Data from the media agency the7stars’ mobile panel of Gen-Z uncovers the attitudes of a generation growing in prominence and who will remember this period for the rest of their lives – by Helen Rose and Izzy O’Duffy.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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Remember as kids, wishing that school could be closed down so we didn’t have to go? On Wednesday, a common childhood fantasy turned into cold hard reality as the UK became the latest country to close its schools indefinitely. Meanwhile the government also announced that this summer’s GCSEs and A Levels will be cancelled, the latest manoeuvre in the global war against COVID-19.

At the7stars we take a keen interest in Gen Z, a new generation of youth born since the mid-1990s who are directly impacted by schools closing. Seeking to avoid the stereotypes which dogged their Millennial predecessors, we want to understand this hard to engage cohort, their current challenges and future desires. Building on our white paper “Talkin about a New Generation,” in 2020 we launched ‘A to Gen Z’, a mobile panel of Brits aged 16-24 who we talk to weekly to understand their views on the topical issues of the day.

So what does Gen Z make of the school closures?

The vast majority, 86%, agrees that it was the right decision for the UK government to close schools as a result of Coronavirus - just 7% disagreed. While a third - 34% - feel relieved that schools are closing, the uncertainty and questions the move raises - such as when will schools reopen - are having an impact.

One in three of Gen Z’s we surveyed say they feel worried or stressed as a result of schools closing. In terms of public exams being cancelled, the response is less clear cut. Just over half - 57% - agree with the Government's decision, whilst 25% think it’s the wrong move. Surprisingly, given the anxiety that can build up ahead of exams, only 15% feel relieved at the prospect of having no exams.

School’s out - so what next?

When asked how they are planning on spending their time in the next few months, school work isn’t high on the agenda, with our panel opting instead for the school of life: 55% said they are going to discover new TV shows and films, while 43% said they are going to stream more music and podcasts.

Spending time with family/ housemates is also high up the agenda for Gen Z with 43% aiming to do this. Meanwhile reading books (41%) and doing online courses (39%) are also popular amongst this group. With public pools and gyms likely to be closed, 20% are thinking about participating in online activities such as yoga to keep fit.

Lessons brought to you by TikTok, Insta and YouTube?

With homeschooling now mandated for all, three quarters of Gen Z agree it would be nice if social media or gaming platforms could help with learning and lessons while students are at home.

After all, they reason, “since students won’t be in school, they are more likely to be spending time on these platforms anyway.” The panel wasn’t specific about which social media brands should take the lead in helping to educate students, but games such as Minecraft are seen as having educational properties and also being good for mental health - presumably because the multiplayer aspect allows students stuck at home, to socialise.

One platform unlikely to be invited to help home school is TikTok. While two in five of Gen Z claims to have a TikTok account, they mainly use it to watch other people’s videos (74%), keep up with what’s trending (36%) and follow their favourite celebrities / influencers (21%). While not viewed as a teaching alternative, it’s value as a community platform could definitely come to the fore for Gen Z in this time of uncertainty.

Our understanding of Gen Z’s media habits suggests that they will be better placed than previous generations to cope with studying from home: they are comfortable with switching between many different channels; YouTube is their go-to for homework and how-to’s while staying in touch with friends and peers is done via SnapChat and Instagram.

What else is worthy of their chat?

While Coronavirus dominates the conversation, Gen Z are of course having conversations about other subjects, currently that includes everything from Mother’s Day, to driving lessons, sex and dating, or getting a part-time job. The brands they’re most likely to have talked about recently with friends reveal much more practical concerns than marketeers may realise - from considering whether to buy running trainers from Nike or Adidas, or if the new Apple iPhone is worth it, along with discussions about the latest releases in the gaming world from Xbox and Nintendo.

So what do these findings mean for brands seeking to engage mercurial Gen Z during unpredictable and anxious times? Drawing on our experience of tracking this group, here are our three top tips:

1. Make a difference, differently

Gen Z seeks creativity, alternative viewpoints and positive role models - and never more so than during times of crisis. Our recent whitepaper found GenZ to be more accepting, inclusive and open minded than previous generations.

Whether it’s social media platforms helping to homeschool or fast food outlets offering discounts/free drinks to NHS workers, the current Covid-19 outbreak gives brands an opportunity to be real heroes to this cohort, provided they do so in a way which chimes with Gen Z values around inclusivity and purpose.

2. Keep in touch

While there is less opportunity to interact with Gen Z in real life, brands need to find new and creative ways to maintain a dialogue with this group and get to know them better at a time when many will be feeling frightened and alone. Online surveys are a great way to do this: anecdotal evidence from mobile and tracking panels is showing a higher than usual response rate, as consumers stuck at home find time and even enjoy the chance to fill out surveys.

3. Stay relevant

As our research shows, while Gen Z is concerned and engaged in the current crisis, in common with older consumers, they like to talk about other topics too. Brands have a great role to play in providing some respite from the deluge of anxiety-provoking headlines, for example lifestyle publication Stylist opting to stick with its biannual High Street Fashion edition - because “life must go on.”