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Why mass marketing will not work on Gen Z – it's all about subcultures – Digiday

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Research finds mass marketing is unlikely to work for Gen Z, which tends to reject mainstream pop culture and embrace niche cultures – and these trends are moving faster than ever before.
A new study by media agency Horizon Media and its social content agency Blue Hour Studios aims to help marketers demystify the TikTok generation. The firms scoured more than 1,000 types of Gen Z-generated content across popular apps to find emerging themes and groups. Combined with interviews, the study identified five types of 12 different subcultures that have captured Gen Z’s interest.
“[Gen Z is] not just a monolithic group anymore,” said Maxine Gurevich, svp of cultural intelligence at Horizon Media’s WHY Group, a unit that explores cultural and societal behaviors. “Just that fragmentation is getting much more kind of intensified than it ever was. I really wanted to understand them better in terms of their passion points and what they were doing and how they were coming together.”
Rather than the typical audience segmentations on Gen Z, Gurevich told Digiday this guide was meant to provide ongoing research that would be updated as these groups evolve. The WHY Group started with focusing on the “passion points” of this generation, not looking at specific verticals or business opportunities.
The majority (91%) of those aged 18 to 25 said there is no “mainstream” pop culture, according to the study. Instead, Gen Z consumers embrace subcultures and niche communities, from gamer girls and streetwear to cosplayers and “cover boys,” influencers in men’s grooming and beauty trends. The Gen Z Field Guide gives marketers a roadmap to connect with Gen Z consumers, a group that is not always easy to keep up with as social media algorithms change so quickly.
“I think it’s important to understand that in order for marketers to truly meet them, they know that they’re ever-evolving and they’re fluid and really hard to pin down,” Gurevich said. “But you have to understand their [social] algorithm more than ever today. Their algorithm is what shakes them, their algorithm is what defines their passion points, and it also amplifies them.”
And as Gen Z grows up, they will become even more coveted consumers and trend influencers. The generation had an estimated $360 billion in buying power in 2021, according to research and advisory firm Gen Z Planet. Understanding their affinities and communities will be important in helping brands navigate the market.
Here is a summary of some of those groups and the top findings from Horizon Media.
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