Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer examines the ways in which film and TV teen narratives must evolve to resonate with the complex identities of Gen Z...

Today’s teens draw from an array of influences that weren’t available to generations before them. Consider the effects of teenhood played out alongside the internet, versus an analogue adolescence of decades gone by: the worldwide web alone provides inspiration and opinions, outlets for creative expression and peer pressure in equal measure. As the challenges and motivations of teens have changed drastically over time, media responses have shifted to reflect this complexity.

Here, we challenge film to stray from the traditional and highly stereotyped coming-of-age story – as portrayed in high school classics like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Mean Girls (2004) to speak more authentically to Gen Zers. 

Smashing stereotypes

In the early 2000s, film began to sympathetically make light of the awkward teenage years, rather than mocking them. Recall the lead in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) getting too drunk at a party and dancing on the table, or American Pie’s (1999) lead unknowingly doing a strip tease on a livestream for the whole school. These embarrassing moments of 90s film read as negative.

Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You
Julia Stiles's character Kat 'getting trashed because that's what you're supposed to do at parties' in 10 Things I Hate About You

The early 2000s instead celebrated the sheer embarrassment of being a teenager and told us not to take it too seriously. Those who were previously labeled outcasts or geeks now reigned as sarcastic, witty leads. For example, in Superbad (2007), the protagonists were nerdy boys striving to impress girls they’ve always crushed on, while in Easy A (2010) our bookish lead hilariously conquered the double standard against high school girls and sexuality.

Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in <em>Easy A</em>
Emma Stone's character, Olive, takes back 'the scarlet letter' in Easy A

Meanwhile, outside of the US, millennial teens got an even more raw narrative on the teenage experience. Humour was a vehicle to tackle teen challenges often viewed as taboo – from sex, drugs, bullying and teenage pregnancy. In Canada, Degrassi (2001) allowed teens to fumble through mistakes without neatly tying episodes up with a moral message (as was done in the 90s). In the UK, Skins (2007) showed awkward struggles, with taboo teenage moments served with a side of surrealism. But while these dramas were seen to be more gritty and ‘real’, they were also criticized for glamorizing teenage rebellion. 

Embracing the messiness of teendom

Moving on from the Skins and Degrassi’s kids breaking the rules, recent depictions have looked at the more everyday struggles of Gen Z – from online bullying to FOMO. 

While remaining extremely innocent, Eighth Grade (2018) used actual kids (acne and all) to make each painful moment of being 13 palpable, coupling awkwardness with the complexities of being a teenager in the age of social media. Similarly, Lady Bird (2017) shone a light on the tension-ridden mother-daughter relationship, making its angsty, precocious protagonist relatable. These kinds of ‘everygirl’ leading ladies would both have previously been sidelined in teen film, but now their limelight gives teens someone strong, yet familiarly flawed and smart, yet naive, to relate to. 

<em>Eighth Grade</em> - growing up online
Eighth Grade - growing up online

This summer, Booksmart (2019) graced us with something perhaps more akin to the ‘regular’ high school experience. Like Superbad, the story follows two hard-working girls who feel they’ve missed out on the classic high school experience. As they seize their opportunity on the night before graduation, going to a party and kissing the boys and girls they like, they interact with a range of different teenage characters along the way. This film sourced its relatability through letting the audience know that everyone lives out high school in their own way, and that’s okay. 

Complex and hybrid

While Booksmart successfully captures relatable high schoolers, each character is still fairly one dimensional, defined by a single characteristic: nerdy, stoner, slutty, etc. For Gen Zers, identity is defined by several factors existing alongside each other – race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, political views, social justice involvement – the list goes on. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed or defined by a singular trait. 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) weaves the lead’s Asian heritage into the storyline, making it a celebratory narrative. Euphoria (2019) plays on the typical teen archetypes, but muddies them with complexity. We still have jocks and popular girls, but each sits on a spectrum of gender identity and sexuality, insecurity and confidence. In Big Little Lies (2018), a child suffers a panic attack because of her overwhelming anxiety about climate change. Both in Euphoria and 13 Reasons Why (2017), toxic masculinity (used to conceal one’s sexuality) has an extremely detrimental impact on said character and those around them. Of all the titles mentioned above, only one (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) has a rating that would even allow teen viewing. 

Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Owning your heritage as part of your identity in To All The Boys I've Loved Before

There’s still room for progress

There’s evidence that film is beginning to consider the multidimensional, contradictory nature of Gen Zers, but more can be done to make characters feel authentic to teens in a setting that’s PG enough for them to watch themselves. Diversity also remains an issue, with Zendaya becoming one of the first black, teen female leads in a major channel show, and Hunter Schaffer the first trans actor (Euphoria). 

However, tension will forever lie in the contrasting needs to achieve both entertainment and realism. Film is meant to help us escape our own realities, so run of the mill house parties are unlikely to ever be featured on screen. But where is the happy medium between truly relatable and glamourized? Continuing to build on representing a range of teenage voices seems a good place to start.

There are currently more than 2.5billion Gen Zers worldwide. For more thinking on how to speak to this generation and its duality, check out our work on the Hybrid States Of Gen Z

Our new thinking around Gen Z has landed. Here's our Hybrid States model, including a chance to download the full Hybrid Generation report...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

Gen Z are many things. They’re health obsessed, alcohol avoiders with a plan to save the planet; but they’re also everyday teenagers intent on breaking rules. While this duality can be a daunting prospect for brands to engage with, one thing is very easy to grasp – Gen Z are now the biggest generation on earth.

With that pressing fact in mind, our latest Rise breakfast was dedicated to the launch of a new framework for getting to grips with Gen Z – a model that we’re calling: Hybrid States. Presented by Crowd DNA’s London managing director Dr Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Rachel Rapp, today’s young adults were described as a generation defined by their own duality.

Thanks to the unique context that they’ve grown up in (think polarised, yet hyperconnected), Gen Z’s values and motivations are combining in unconventional ways. Combinations that we’re now labelling, and embracing, as Hybrid States. Using Schwartz’s Theory Of Basic Human Values, our presenters showed how their motivations are blending and fusing together. As it turns out, Gen Z’s value states are never binary and don’t plot easily on the map, which, when you think about it, is pretty exciting.

We’ve identified nine of these Hybrid States that we see Gen Z occupying. Providing fertile creative ground for brands of all shapes and sizes, you can read more about opportunities for winning with Gen Z in our full Hybrid States report – available to download here.

And keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks as we bring Gen Z’s Hybrid States to life in nine short films.

The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...
The nine hybrid states of Gen Z...

Download the full Gen Z: Hybrid States report here.

When Gen Z become parents

As Gen Z start to reach parenthood, Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer forecasts what brands should expect from the next wave of parents...

Pew Research Center recently defined Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012 (so, today’s seven to 22 year-olds). From what we know so far, they’re a diverse and open-minded generation who’ve grown up enjoying the benefits of social media at their fingertips. Yet, equally, they’re also a group associated with high levels of anxiety and an overwhelming pressure to project success, both online and off.

Now that older Gen Zers have started to enter the workforce and, generally speaking, more of them will begin having children a few milestones down the road, it’s interesting to think how this group will approach and redefine parenthood. Furthermore, with a personal shopping power of $143 billion (according to Forbes), brands should be prepared for this generation to soon take family household shopping by storm. They may still be young, but we thought we’d wish away their years with a few key ways to start thinking about this next generation of parents.

Breaking The Mold

According to NPR, 48 percent of Gen Zers in the US are non-white and, according to Ipsos Mori, only 66 percent identify as ‘exclusively heterosexual,’ making them the most diverse cohort in history. This has already built a generation of outspoken individuals, taking a stand on issues like LGBTQ rights, racial bias and inequality, and plenty of other issues. As parents, Gen Zers are likely to value empathy and teach their children tolerance and acceptance of others.

Naturally, brands that embrace diversity will continue to thrive. Many parents have already strayed from typical gender norms when it comes to baby toys and names – and this will no doubt extend further. In the realm of fashion, for example, brands that were born genderless, like Phluid Project, will continue to prosper, with genderless clothing something more children’s fashion brands should definitely consider (Gap are already paving the way with their neutral baby clothes).

The Power Of Social

Gen Zers are also stereotyped for spending hours curating their lives on social media. While this may have negative associations with mental health, it could also have positive use cases for parenting.

In a study done by Collage Group, over 70 percent of Gen Z females without children felt FOMO regularly, but only 36 percent with children felt the same. It seems the presence of kids may actually reduce some of the negative impacts of social media. For example, Gen Zer Kylie Jenner has spoken about her desire to keep her role as a mom private from her (very) public life. This change has bled into her overall social media use: cutting back on what she posts and the amount that she does so.

