When Talking About Gen Z, You Must Talk Culture

The headlines are out there—"Gen Z is the most stressed generation,” “The politics of Gen Z,” “Gen Z is the most underemployed generation,” and “How brands should be marketing to Gen Z.” But few if any address a crucial point: Gen Zers under the age of 17 form America’s first multicultural majority generation. Culture and identity are the cornerstones of the decisions Gen Zers (and their parents) make and the issues that impact them.

Gen Zers Stick Together—Even In Their Activism

According to a new study by the Culture Marketing Council: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing (CMC), unique race and ethnic identity are core to both Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black (NHB) teens, the majority of whom also self-identify as persons of color (to the tune of 56 percent and 94 percent, respectively). There is a powerful sense of solidarity, cultural comfort and political clout among this generation’s Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks, and in CMC’s workshops, this extended to other non-White segments as well.



In the quantitative survey, 82 percent of all Hispanics and Blacks ages 13 to 49 self-identifying as a person of color felt a sense of unity with other minority segments—and that kind of unity is at the heart of the political and social movements of today: #BlackLivesMatter, immigration rights, #MeToo, to name a few.

Hate & Racism are the Top Issues Gen Zers Face

Teens who identify as a Hispanic or Black say the combination of hate and racism is the biggest issue that they face together with one in four non-Hispanic white (NHW) teens agreeing. What is compelling about this study is that it occurred before the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Gen Z is a generation that claims to be engaged and politically active (think back to the responses to the Parkland shooting and climate change) so it’s no wonder that the events of today have elicited such a response from Gen Zers and their parents.

Even pre-COVID, the top issue among those surveyed, regardless of age, race or ethnicity, was the affordability of education, housing and healthcare, with these issues having personally impacted one in four parents ages 25 to 49 and 17 percent of teens ages 13 to17.   Affordability is even more important today especially among people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-related job loss.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ third quarter data for persons ages 16 and above, 2020 unemployment levels were highest among Blacks (13.2 percent), Hispanics (11.2 percent) and Asians (10.6 percent) versus whites (7.9 percent). These unemployment figures are seven to eight percentage points higher for people of color and five percentage points higher for whites than they were during the same time period in 2019.

Gen Zers and Their Parents Won’t Stand for Culturally Illiterate Brands

In general, Gen Zers have each other’s backs when it comes to the issues that matter to them but also in the content they share and brands they choose to stick with. In fact, more than half of people ages 13 to 49 have quit a culturally illiterate brand, saying it offended them or disrespected their values—that number skyrockets to 72 percent among Black moms.

All Gen Z teens  plus Black and Hispanic parents ages 25 to 49 said that “disrespect for my or someone else’s racial or ethnic group” was their top reason  for having quit a brand. It ranked third for non-Hispanic white parents. This poses a huge cultural problem for the marketing industry where nine out of 10 chief marketing executives and managers are non-Hispanic white. Multicultural marketing cannot be “niche” or a “nice to have” marketing afterthought in a multicultural majority customer world.  Multicultural experts and cultural literacy need to be front-and- center in today and tomorrow’s marketing practices. 

Cultural respect (or disrespect) informs the majority of Black, Hispanic and white Gen Zers’ life choices, the issues that matter to them, the candidates they vote for and the brands they buy…or boycott.  Brands with customers under the age of 35 are missing the boat if they are not putting cultural literacy and expertise first, especially when the under-35 segment will become a multicultural majority by 2028.

Next story loading loading..