Generation Z: 4 questions for a youth researcher

1. How does Generation Z differs from its predecessor generations in terms of its attitudes and values?

The most important difference is the great importance of the values “security” and “stability. These are similarly relevant today as they were in the post-war society. Young people are risk-averse and demand continuity. They are skeptical of new developments, and the middle classes expect innovations and changes to have a negative impact. Overall, people fear the future and glorify the past. The term “retrotopian” can be found in sociological literature. It means that for people of the postmodern era, i.e., our time, utopia is no longer a hope for the future, but a nostalgia, i.e., something that has already existed, for which one longs and whose return one wishes for.

In contrast, Generation Y was adventurous, spontaneous, had a desire for the future and an interest in innovation. The reason for this lies in “social partnership conditions,” state-controlled markets, welfare state structures, economic stability, continuous and steady economic growth, little influence from anti-union digital capital, etc.

Reservation to risk and change is driven by three factors:

a. multiple crises (inflation, inflation, war in Europe, Corona, economic stagnation, climate change).

b. Deregulation, pluralization and individualization of risks

c. Loss of cultural stability due to internationalization/immigration and the erosion of traditional values. Important in this context: the attempt to regain solid ground (regrounding) by turning to nationalism, regionalism and conservative world views and values.

2. you describe the young generation as a crisis generation – what impact do the corona pandemic, the Ukraine war or climate change have on the lives and life choices of Gen Z?

The multiple crises evoke uncertainty and “future fatigue.” A crisis depression is gradually taking shape in the middle of society. The burden of the crisis is too great, people can no longer cope with it and therefore try to suppress it. Many people avoid watching the news or reading the daily press. People retreat into their circles of friends and family, into the idyll of small communities. The first signs of an urban exodus are appearing. Urban “society” is burdened with too many dangers, people want to flee to the safety of rural “communities”.

Society = mercantile world of competition and rational cost/benefit;
Community = emotional, cordial relationship of people with the same background and cultural interests;
Communitarianism = community care, neighborly help, closure to the outside world, cultivation of customs, promotion of traditional connections.

3. Gen Z are the first “digital natives”; what effect does this have on their media usage behavior?

Young people are characterized by image-driven communication. This means that “discursive communication,” in which rational argumentation dominates, is receding and will be replaced by an emotional “presentational” style of communication. Rational forms of communication are losing influence, and emotional communication, which is primarily concerned with the arousal of feelings and the reflection of emotional states, is coming to the fore. The culture of reading and writing is losing importance, and the exchange of emotional images (Instagram, TikTok, YouTube) is becoming more significant. Postmodern youth does not want to be convinced by arguments, but touched and moved by images and emotional texts. It is not reason that reigns, but emotion, the irrational, the mysterious murmur evoked by “mystical” pictorial experiences.

4 What is important to the young generation when it comes to brands? What do they value?

Continuity in terms of values and aesthetic forms. Comprehensible narratives about origins and traditions. Perhaps best expressed by the quote from the great German philosopher Odo Marquardt: “Future needs origin.”

Brands must be able to create identity and togetherness = brand communities are becoming more important again. Strong ties instead of weak ties. Today, the middle classes want to set themselves apart again. Multiculturalism is the business of the urban educated classes. The majority of the middle wants to have a cultural home in which they see themselves reflected every day, especially in terms of values and aesthetic forms. Brands again need a story that has to be told in a credible way. The big philosophical questions “who am I”, “where do I come from”, “where am I going”, are once again being asked by people today, are shaping their everyday lives and must also be answered in brand communication. “Be real” counts again!