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Gen Z is Becoming a Serious Consumer Bloc—And They Demand Authenticity From Brands

December 12, 2019, 12:40 AM UTC

Gen Z gets a bad—and frankly, undeserved—rap for being checked out, said Anne Moses, founder of IGNITE, a nonprofit that trains young women to become civically and politically engaged. “I find it personally frustrating when people say that.” 

It’s actually the opposite, she said at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Wednesday. Moses said this is the most politically active generation we’ve seen since the 1960s, a generation that watched their parents struggle after the ‘08 stock market crash, a generation that’s marched for lives, for the climate, for women, and has grown up in a particularly sticky political moment for women.

The issues that keep them up at night are the ones that go beyond the individual and affect entire communities. They’re concerned most about gun violence, the environment, education and student debt, and racial inequality, an IGNITE survey found.

And since many were born just before the ‘08 crash, and saw their parents lose jobs or their young friends lose their homes, they slightly differ from their millennial elders in that they are more focused on quickly finding a stable job with a stable income and benefits, said Anna Blue, co-executive director of Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation dedicated to securing equal opportunities for underprivileged adolescent girls in developing countries.

They are also becoming an important consumer bloc, with $143 billion in purchasing power in the U.S. alone. By 2020, they’ll be 40% of the consumer base. And while millennials brought social justice issues to the forefront and forced companies and brands to start aligning their values with their messaging, Gen Z is expecting companies to align their values with action, Blue said. “They don’t want to just hear talk.”

For example, brands will suddenly add a “sustainable” line, but what does that really mean? What’s the actual impact? How is it truly sustainable? Gen Z will be asking these questions, she said, noting she had a 14 year old approach her at an event and ask where the dollars go. “The way they consume information and consume products, they want it to be real and traceable.” Put simply, they crave authenticity beyond messaging. 

And the celebrities that Gen Z is most excited about? They’re social media influencers or rising political stars, people on Youtube and other forms of social media. In 2012, when Debbie Sterling founded GoldieBlox, a children’s media company that creates interactive toys designed for girls, she was looking at traditional TV media to reach children but had a difficult time breaking in, so she turned to Youtube. She noted the biggest difference between Gen Z and others is how they consume media—they’re digital natives who grew up on Youtube, Snapchat, and now TikTok. 

And while everyone on the panel agreed that growing up on social media can be a double-edged sword—creating body dysmorphia from unrealistic big eyed Snapchat filters, swapping nudes, and the like—social media and Youtube is also where Gen Z picks up political knowledge. 

Along with growing into bigger purchasing power, a larger swath of those politically active Gen Z-ers will be voting age in 2020, and that’s going to be huge, Moses said. “They’re going to vote at crazy rates. Get ready.”