Move over millennials, there’s a new teen in town

Gen Z is more likely to carry cash (but less of it), and has clear expectations of brands

Like the Boomers before them, millennials will soon lose the spotlight as the sole object of marketers’ desires. The next generation of teens – Gen Z – is here, and brands are preparing to make a new set of life-long connections.

Targeting the parent is still a relevant “way in” to communicating with this generation

Gen Z is the first generation born after the creation of the worldwide web. We expected this cohort to be much smaller than the Millennials’ based on parents from Gen X — a notably small group. Fortunately, today’s teens hail from all three generations before them because more parents are opting to start families into their early 40s. Gen Z accounts for 81 million people in North America, compared to just a slightly higher 83 million millennials.


According to Mintel, at this very instance, there is over $2 billion in Gen Z’s collective pockets. True, the average teen is carrying less cash ($34) than when Millennials were teens ($50), however more of them are cash carriers – 87% of teens versus their predecessors at 47%. Overall, we’re seeing a 12% lift on discretionary spending. Oh, and don’t forget the savings. Today’s teens are sitting on $24 billion in annual saving versus $20 billion in millennial teen.

Phew! Marketers everywhere are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Lots of teens with money. Good.

However, don’t get comfortable yet. These teens are a fundamentally different breed. The game has changed. Gen Z (also being called the iGen) were born into a world where…
• A whole conversation can take place with just emojis
• Privacy is protected through self-destructing messages and geo-locating off switches
• Celebrities are born on YouTube
• Television is consumed on “me” time, not prime time.
• Multi-cultural friends, multi-racial parents, gender identity are not “embraced”, they just “are.”

Learning to live in a world where one is “always on” or accessible 24/7 is not something they have to cope with. They were never “off.”


According to a recent Brand Experience Study on North American teens conducted by Mosaic, today’s teens are more open to brands connecting with them. Brands that are indispensable to them – Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Sony – have three things in common: they are integrated into their everyday lives, they add value beyond pricing, and they stand for something.

Indispensable brands are made by making a deeper connection with teens. Now more than ever, it’s critical that brands understand and connect with this generation.

And right now, the tactics being using by the marketing community is missing the mark. The Brand Experience Study revealed that the majority of teens have not been exposed to opportunities where deep brand connections can be made.


Teens have not changed much when it comes to the dominant influence in their lives – their friends. Brands that enable hang-time with friends will win with this generation. The Brand Experience Study shows that activation does not need to be high octane; today’s teens are seeking more low-key connection time with friends. Seven of the top 10 activities teens said they favoured most were sedentary in nature (hanging out, playing video games, connecting with friends online, etc.)

Believe it or not, parents are next in line on the influencer list. While teens are most likely to share a friends’ post (92%), 83% will also share a relevant parental post. Parents may not be the formal gate-keepers of their teen’s information, but they appear to have a closer bond to their children than their predecessors. This speaks to a generation of smaller families where children are doted on by older and wealthier parents. Targeting the parent is still a relevant “way in” to communicating with this generation.

Finally, marketers need to reconsider the use of social amplifications of their experience. Teens are just not sharing as much content as Millennials. While 43% of Millennials shared a positive experience today, only 12% of teens did. The good news for Marketers – only 6% of teens will share a negative brand experience compared to 44% of their millennial predecessors.

Why? Where millennials were the evangelists, teens have become the curators of digital content. Learning from the mistakes of their elders, teens are very conscious of personal branding and selective about what goes into their digital footprint.


According to eMarketer, Gen Zs take care of the pre-shop without setting foot in a store. The preferred method of browsing products is digital for 94% of teens. And be prepared: this will be the generation that causes the greatest shift in the financial industry. Parents will enable online shopping and cashless transactions by setting up PayPal and iPay accounts for their kids. It’s possible that these teens will not see the need for traditional banking.

This does not mean we can ignore brick & mortar just yet. Teens (59%) are still underdeveloped relative to the population in general (67%) and Millennials in particular (75%) when it comes to online shopping. How they shop in traditional retail is another matter as mobile shopping aids and payment methods become the new standard.


First, we need to stop talking about digital as a sub-segment of the marketing budget. If you’re marketing to teens, everything you do is digital.

Second, we need to think smarter about how to amplify our message. With teens being born into a digital world, the novelty of sharing every experience is less so than for Millennials.

Third, we need to think differently about how to communicate and reach teens along the path to purchase. And be prepared for the e-commerce dynamic to heat up – how is your brand going to live in this new world?

And finally, take heart that today’s teens do not appear to have the same cynicism toward brands that we’ve come to expect from Millennials. Brands can be more overt in content branding as long as it is relevant and provides some form of entertainment value.

Andrea Ward is Director, North American Insights at Mosaic

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