To misunderstand today's youth (Gen Z) is to view their digital habits as some sort of tectonic shift. Away from the TV set. Away from mass programming. Away from long-established viewing dayparts.

For that to be true, Generation Z would have had to have started with large screens, habits of watching shows from the big networks, and a regimen of primarily engaging with content during the evening hours.

None of that, in fact, is the reality.

Some of those born between 1998 and 2016 undoubtedly had a mobile phone in one hand with a pacifier in the other. We, um, had an Etch A Sketch.

Preferred screen? While you and I can point to our very own first TV as a milestone moment, Gen Z considers getting a phone as an important life event. Today's teens might even get their first phone when they're around 12.

Desired content? Seven in 10 teens told Google that they spend more than three hours per day watching mobile video. And much of the consumption comes via YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram and is user-generated rather than Hollywood-produced.

Time of day? The smartphone is in Gen Z's hands from sunrise to well past dinner time. Viewing happens on the bus, at the lunch table, during recess, and every other time that this group wants to be entertained, informed, or otherwise occupied.

Some of those born between 1998 and 2016 undoubtedly had a mobile phone in one hand with a pacifier in the other. We, um, had an Etch A Sketch.

For Gen Z, mobile is the new prime time.

While Fast Company says that "media and market research companies have labeled Generation Z 'screen addicts' with the attention span of a gnat," ignoring the generation's influence on a company's business success is a foolish exercise for a marketer.

Gen Z is 26% of the U.S. population with $44 billion in annual purchasing power. Two in three teens make purchases online and of those, more than half are making purchases on their phones.

But capturing their attention is not without challenges. Gen Z is 80% more likely to always be multi-screening compared to their parents, per Tremor Media and Hulu.

From a series of reports from Google: "Gen Z never knew the world before the internet — before everything you could ever need was one click away. They never knew the world before terrorism or global warming. As a result, Gen Z is the most informed, evolved, and empathetic generation of its kind. They value information, stimulation, and connection, evident by their affinity for YouTube, Google, and Netflix.

"They also have high hopes for the brands they choose. From Nike to Xbox, they expect big things. As professionals, we should see this as our challenge — to live up to the standard Gen Z has set for us and to continue to inform, inspire and create products and marketing that facilitate the world in which they want to live."

Of course, not all Gen Zers are the same.

It's prudent for marketers to understand the nuances.

For many teens, mobile music rules. This is especially true for Black teens. Eighty-six percent listen on their phones every week, significantly more than all teens, and nearly 6 in 10 say they spend more than three hours every day listening to music on their phones.

Two in three Black teens make purchases online, and of those, more than half are making purchases on their phones. Black teens are more likely to have positive attitudes toward brands and to consider them "cool" if they feel as though the message is personalized to them.

Nearly one-quarter of all 13- to 17-year-olds are Hispanic, and they're the fastest-growing teen demographic. While listening to music is the top mobile activity, three in four Hispanic teens say they spend three-plus hours per day watching video on their phones.

Eight in 10 Hispanic teens make purchases online, compared to two-thirds of all teens. And of those who shop online, over half are making most of their purchases on their phones.

When it comes to advertising, Gen Zers actually aren't all that different from you and me.

For teens, ads impact a product's "cool" factor. What makes a product cool?

  1. If friends are talking about it.
  2. If they see an ad about it.
  3. If it's something personalized.

But according to a study by IRI, when it comes to social media, Gen Z is 2-3x more likely to be influenced by social media than by sales or discounts — the only generation to value social media over price when it comes to making purchase decisions.

And Gen Z is twice as likely to convert on mobile. Where does this leave marketers?

At the very least, it leaves us in need of a mental shift that causes us to look at today in an entirely new way. Just as Gen Z is doing.

This article was originally published in Mobile Marketer.

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