Move over millennials – here comes gen real

So-called 'gen real' (that’s generation Z to the unacquainted) currently constitutes 35% of the world’s population and will soon make up four in every 10 consumers in the world’s largest markets.

They are wielding significant influence on the purchasing habits of tomorrow, and understanding them will be crucial for brands keen to drive engagement among a consumer group that is different from any other generation before it.

Having grown up in a post 9/11 world defined by ever-present and relentlessly reported threats and tragedies – from school shootings to terrorism, economic recession and natural disasters – gen real are mature beyond their years and value realism and candour above all. Clever, grounded and entrepreneurial, they will take the rough with the smooth, valuing independence, individuality and integrity over spoon-fed perfection.

Children of this era have never known a world without Google and YouTube, Amazon or Instagram. Constant access to knowledge and people, products and services have conditioned gen real to become super-informed, impatient magpies. But unlike generations that preceded them – from baby boomers right through to millennials – they are more considered and frugal, grounded and less hedonistic in their attitudes to life and the way they spend.

Comprising the most diverse generation in history, gen real are incredibly liberal minded as a result. They reject conventional labels and find descriptors relating to gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation increasingly irrelevant, and sometimes even offensive. They see themselves as individuals in the first instance and want to be treated as such, always keen to create and express their own take on things.

As a result, brand narratives need to evolve to become simpler, more frank and honest. Products and services will have to morph to encompass the next level of personalisation that panders to the desire for individuality and recognition. Aesthetically, we will see this philosophy translate on pack and in retail spaces via gender-neutral design.

Within the snacking category, Propercorn launched its ‘Institute of Flavour’ campaign that calls on members of the public to dream up an entirely new flavour of popcorn that would be produced as a limited edition pack. As a collaboration with Bompas and Parr, the flavour creation process took consumers on a journey of discovery, empowering them to take ownership of the creative process. This campaign played to the new consumer’s desire for next level personalisation and co-creation.

With an ever more diverse society, the need for products that can be customised to fit individual needs beyond basic demographics is only going to grow. In the beauty and cosmetics aisle, this next level customisation manifests itself in shampoo brand Concoction ShampYou, which allows people to choose a base fragrance and add ‘hair boosters’ to the mix dependent on needs and preferences.

On shelf and within commercial campaigns, the desire for realism and celebrating individuality is starting to manifest itself in the increasing use of ‘real’ and non-photoshopped brand ambassadors. Dove’s campaign for real beauty 10 years ago in many ways paved the way for a more outspoken rejection of idealistic beauty in favour of a more attainable look. Makeup brand Milk has transposed this philosophy of natural beauty today with its own take on low-maintenance cosmetics. Its products are promoted by real life ambassadors dubbed ‘Gen Milk’, who celebrate individuality and empower people to make the most of what they have been given.

This new movement to embrace realism and honesty appears most palpable within the drinks category, where disrupter craft brands are stealing market share from big brands through innovation, invention and straight talking brand personality and design. We see this with beer, spirits and non-alcoholic drinks. There is a respect for provenance, an affection for embracing small underdog brands, a desire to connect with the ‘maker’. Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is a case in point. The Dorset-based iced coffee startup founded by a brother and sister duo has acquired a cult following with its American-Diner style nouveau retro look and feel, and comms featuring the founders that creates a direct connection between consumers and the people behind the brand.

Gen real are individuals who appreciate honesty and candour and crave a direct connection with the brands they love. Brands that wish to engage with them must find their genuine voice, harness their soul power and think of them as individuals, not ‘consumers’.

Ed Silk is strategy director at brand and packaging design agency Bulletproof

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