people. Here, we capture insights from her Brave New Word talk at B&B, exploring how brands can bypass the stereotypes to cultivate real relevance with their audiences.

Gen Z is not a monolith (and blanket definitions of a generation can lead to big mistakes).  

As humans our behaviour is full of contradictions and paradoxes, and Gen Z are no exception: they worry about finances, but love ‘buy now, pay later’; they care deeply about the state of the planet, but love disposable fashion. They’re also subjected to a host of stereotypes: they’re lazy; they’re snowflakes; they’re always on their phones; they have zero ability to concentrate; they’re mentally ill… The reality is that by putting generations into a box, we fail to understand the richness of the many sub-communities and identities that people actually align with.

Relying on stereotypes can lead to totally ill-informed brand activities. There was Samsung’s Night Owls ad that depicted a woman running alone at 2am, which was ridiculed in light of the fact that women rarely feel safe running at night , and hardly ever do. There was the infamous anti-knife crime campaign from the UK Home Office which saw real stories of knife crime put into chicken boxes – this was quickly pulled for being not only embarrassing, but also racist. Two missed opportunities to connect.

Gen Z, like all humans, are emotional, cultural and social beings, interested in self-discovery and experimentation. They are looking to brands to inspire them and be actively present in their world. The question is, how can you actively participate in culture in a way that’s right for your brand?

Show genuine transparency and alignment with what you believe in.  

We know people want to align with brands that reflect their values and beliefs. Young people are excellent at sniffing out inauthenticity and through social media can see what a brand is saying all the time. Remaining relevant means being genuinely transparent and aligning with causes that you believe in. Don’t pigeon-hole your brand to a cause that you think matters to young people. They will see through it. Identify what social causes you care about and that make sense for the brand – and put your money where your mouth is.

McDonald’s, knowing that young people are hanging out in the restaurants after school, is partnering with local community youth centres and hosting young people and youth workers in the restaurants.

Streetwear brand Soho Yacht Club, teamed up with Footpatrol London to set up a book exchange at their Soho Store for world book day.

 

Embrace authentic representation and understand that diversity is not a buzzword. 

Young people strive for their own authenticity and will call bullshit if they are not seeing it from brands too. Starface skincare and pimple patches are a great example of how young people are embracing their spots rather than pretending they aren’t there. Estrid Razors are loved for their realistic representation when it comes to razor usage.

Collaborate and Co-create  

If you’re unsure of who your target consumer is, collaboration and co-creation can be a great way to gain a picture of who your brand will resonate with.

When Virgin Money decided to launch a new credit product aimed at young people, product development had been assumption-led, and needed rigour. Through co-creation and testing with their target audience (in partnership with LIVING PROOF) it became clear that young people really wanted to learn about credit and financing from a brand they could trust. The team at Virgin Money were able to deliver a product with confidence that guides and teaches young people on their journey to building wealth. Tik Tok, too, have just launched their own youth council to improve their offers through dedicated collaboration with users. The team at Virgin Money were able to build out an offer positioned around the idea of your ‘trusted rich uncle’.

Embrace engagement over advertising.  

Often, interactions and engagement that leverage social media or user-generated content are more valued than advertising as they meet young people where they are and create a more personal connection.

Sportswear brand Tala is constantly asking its community what they think of its products. Your community is not just your followers on social media, but people you can foster real connections with. Sustainable period products brand August does a brilliant job of connecting with its community and delivers period products to any schools or colleges where students sign up to receive them.

Streetwear brand Corteiz wins at cultivating FOMO, often dropping a pin on socials an hour before they pop up at a location to give away product. Last year they did ‘the great BOLO exchange’ in West London where people could exchange their own jacket for an unreleased Corteiz BOLO jacket – with the swapped out jackets from brands such as North Face , C.P. Company and Supreme being donated to local homeless charities.

All these brands have identified their fans and work to continuously bring them into their world. They embrace retail experiences, content, partnerships and online creators, creating worlds that young people want to spend meaningful time in. JACQUEMUS is doing this brilliantly right now through amazing installations, pop-ups and social content. Even if people can’t afford a bag they can capture and experience the brand through its retail activations.

If you’re finding inconsistent and contradictory conclusions from researching Gen-Z, then try getting closer to the people you want to speak to. Brands are social entities as well as commercial businesses and have an opportunity to participate in culture. By showing up and participating, your brand can get closer to audiences and understand how to keep them inspired.