What’s Trending with Gen Z?

Who and what is Gen Z?

Most of Gen Z was born into a post-9/11 world with a smartphone in hand. This generation survived a recession, lives with the reality of global warming, and is experiencing extreme political divisiveness. So, there’s a level of pragmatism, resourcefulness, and resiliency that’s unique to this group. These digital natives are also the most connected, informed and take-charge generation ever. Entrepreneurship, collaboration and creativity are in their DNA.

These self-starter traits are in stark contrast to Gen Z’s older Millennial counterparts who get the bad rap for being self-absorbed and entitled – a la Hannah Horvath of HBO’s Girls or the Silicon Valley techie wearing the $200 hoodie.

The quality that Generation Z values, above all else, is authenticity ­– in them selves, their peers and, yes, their favorite brands.

So, what’s cool to Gen Z?

Recently, Google conducted multiple studies of teens, ages 13-17, to understand what and who they think is cool. Here are some things they discovered about this fascinating generation – which is considered the largest and most powerful consumer group in history.

Refreshingly, being cool means embracing your real, genuine self. Being kind and happy are cool. Beauty isn’t only about external appearances; it’s also about confidence, internal strength and being your self. Playing on a sports team is cool. Knowledge and reading are cool.

Here are some other interesting insights into the life of a Gen Z teen:

  • Not surprisingly, mobile is king. This generation doesn’t know a world without smart phones; only 10% of teens don’t use a smartphone.
  • Social media is for being social. It’s a way to connect and have fun (not to share information – as is the case for older generations). Gen Z’s favorite social platforms are SnapChat and Instagram. Facebook is definitely uncool; however, Gen Z uses it often and regularly – for lurking and stalking – just not posting and sharing.
  • Shoes are THE fashion accessory for both boys and girls. Favorite brands are Jordans, Converse, and Vans.
  • Teens admire celebrities who are authentic, smart, compassionate and philanthropic. Their favorite celebrities are Steph Curry, Selena Gomez, Emma Watson, Ariana Grande, and Chance the Rapper.
  • Their favorite media platforms are YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu. These platforms are cool because they provide connection and fun. YouTube is their encyclopedia – with its breadth of content – from DIY to tutorials to news.
  • Teens still love junk food. Some things don’t change from generation to generation. Their favorites foods are pizza, Oreos, chips and ice cream.

So, what does Gen Z think are the Top 10 coolest brands? According to the Google studies, teens love these brands, in the following order:

  1. YouTube
  2. Netflix
  3. Google
  4. Xbox
  5. Oreo
  6. GoPro
  7. PlayStation
  8. Doritos
  9. Nike
  10. Chrome

The least cool brands, by the way, are TMZ, Wall Street Journal, Sprint, and Yahoo!

There’s no coincidence that the top three brands for this generation provide endless content, keeping teens connected and entertained. As marketers, we all know that engaging content is mission-critical to any brand’s success. And, guess what? This need isn’t going away.

Brands that want to stay relevant are going to have to face Gen Z’s insatiable appetite for connection, engagement, information, and fun – without selling to them. Frankly, their authentic spirit can see right through marketing bullshit. Take the recent Pepsi commercial debacle; the ad came off as tone-deaf and insincere and put Pepsi on the uncool list in nano-seconds. (Coke is still their favorite.)These antiquated marketing approaches of mimicking culture will kill your relationship with Gen Z and their interest in who you are – for good.

Want to win their hearts? Show your humanness and stand for something real. End of story.


Google Study: “It’s Lit: A Guide to What Teens Think is Cool.”

Think With Google: Generation Z, New Insights into the Mobile-first Minset of Teens



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