Six Tips on Talking to the Post Generation

How the under-14 crowd views media and content

In my last Adweek column introducing the Post Generation—my nickname for the under-14 cohort, also variously referred to as Gen Z or Centennials or the Homeland Generation (among other appellations)—I discussed how they're coming of age on the heels of unprecedented cultural and technological shifts.

One of the most profound transformations they're witnessing and also spearheading is the migration to a digital media landscape. In this column, I'll uncover some key insights behind the Post Generation's attitude toward media and content.

All content competes with all content: In an age where a beverage brand underwrites a GoPro-wearing guy essentially parachuting from space and a chain department store finances an $8 million concert by popular act Imagine Dragons during commercial time on the Grammys, what qualifies as an "ad" anymore?

Young consumers don't hate advertising. They hate being bored. And with the ubiquity of their favorite content, they don't have to be. What should you do? Break the :30, disrupt the display unit and recognize you're going head-to-head with what's on everywhere else. What this means is you have the same chance of capturing an audience—and achieving subsequent virality—as does "programming" anywhere. You also have a greater chance of being ignored entirely, but nobody said advertising superstardom is supposed to be easy.

Video is the vanguard: As we've all seen by now, young consumers continue to consume more video than ever before. In an age of high-bandwidth handsets that feature relatively small keypads and character sizes, video will remain the medium of choice for consumers bent on consuming (and, increasingly, creating) content. You don't have to be Michael Bay to shoot a Vine or start a Skype. And you don't have to be a TV network or an ad agency or a professional actor or a director to captivate an audience. Start with video. Wrap the rest of your media around it.

Content feels abundant and persistent: FOMO (fear of missing out) is supposedly a bedrock sentiment among modern youth, except when it comes to content, the mass of which feels, well, massive, not to mention pleasantly persistent. Of course the antidote to being taken for granted and/or queued for later is creating urgency, as happens with a live broadcast of a music or entertainment event like an awards show or "special." For now, don't assume anyone under 30 is a by-appointment viewer, unless and until you create immediacy that far surpasses the average show.

Kids are playing passenger to parents: While speaking with real, live kids recently for a TV project, we asked them what shows they watched, when and on what channels.

Most seemed perplexed, sneaking glances to nearby parents. The same held true when we asked them about weeknight or weekend plans. Under 14, and under the tutelage of Gen X parents who themselves are massively adept at calendaring and multitasking, these Post Gen kids have given over the planning reins entirely, content to reside nose first in their devices until someone tells them otherwise. Want to capture kids on a specific night at a prescribed time? Try talking to parents first, selling them on the educational or social benefits you and your content might be able to provide for their progeny.

Go long on short form: With Vine videos briskly becoming the favorite media snack of primary- and middle-schoolers everywhere (alongside similar smallish product from Snapchat and Instagram), the time for experimentation in low-commitment, short-form video is now. And with Vessel poised to further the frontier of exclusive short-form video content, we're going to see umpteen opportunities for brands to play in this space. Whether this is through owned or paid channels remains an open question. As with most questions of this sort, the answer for the time being is likely, you guessed it, both.

Multicultural is the operating reality: Last but far from least, demographics define the Post Generation, whose operating reality and content diet are in lockstep—multicultural by design and preference. If your content doesn't look like Post Gen, they simply won't watch. Unlike in days of yore, they simply don't have to.

One glimpse at the patchwork races/ethnicities of today's YouTube, Vine, and music and sports starscape reveals that Post Gen simply won't settle for a whitewashing. Neither can you. Getting real means getting intrinsically inclusive and open.

And quick. Go!

Scott Hess (@scotthess) is svp of human intelligence for Spark. 

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