Gen Z in South Africa: Forging an authentic new future

 

Viacom Global Insights undertook an international study into the generation known as Gen Z, consisting of youth between the ages of 13-24. This study spanned of 46 countries, including South Africa, and had 58 400 individual respondents.

Despite being constantly connected, this generation values authenticity above all else.

When asked how they would label themselves, 95% of South African Gen Z’s believe that they strive to be authentic, and 94% value being “true to myself”. Even when travelling, 94% of this generation says they seek authentic experiences.

Gen Z’s seek out these authentic experiences in part to share them across social media, with 90% of local respondents saying they publish such content on their personal profiles.

Arguably this is because, for Gen Z more than previous generations, the digital world is just as real as the physical world. In South Africa, 80% of Gen Z’s say that being connected to the internet is just as much a part of their daily routine as eating and sleeping, and 91% of them believe that access to the internet is a basic human right.

This expectation is due in part to the fact that even the oldest Gen Z’s, who were born in 1997, have never known a world where the internet does not exist.

They are future-focussed and aware of their responsibilities and impact on the planet.

Their constant connectivity is a double-edged sword. This generation experiences life online, and unlike millennials, has not been sheltered from global issues like refugee crises, the #MeToo Movement and climate change.

Locally, 91% of Gen Z’s say the internet has introduced them to things they wouldn’t have known about otherwise, and 82% say they use connectivity to stay informed. The dark side of this unprecedented access to knowledge is that only 20% say they have no trouble blocking out bad news.

Being highly connected has created a generation that leverages their power on social media to make an impact and reshape global narratives.

Of local Gen Z’s polled, 97% think that everyone should have the right to stand up for what they believe in, while 83% agree that their generation is more involved with societal and environmental issues than generations before them, and 75% feel a personal responsibility to be involved in issues they care about.

This generation believes that they have inherited a world of problems, and 72% of South African Gen Z’s say the onus is on them to find solutions these challenges.

They are experience-hungry, but cautious.

As part of their drive for authenticity, this generation seeks out meaningful experiences, with 96% of local Gen Z’s stating that a shared experience creates lasting memories that they can share with friends and on social media. Similarly, 92% believe that what they experience is a greater expression of who they are than the possessions they own.

Travel remains the ultimate experience for Gen Z, but in South Africa, other important activities include spending time with family (61%), spending time with friends (46%) and listening to music (38%).

Music, as ever, remains an important determiner of their identity, with 74% saying their choice of music is critical to their identity, as is sharing music with friends (80%).

Being a future-focussed and always-on generation has also made Gen Z’s more cautious than those before them, with 90% of South African Gen Z’s agreeing with this statement. At least 85% of local Gen Z’s are aware of and concerned about how their data is being used online, while they increasingly choose not to engage in risky behaviour like drinking and smoking, if it doesn’t form an authentic part of their identity.

As a cautious generation, they are preparing for the future today, and are learning from the financial errors of generations past. Of those polled, 98% stated it was important to make smart financial decisions, and 84% agree that they manage their finances carefully.

What is interesting to note is that in South Africa, it seems like Gen Z is more economically conscious than their global peers. Locally, 90% of those polled agreed that it was better to have a basic wage than no job at all, compared to 77% internationally. Similarly, more local youth (85%) hope to own their own businesses someday, versus international Gen Z’s (68%).

Brands still have a role to play, if they fit in with Gen Z values

This generation is authentic, aware of societal issues, forward thinking and connected. While many of them are brand-wary, there is still space for those brands that can tap into and authentically reflect the values of Gen Z’s

Of local youth polled, 77% believe that brands only care about making money, and that 84% of brands make promises they can’t keep.

At the same time, this generation still uses brands to form part of their identity, with 79% of local Gen Z’s saying that they use particular brands to express themselves. As always, fashion and music play a critical role in identity formation.

Brands who can authentically appeal to Gen Z values, such as empathy, social justice and equality, and that show a genuine reflection of and engagement with the causes they care  about are most likely to best reach this raw and real generation.