Youth Movement: Reaching Gen Z

They began using tablets and cellphones in their strollers, and because 9/11 happened when they were toddlers — if they had been born yet at all — they’ve never known a world that wasn’t polarized and at conflict. Some even use that day as a defining characteristic: If you can’t remember it, you are a Gen Zer.

Now, as the first wave of Generation Z — broadly referred to as those born from the late 1990s through the first decade of this century — reaches adulthood, the sports business community is among the groups trying to get a handle on them. We asked leaders in a variety of fields to share with us, in their own words, how they and their companies are connecting with this generation, what changes can already be felt, and what further disruption might be next as Gen Z fully comes of age. Those stories begin on Page 22.

By next year Gen Z will represent 40 percent of all American consumers, and they already spend more than $140 billion annually, independent of what their parents spend on them. Even for marketers now inured to disruption, Gen Z represents a formidable challenge. As traditional media continues to matter less to this group, things like reach and frequency will become as relevant as typewriters and buggy whips.

“Gen Z doesn’t want to be marketed to, they want to be the marketers themselves,” said Mark Zablow, whose New York City-based Cogent Entertainment Marketing has clients including Constellation Brands and Dave & Busters.

“They want to discover and experience brands and products and be rewarded for those efforts. They are driven by social media currency, or just currency. With the gig economy anyone now can be a home trainer, tutor or influencer. You will see that explode even more as this generation has to support itself.”

Having experienced the worst U.S. economy since the 1930s depression during the Great Recession of 2008-09, Gen Z is naturally more pragmatic. Cause-obsessed, yes, but in a different way.

“Compared to even millennials, they are more hands-on and they want to be involved in making the world a better place,” said Marianne Rotole, Octagon senior vice president. They’re more social, emotional and collaborative than their millennial predecessors, but while both groups value experiences over material possessions, Gen Z is even more so and with a broader reach. As a byproduct of being “digital natives” and having never known an America that wasn’t at war, “They are just naturally more global than any generation,” Rotole said. “And they’re more accepting of other cultures.”

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