When it comes to respect, middle and high-school aged Gen Z hold a distinct viewpoint from their parents. They see themselves as equals and peers to their elders, parents and teachers. They feel comfortable and are even brazen about inserting their opinions into the conversation. They often ‘school’ adults on the correct socially conscious words, phrase, and approaches to the world and their generation.
Some adults see this behavior as overconfident, disrespectful, or even just rude. “I would never say that to my parents/teachers/adults” is a common discussion point among adults.
However, I would argue this cultural shift is a reflection the changes in society rather than a calculated decision. Gen Z’s perspective has been shaped by many circumstances in their upbringing that were often beyond their control.
Here are five factors that I believe may have contributed to this change:
- Gen X is (partially) at fault: Gen Z has grown up in a post Silent/Boomer generation world where Gen X parents were reluctant to have their children’s peers call them by their last names. Calling adults by their first names rather than using titles like Mr. or Mrs. has blurred the lines of authority and established a more informal relationship. This and other factors have led to Gen Z treating adults more like peers, fostering an atmosphere where traditional notions of respect for elders have waned.
- Digital Native Upbringing: Gen Z has grown up in the digital age, surrounded by technology and social media. This has fostered a sense of independence and self-sufficiency, as they have easy access to information and resources online. As a result, they feel more comfortable questioning traditional authority figures, seeking knowledge from diverse sources and challenging the conventional wisdom of older generations. This can also be problematic as their sources of information can be questionable and unvetted.
- Access to Information and Diverse Perspectives: The internet has also provided Gen Z with the ability to access a wide range of information and perspectives. They have been exposed to global viewpoints, cultural diversity, and various social movements. This exposure has encouraged critical thinking and skepticism towards outdated or biased viewpoints, including those held by older generations.
- Catastrophic Crises: Gen Z has grown up in a world that has been shaped by bad decisions and situations, many caused by previous generations. The Great Recession, rising student loan debt, a rapidly changing job market, COVID, and the vast effects of the climate crisis and more. These challenges have forced them to be pragmatic in their decision-making. They question the decisions of previous generations that have contributed to these challenges and rightly feel the need to chart their own path.
- Influence of Pop Culture and Celebrity: Gen Z is heavily influenced by pop culture, social media, and celebrities. These influencers often prioritize individuality, self-expression, and personal values. As a result, Gen Z might prioritize their own values and beliefs over conforming to traditional notions of respect for elders, especially if they perceive a misalignment between their values and those of older generations.
These changes are here to stay and, as marketers, we need to respect this change. As a result, this shift in attitudes towards intergenerational respect carries several marketing implications that businesses and brands need to pay attention to as these tweens and teens come of age.
Below are the top five considerations for marketing professionals:
- Influence of Socially Conscious Values: Gen Z’s inclination to educate others on socially conscious matters presents an opportunity for brands to align themselves with meaningful causes. However, it requires a delicate balance. Brands that genuinely share these values and engage in authentic, transparent, and two-way conversations about social issues can resonate with Gen Z. Conversely, attempting to capitalize on social issues insincerely or without backing up words with actions can lead to backlash and loss of credibility. Marketing campaigns should focus on showcasing the real values and actions of the brand rather than merely paying lip service to social issues.
“Marketing campaigns should focus on showcasing the real values and actions of the brand rather than merely paying lip service to social issues.”
- Engagement Over Traditional Advertising: Gen Z is not as receptive to traditional advertising methods. Instead, they prefer interactive and engaging content. Brands need to continue to invest in creating content that sparks meaningful conversations and encourages participation. Interactive campaigns and user-generated content initiatives, and influencer collaborations (with authentic and vetted influencers who can bridge the gap between generations) can provide avenues for Gen Z to express themselves and engage with the brand on their own terms.
- Adapt to Evolving Trends: Brands need to stay agile and adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of technology and culture. Gen Z’s preferences evolve quickly, and brands need to be ready to adjust their strategies accordingly. What was appropriate and expected in the “before times” has changed. Sticking with the tried and true no longer works.
- Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusivity: Gen Z is diverse and values inclusivity. Ensure that your marketing materials avoid old school tropes, are culturally sensitive and avoid stereotypes and biases that can alienate or offend this generation.
- Listen don’t tell: Brands can engage with Generation Z by doing the work to genuinely understand their perspectives. Marketing campaigns that highlight a brand’s grasp of and receptiveness to Gen Z’s viewpoints will strongly connect with this demographic.
The evolving dynamics of respect within Gen Z has significant implications for marketing strategies. Perspectives have changed for good and brands must adapt their communication methods to align with Gen Z’s mindset. It’s all a matter of respect.