When my older nephew was born, in 2002, America was reeling from the events of 9/11 a year earlier, and the financial collapse of 2008 was still six years off. There was no such thing as iPhones, Facebook, streaming or Uber. There were no connected TVs; he watched his beloved “Cars” on DVD and told me all about it via the family landline.
This boy isn’t yet old enough to drive, but his childhood already feels like a quaint yesteryear montage. Conversely, the 5-year-old, shouts out commands to Alexa, is (way too) adept at downloading apps onto his iPad, and accesses his favorite Netflix shows wherever and whenever he wants.
Kindergarten updates are delivered via FaceTime, a product that would have seemed downright futuristic in the aughts. Demographer Mark McCrindle says the extraordinary advances in technology — from smartphones to IoT to AI — in a short period have made the leap between generational cohorts the most profound in human history.
So while marketers are just starting to understand Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2009), we need to prepare for the bigger jolt coming: Generation Alpha.
Generation Alpha is defined as those born since 2010. Joe Nellis, professor of global economy, Cranfield University in the UK, predicts this will be “the wealthiest, the most intensely educated and most dynamic generation that human society has yet seen.”
While Gen Z has adapted to technology, the Alphas are native-born. They are, the first true digital generation, perhaps signaling a shift from what Tom Goodwin of Zenith Media calls the “mid-digital” to the “post-digital” age. Goodwin likens the shift to the advent of electricity.
Researchers note that it isn’t the technology that will shape this generation, but rather what its members will manifest when those advances become simply background.
Like its predecessor, Generation Alpha grows by approximately 4MM births each year in the U.S. and 2.5MM every week globally. Alphas are the center of their millennial parents’ worlds. Combined with unprecedented, instant access to information, it empowers them with an immense sense of control over their own lives.
This confidence, wherewithal and know-how prime Alphas to become what McCrindle calls “the most transformative generation ever.”
Classroom content is already being redesigned for Alphas, becoming more interactive, visual and collaborative. Tablets have replaced textbooks, virtual learning is augmenting local schools and teachers are accessible online long after school gets out.
In media, a hugely influential force in kids’ lives, linear programming is becoming obsolete — OTT platforms have no schedule grids, and the currency is shows, not channel or studio brands (save for the platforms themselves).
Alphas will effectively create their own TV lineups, accessing a variety of content on-demand to suit their schedules, interests and screens. It’s no coincidence that Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood titan behind DreamWorks and AwesomenessTV, recently raised $1B to launch an entertainment company that creates original, short-form content for mobile. Bite-sized, on demand, vertically oriented shows are perfectly suited to Alphas.
Full disclosure: I started a kids’ media company six years ago, anticipating the mobile mania of tweens, aged 8-12. At the time, tweens were part of Gen Z. We spent our first year convincing investors that kids would be on mobile, and would demand and deserve offerings designed for them.
Also that kids are highly valuable and influential consumers, even if they don’t have money of their own. (Which they do. A lot, actually.) A recent MRI American Kids Study revealed that 94% of current 6-11 year olds say they influence the back-to-school purchases made by their parents. According to Deloitte, that amounts to a whopping $26 billion in 2018.
The MRI study also reports that half of 10-to-11 year-olds research what they like online before going to the store with mom. Trends like this will surely impact how retailers rethink digital shopping.
The oldest members of Generation Alpha are now tweens, and it’s a whole new ballgame. We must accept that tech is not just a facet of their lives – it is intrinsically part of them and will demand innovation on a scale we’ve yet to imagine.
Marketers must cultivate insights to understand what kids value and let them lead us to the brave new world ahead.