Furthermore, being a generation known to trust recommendations from social media feeds when it comes to brands and products, this may also bleed into their shopping choices for children. They currently respond well to the recommendations of peer influencers, which may later translate into parenting purchase decisions and kid-friendly brand advice.

Everyday Coping Mechanisms

In recent years, the teen suicide rate has increased drastically – over 70 percent among 10-17 year-olds from 2006-2016, according to USA Today. However, 37 percent of Gen Zers also reported seeking help from mental health professionals (CNN), which is significantly higher than millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

As parents, Gen Zers are likely to emphasize the importance of mental health. They’re expected to help their children deal with life stressors in a different way than their parents did for them. Digital-native brands that help promote good mental health, such as Headspace and Talkspace, will likely thrive and give way to like-minded services designed for kids. Mindfulness apps aren’t just to benefit adults – Gen Z parents will likely get their children in the practice of using tools of their own. Apps like Calm, which tells stories to soothe users to sleep, have been recommended for kids, as have other apps that help kids with anxiety through journaling, body awareness and meditation.

Gen Zers are already firmly taking the reins on social issues, such as mental health, as well as paving the way for new types of family units, via genderless purchases. Brands will need to pay close attention to Gen Z’s values in order to keep up with this high spending, change-igniting generation on the brink of parenthood.

With urban environments changing rapidly, our third issue of City Limits dives into youth culture's past, present and future…

Having first delved into the urban experience in Volume One, then taken a ride into mobility in Volume TwoVolume Three of City Limits has us exploring urban living from the perspective of young people.  

It’s impossible to think of youth culture without thinking of cities. Traditionally, they’ve gone hand in hand; it’s within our urban hubs that young people have ignited new trends, with creativity delivered direct from the streets. But cities are changing – free spaces are being squeezed out, gentrification is altering their complexion – and youth culture is changing along with it. 

In this issue, we explore the history of youth culture claiming its space in the city; we pinpoint the urban tribes of today; the challenge the online world presents to the city; and highlight best-in-class examples of brands connecting with young urban trends

City Limits Volume Three is available to download here.

And you can watch the video trailer below: 

Confident Youth

Levels of confidence in teenagers are at an all-time low. Phoebe Trimingham explores the potential role of the media in unlocking self-confidence in young people...

We spend a lot of time at Crowd DNA hearing the hopes and fears of teenagers all over the world. We’re rooting for them, so we were particularly struck by the latest Youth Index from the Prince’s Trust, which states that 54 percent of young people in the UK believe a lack of self-confidence holds them back and 33 percent think it’s the biggest challenge to them pursuing a career.

While this is clearly a problem – levels of confidence are at their lowest since the index began in 2009 – there’s plenty that the media, brands and society can do to tackle reported low-confidence in young people. What’s more, the picture may not be as bleak as it seems. We’ve gathered together some of our recent global insights to explore a different side to the confidence issue and provide starters on how brands might help solve this challenge. 

Permission To Fail

With self-comparison constantly available at their fingertips, it’s no surprise that teens often feel pressure to succeed. Most we speak to are worried about not achieving their full potential or living their ‘best life’. Yet, young people also tell us that they don’t see failure as the end of the road. In fact, most teens think it’s better to try and make mistakes than not to try at all. 67 percent consider themselves to be entrepreneurial and 82 percent describe themselves as adaptable and flexible (Viacom 2017, My Teen Life). Is there a way of tapping into this spirit by promoting alternative, bumpy-road success stories? Or highlighting failures and the small steps that allow for adjustments along life’s journey?

Mosaic Identities

Last year saw us travel around the world talking to young men about attraction, relationships, and everything in between, on behalf of Lynx/Axe. Obviously, confidence has a huge role to play in the tricky game of teenage love. The majority we spoke to felt that confidence was gained by assembling their own mosaic of attractive features. For them, everyone has their own unique ‘offer’  to discover, which develops alongside their sense of identity. There is definitely an opportunity to help teens figure this all out. Not only by helping them develop skills and their own sense of self, but assuring them that being different is okay by celebrating diversity and the widening mosaic of modern masculinity.

Empowered Storytellers

The vast majority of teens we speak to think that everyone should have the right to stand up for their beliefs. They think that everyone has a story, everyone has a right to tell their story, and that everyone can learn from others’ stories. Young people are adept at seeing the world through different eyes and speaking out about what’s important to them. There is clearly an empowerment opportunity here to help more young people feel able to voice their beliefs; the key being to reassure them that there’s space and appetite for a whole range of stories to be valued, heard and shared.

