With school and college paused for the foreseeable future; the core structure that this generation relied upon is gone. Cancelled or postponed exams removes a key focus. The inability to physically meet up with friends or take part in team exercise deprives them of a key social outlet.
There’s arguably no group that this global pandemic has impacted more, and at the same time they have been identified as a group that is particularly vulnerable to mental health issues during this social isolation period.
So, how are Gen Z dealing with Covid-19?
Comfort in consumption.
It’s not surprising that Gen Z media consumption has gone through the roof during quarantine. In a Global Web Index survey, Gen Z had the greatest increase in consumption in 13 of the 18 activities measured, with 58% stating greater use of social media.
What’s really fascinating is the type of content that is being consumed. For Gen Z, it turns out that being stuck at home during a global pandemic is the perfect time for an explosion of corona humour.
The best way to deal with a terrifying situation is to make fun of it.
Social media is acting like a mass Gen Z group therapy session, with humour being the remedy of choice. What’s interesting is that much of it is dark or satirical in nature, poking fun at Covid-19, how it is changing our world and the way we live.
Tiktok is at the heart of all this. There’s been a 27% increase in TikTok engagement from Feb to March and an 18% increase in downloads. A quick scroll and you’re immersed in dances, challenges and sing-alongs.
While some, like the #blindinglightschallenge, offer delightful escapism that the whole family can participate in, others are more contentious. Some teens received criticism recently for #CoronavirusCheck – where teens show their serious health conditions, as a way to manage stress during this crisis.
As schools and colleges have moved online, an entire Zoom subculture has formed. Underground clubs have thrown quarantine parties, students have been sharing hacks on how to pretend you’re paying attention at class and digital dates are thriving.
A Facebook group, ‘Zoom memes for self quarenteens’ has grown to over 500,000 members in less than a month. This is meme paradise. Many events have sprung up around it and members raised money for the CDP COVID-19 Response Fund. They even sell merch.
Not taking something seriously doesn’t mean you don’t care about it.
While approaching an existential threat like Covid-19 with dark humour and memes may seem counterintuitive, they offer a form of comfort and connection with others at a time when mental health is vulnerable.
From the outside, it may seem distasteful, insensitive or like they just don’t give a shit. This can often be at the heart of much intergenerational tension.
But for Gen Z, not taking something seriously doesn’t mean you don’t care about it. In fact, it might even mean you care about it more, but are coping with it in a different way.
Here are three ways to fit in with Gen Z during Covid-19:
1. Tone: make people laugh, it more important now than ever before.
A serious situation doesn’t always require a serious response – there’s enough downbeat news already.
Humour is a much more effective way to connect with this audience, as research shows they are more likely to watch funny videos and memes compared to other generations. This is a group that doesn’t want to dwell in pessimism.
2. Content: frequent & relevant.
With Gen Z consuming content at a phenomenal rate, the opportunity for brands to connect is now. However, the challenge is for brands is keep up with this relentless pace without sacrificing on the quality or meaningfulness of their content.
With the situation changing daily, this requires constant monitoring to identify what’s new, what’s old, what’s trending and where the right strategic fit is amongst the chaos.
3. Channel: Tiktok
For Gen Z, Tiktok is king. Several brands have recently attempted to infiltrate Tiktok with dance challenges. P&G hired influencers to promote its #distancedance, reminding people to stay at home. They donated to Feeding America for the first 3 million videos.
Vox created the #sixfeetawaysong to help educate the public on social distancing guidelines.
My general advice for brands targeting this audience is to be considerate and generous in what you do to help combat this global pandemic; but have fun with how you do it.
The future is meme.
While the rate of increase in social engagement is unlikely to continue beyond quarantine; dark or sarcastic humour as a coping mechanism for anxiety or uncertainty will be a defining characteristic of Gen Z.
It raises interesting questions about how this generation will deal with traditionally stressful purchases like mortgages, life insurance and pensions.
Will they engage with brands that communicate these products in serious, functional ways? Or will they gravitate towards those who bring a smile to their face and a feeling in their heart?