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K8 Generation Z Spotlight #2: Brand Relationships

Gen-Z perspectives, Chief Editors: Kiran Johnson and Rosario Picone


Generation Z’s Relationship with Brands- by Rosario Picone


Generation Z is defined as the generation after Millennials, those being born from 1995 to 2010. Generation Z is a growing consumer force as is, on a daily basis, increasingly vital to brand success. From my experience, when it comes to consumption and marketing Generation Z is a mix of Millennials and Generation X. Generation X was born between 1960 and 1979, and Millennials were born between 1980 and 1994, meaning both of them could be parents of Generation Z. Even more importantly, Millennials could be some of the older siblings of Generation Z. Subsequently, due to the close connection to X and Y, Generation Z’s consumption habits are a mix of both. Specifically, Gen Z’s buying habits are centered around 3 main concerns; brand image, ethics, and a personal connection with the company.


An emphasis on brands and brand identity is a trait inherited heavily from Generation X. Gen X is notorious for enjoying quality luxury items such as cars, shoes, clothing etc. (McKinsey). When Generation X was young and in the prime of their brand involvement and purchasing, many of these brands were the staple of high quality. Popular brands used to sport tags that said handmade in Italy, France, and Switzerland. More recently, quality and manufacturing prestige has taken a nosedive, but how has this brand identity survived? Generation X are the parents of Generation Z, and this obsession with luxury brands has been passed down. With a decline in brand quality, Generation Z has not stopped obsessing about brands. I have seen colleagues and friends spend hundreds of dollars (of their parent’s money) on items that have a prestigious brand name, that fall apart the next day. In a survey taken at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, about 75% of participants believe a popular brand name means that the item will be of high quality. As a teenager, I know industries like cars, glasses, technology and shoes backwards and forwards. When talking with my peers, a popular brand name seems to always carry more prestige, regardless of the quality of the item. The more I press them, the more I realize that they have no clue about the materials and manufacturing process that the piece has. Most times, their indication of quality is a high price and a popular brand name.


Generation X was interested in these items because they were truly one of the highest quality items on the market. Generation Z is interested in the lifestyle that these brands command. Generation Z enjoys these items because they are simply exclusive, and they enjoy the lifestyle that follows with being special. If they had the option between two sweaters, an unknown brand made of cashmere, and a popular brand name sweater made of polyester, they are choosing the brand name because the name is more of a status symbol than the quality. Recently, popular brands have been able to release brand sub-lines that are extremely expensive, and extremely exclusive versions of their product. A prime example of this would be Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas to create the Yeezy line of shoes. Thousands of customers line up around the block for a pair of Yeezys, but these shoes share all of their materials and manufacturing process with another Adidas line called Ultraboost, which are half the price.


Generation Z has an abstract relationship with company ethics. Company ethics don’t matter to Gen Z unless it impacts them personally or, others can call them out on it. Millennials have traditionally been the generation that will call companies out on anything that isn’t morally or ethically sound in their opinion, regardless of whether or not it personally affects them. Whether the end result is boycotting, protests, or action on social media, Millennials try to be active in voicing their opinion to companies. While company ethics do matter to Generation Z, nearly all respondents stated that company ethics do not influence their buying habits unless it affected the product, or the user personally. About 80 percent refuse to buy goods from companies involved in scandals but few actually try to find information about the scandals (McKinsey). The only way they would be informed of any wrongdoing is if it actually affected them to find out about it. In my opinion, Generation Z would only stop buying a product if they felt judged by their peers for buying that product. Whether or not they have done any research on the company’s actions, if it is highly disliked or liked by even a few of their peers, it heavily influences their buying habits.


Generation Z’s views on marketing is also a mix of the old and new. What we think of as traditional marketing efforts, TV advertisements and billboards were mostly used by Generation X. Millennials have preferred celebrity endorsements, and influencers which are public personalities, not quite as popular as celebrities, that publicly endorse products on a more personal scale. Generation Z falls right in between all of these lines. Respondents in my survey listed social media advertisements as the most effective way of marketing. While social media advertisements are done on a new platform, it is still considered a traditional advertisement because the premise of a picture or short video is left unchanged. Celebrity and influencer endorsements tied for 3rd place which disagrees with the Millennial’s preferred way of advertising. TV advertisements came in last most likely to the slowly dying market for traditional television. Generation Z has shown interest in a more personal approach of advertising like celebrity and influencer endorsements than Generation X, but less of an interest than Millenials. They have also shown more of an interest in traditional marketing approaches, such as picture or video ads than Millennials, but less of an interest than Generation X. This creates a unique opportunity for companies as new marketing campaigns need to be a mix of traditional and new practices.


Generation Z has pulled certain ideals from Gen X and Millennials and given each its individual twist. They pull their love of brands from Gen X, but only value these brands for their exclusiveness and special lifestyle instead of their superior quality and craftsmanship. They’re interested in making sure the companies they buy from are doing the right thing, but they’re not going to be as vocal as Millennials. Moving forward, companies that are able to adopt a strong brand image, and develop a history of doing good will be the most popular and profitable among Gen Z. - Rosario Picone

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