Gen Alpha: Understanding Young Consumers

Earlier this week I was able to attend a panel discussion at AdWeek Europe that was hosted by The Week Junior. The topic was, as you might expect, young consumers, specifically Gen Alpha. For those of you who are still setting your sights on Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), Gen Alphas were born in 2010’s and have likely grown up with an iPad in their hands and their baby pictures on social media. And they are about as different from millennials as you can get.
The panel (consisting of comedian and author David Baddiel, Editor-in-Chief of PopJam Craig Donaghy, CEO of Beano Studios Emma Scott and Youtuber Jim Chapman) agreed that overall, Gen Alphas are conservative, curious, cautious and familiar with “self-regulating” their internet and digital activity. While this is a testament to the success of Safer Internet Day (now Online Safety Week in many schools), it has multiple repercussions for those of us who are, and will be, trying to reach them via ads and content.

Talking to them like adults

So how should we talk to kids? This seems like such a silly question, but it is something that has been evolving in recent years. Consider movies and TV shows; today there are so many options of shows that appeal to both adults and children. As David Baddiel said, “the idea that comedy for children is a space where you talk down to them is outdated”. While this is partly due to double edged humour that kids may not fully understand until they grow up a bit, it’s possible that the content includes what The Week Junior editor Anna Bassi calls “eyeball to eyeball conversations”.
If you patronise these kids, they will know, and they will disengage. They live in the same world as us after all, and they have the same access to information. No matter how sheltered we may think they are, it is silly to think that they do not understand the world around them.

See them as individuals

The age when youths try on different personalities has gradually crept down from university days, past the angst-y teenage years, all the way to primary school. Gen Alphas see it as very important to be perceived as an individual, and while there was some debate on the panel as to whether social media had made it easier to portray yourself in a certain way, or whether it had made the process much more regulated in terms of the categories available, the necessity to decide who you are and the urgency to put that image out into the world is clear.
Craig Donaghy mentioned that this is what makes those Buzzfeed-style quizzes, where you answer questions to find out what kind of doughnut you are, so popular. Kids will take those three or four times over to get the answer that they feel most relates to them.
Before we lament them for their lost childhoods, we should look to the positives of this change: this generation is finding their voice at a much earlier age. They are aware of their platform, and the power that they, as consumers and future voters, yield. The students of Stoneman Douglas in Florida are one very vocal example, but members of the panel discussed instances of their young audience recognising what they want in the publication and campaigning to get it.
It is this openness to sharing their opinions that has made companies like Beano and PopJam hire teams of Trend Spotters who they consult weekly before producing editorial content. Perhaps this shifts our place as marketers from telling consumers what they want, to giving them a space to tell us what they want…

Beware the Lack of Gate Keepers

An important final point that was made at this event is that within this cohort of young consumers, there are no “cultural gatekeepers”. Whether it is their age or their familiarity with tech, they place little trust in the traditional reviews and critics of media. They value the opinions of their peers, who are by no means shy to share their thoughts.
In the same way, the traditional social boundaries do not apply when engaging digitally. This is a different message than what was taught to older generations (namely that whatever you put on the internet you should be prepared to have brought up in a job interview). While the freedom of today’s children is limited to the strength of their Wi-Fi signal and their data allowance, they are not losing out on socialisation. They are not playing in the street with the kids in their neighbourhood, but they are learning how to have conversations with people they agree with, and don’t agree with.  They have also grown up in a world where celebrities are increasingly accessible. At no other period in history could you write to ask your idol a question and receive a response in minutes.

Closing Thoughts

Generation Alphas are curious – and they have access to EVERYTHING; but unlike generations that came before them that were susceptible to over-information and abject consumer hacks, they are able to choose what appeals to them and limit what they learn and see.
The panel predicted that social media will change to accommodate them, as they do not share nearly as much about themselves as Millennials do (and in light of the recent Facebook data crisis, this may become even more pronounced). They also predicted that they will have a fierce loyalty to brands that speak to them, and that allow them freedom to speak.
They are savvy. It is important to remember this when conversing with them. When conversing with them, don’t assume that there is any gap in their knowledge. And don’t just talk to them; they’re not just consumers. Have a conversation.