What does Gen Z want from brands? One agency asked its own interns

Day One Agency hosted a panel with in-house Gen Zers to get their POV.

L-R: Josh Rosenberg, Marissa Levine, Hanna Goldstein, Andi Claman (on screen), Tyler Yee (on screen), Cheyenne Desorosiers, Sofia Tasolides.
L-R: Josh Rosenberg, Marissa Levine, Hanna Goldstein, Andi Claman (on screen), Tyler Yee (on screen), Cheyenne Desorosiers, Sofia Tasolides.

NEW YORK: If there are two things that Gen Z wants from brands, it’s consistency and unfiltered, authentic activism. 

Vanity and perfection, however, are not a priority for Gen Z, according to panelists at Day One Agency’s Ask Gen-Z event, moderated by CEO Josh Rosenberg. To make that distinction, Gen Z separates curated content from unfiltered images.

"Finstas," or fake Instagram accounts, are the primary method that Gen Zers use to post the content they "wouldn’t necessarily want everyone to see," said Sofia Tasolides, a high school senior interning at Day One. 

Finsta communities are for "close friends," with hundreds or even thousands fewer followers than "rinstas," or real Instagram accounts. Finstas host embarrassing, unfiltered and imperfect content that rinstas do not. 

For many Gen Zers, rinstas represent their "brand" that "comes out naturally" through aesthetics, color schemes, and the clothes they wear, according to Andi Claman, Los Angeles intern from the University of California, Berkeley. If a photo doesn’t fit the feed, it doesn’t get uploaded. 

"I’m a very positive, bright person," said Claman, describing how her personality matches her feed and how she buys products that fit that description. "I notice the photos I like to post on my personal Instagram all have vibrant colors and are often super-happy. That’s my personal brand." 

In navigating the best of these two worlds, Gen Z expects the same of the brands they follow. While Gen Z appreciates curated, picture-perfect content, it also expects brands to be activists. 

Fellow Los Angeles intern Tyler Yee said that Gen Z is most likely to support and shop from brands that it feels authentically "align with [its] values," which include sustainability and diversity in terms of race, body type, and sexuality.

They also expect brands to be consistent in their activism, said panelist Cheyenne Desrosiers, adding that she would like to see support for LGBTQ+ communities after Pride Month. 

Tip-toeing around an issue can cause brands and influencers to fall into "cancelled culture," as Tasolides called it, highlighting the fate of YouTube influencer James Charles, who lost millions of followers after a fellow influencer accused him of bad behavior. 

"Getting cancelled" for brands could result in a decline in social media following and loss of support. And for Gen Z, once you’ve been "cancelled" and unfollowed, an uncancellation is unlikely and redemption could be lost forever.

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