Decoding Gen Z: Cloudeaters

This week, our Strategy Director Amy Lee deep dives into the world of “Gen Z”. Loosely defined as anyone born after Millennials (helpful), Gen Z are roughly 13-17 years old right now. Regardless that the majority of them are still relying on pocket money, brands and marketers are already frantically thinking about ways to capture their attention, influence and potential spending power. “Screen addicts”, “Cord nevers”, “The iGeneration”, “Net Gen”… whatever you call them, Gen Z are coming into the world of work and consumption soon. At scale: they make up over 25% of the US population and millions more worldwide. So, it’s worth understanding more about the next tidal wave of influencers.

No generation can be reduced to simple definitions. But we’ve observed patterns of (largely US-centric) behavior, having observed Gen Z through research insights, their online activity and speaking to them directly.

First up: let’s talk about…


Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that Gen Z are “digitally native”. So, they’re always on their phone and they’re learning coding instead of Spanish at school. But what does that really mean for the rest of us, right now?

It means that many things older generations saw as entrenched systems (like cable TV), are being forced to adapt or die as the internet offers so much for free. ‘TV’ for them isn’t cable or broadcast channels, it’s YouTube and Netflix — so they expect content to be on-demand, modular, and served up by smart algorithms to suit their needs.



It means that Gen Z use curated aggregator sites like WANELO, ASOS, to instantly access, save and compare items they covet. They know they have power at their fingertips which makes them much more discerning customers:
– They expect infinite choice combined with intuitive interfaces to navigate that overload,
– They demand real, transparent value from retailers — because they can instantly find a cheaper alternative.

Brands have to up their game with experiences and product to convince them to part with their cash — which explains why teen-retailers that have for too long relied on big logos to justify mark-ups have been losing ground (see Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, GAP).


It means they are comfortable forming bonds with people they’ve never actually met in real life, across borders and timezones. They gravitate to short-form social platforms like Vine, Instagram, Snapchat that appear to give them real-time insight into other users’ thoughts, friends, families, lives. So, they are heavily influenced by people their age who can speak to them on their wavelength, instantly. Unlike traditional advertising, these people — like Kylie Jenner, Jenna Marbles, PewDiePie — feel as authentic as they are aspirational, right down to how forthright they are about being paid to promote products.



It means they have seriously high expectations for digital integration. They’ve grown up Face-Timing friends, getting into the cinema with e-tickets, skipping queues at Disneyland with the Magic Band, having Santa replaced by Amazon. Digital is not an optional add-on: without it, you are not able to function fully in their lives.

Come back throughout the week where we’ll deep-dive into what is ‘Fake Real’ and who are the ‘Shapeshifters.’


Amy Lee is Strategy Director at Wolff Olins New York. 

Illustrations by Nejc Prah. Hero image:

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