The relationship between young people and confidence is definitely something to keep an eye on. But, by digging into the attitudes of teens around the world, the media can play a clear role in youth empowerment, promoting alternative success stories, and showing that being different is not just celebrated – it’s often the key to unlocking confidence.

Crowd DNA’s Joey Zeelen looks at the sobering-up of Gen Z through his own experience of teen drinking...

Growing up in Holland in the noughties, my use of alcohol – or drugs, we’re talking Holland here – wasn’t any different to others my age. I started drinking at 15 and, like most millennials, alcohol was a big part of life. It formed my identity; it was the centre of socialising and the entirety of my teenage fun.

Saying that, it’s sometimes surprising to read about the sobering-up of Gen Z. Most explanations (health consciousness, well-being) fall flat when I think of the importance of alcohol during my own teen years. To understand this shift, I sought out some explanations on an internal level. When looking at my own drivers for teen drinking, Gen Z’s rejection of alcohol starts to make a lot more sense…

Identity

As a teen, alcohol shaped my sense of self and influenced the people I looked up to. Liam Gallagher, Kate Moss, music from Nirvana and gabber house – they were all inseparable from alcohol (and drugs). Now, icons like Lil Yachty and Adwoa Aboah promote a new culture of abstinence where it’s okay to say no. Intoxication is no longer a requirement of ‘cool’.

Discovery

A big driver for teen drinking was experimentation. Alcohol made me feel different, brave; it enabled me to do things I’d not dare otherwise. But is this still relevant? When talking to Gen Z, it always strikes me how open they are to subjects that were once alien or embarrassing to me (unless drunk). Perhaps alcohol isn’t needed for experimentation anymore, and they are simply more capable of discovering on their own, sober, terms. It’s no doubt, too, that the online space has become a better and more efficient vehicle for discovery.

Social Connection

While socialising played out in the pub/club in my teen years, social connections now form in different spaces: usually in isolation, on social media or at home. Similarly, online entertainment and platforms now provide young people with the stimuli and experiences that would have once been gained by going out drinking with friends.

Enjoyment

Long-story-short, I enjoyed alcohol because it enabled me to ‘let go’. Now, young people are so focused on results and prospects (not surprising when you look at the societal pressures they face), which must influence their ability to go wild or be unproductive the next day. On top of that, when they do party, they’re image conscious – why become embarrassingly drunk when it might be immortalised on social media?

But I doubt the desire to ‘let go’ has gone for Gen Z; it’s just taken on different forms. New indulgences now exist, which are better suited to their needs. We only have to look at the growing Xanax culture – linked to rappers like Lil Xan or Lil Peep – to see how, from a cultural stance, it makes sense. The effects of these drugs are less noticeable (or embarrassing), and offer a potential way of dealing with the pressures and anxieties of modern teenage-hood.

Secondary sources can help inform insights, but to really get to know young people and understand their drinking habits, we need to deep dive into their actual lives, needs and daily motivations, too. Sobering-up then makes a lot more sense through the eyes of a boozy millennial – cheers!

Death Of The Teenager

Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell asks whether the teen experience is in decline and, if so, what it means for self-identity and brands. To get a copy of our Death Of A Teenager cultural forecasting report, read on…

Hot on the heels of the widely reported scientific claims that adolescence now extends from 10 to 24, we thought it opportune to publish a revamped version of our Death Of A Teenager cultural forecasting report.

What would it mean to have never been a teenager, as we knew being a teenager? As grown-ups continue to avoid, er, growing up, and younger generations start connecting with culture – and even hitting puberty – at an earlier age, the previously well-defined ‘teenage years’ don’t make so much sense. A collective experience of ‘being a teenager’ seems to be coming to an end.

In this report we map out the driving forces behind this change and ask how it will impact self-identity formation. Also, given that the marketing communications industry has a habit (near obsession) with all things youth, we look at the relevance that this will no doubt have for brands.

For a copy of our shiny new report please email: DOTT@crowdDNA.com

Facebook asked us to find out what makes Canadian millennials tick. This is what we learnt...

We’re delighted to post some recent insights work for Facebook about Canadian millennials.

The research involved a road trip across Canada where we conducted in-depth interviews with generational experts and Canadians aged 18-34, as well as a quant survey.

We learned that millennials rely on mobile, find strength in online communities and take pride in their country’s multicultural identity. We also found that when it comes to defining success and spending money, they hold surprisingly different views than older generations.

Read more here.