Gen Z doesn’t see its identities shown in marketing

A report on the cohort's understanding of sexual orientation and gender reveals a shortcoming for brands.

Gen Z

Generation Z is a highly coveted, yet poorly understood, demographic.

As highlighted in a Canadian edition of publishing platform Wattpad’s new report, The Gen Z Census, when the last Canadian census was conducted in 2016, the cohort (representing those born between 1995 and 2009) hadn’t entered the workforce yet. Many were still in high school.

And while the national census stands as the best source of demographic data on Canadians, Wattpad points out it contains a significant blind spot on an important element of the Gen Z experience: insight into those who identify as trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming.

Wattpad’s report is based on a pair of surveys conducted between April and June 2019, as well as a focus group in Toronto involving seven participants in July. Each survey received between 380 to 492 responses from the company’s voluntary youth panel, Generation Wattpad.

One of the big findings revolves around Gen Z’s perception and understanding of sexual orientation and gender. Only 56% of respondents identified as straight or heterosexual. The other half is divided between those who identify as bisexual (15%), questioning (11%), pansexual (8%), asexual (4%), lesbian (2%) and gay (0.4%), with 3.6% falling within another category or choosing not to say. Perhaps more importantly, 25% of respondents said their sexual orientation has changed within the last two years.

What’s more, a large proportion of respondents said they knew someone who identified as trans (51%), non-binary (44%), gender fluid (34%) and gender non-conforming (33%). Almost half knew someone who goes by gender neutral pronouns, and 4% use gender neutral pronouns themselves.

While racial identity, sexual orientation and gender representation are top of mind issues for many in the group, according to the research, 52% of those surveyed said they do not feel adequately presented in marketing and branding. “It’s unsurprising that they don’t feel well-represented in the media,” the report notes, because “respectfully showcasing trans people and gender non-conforming individuals has become a rather recent concept.”

That means there’s a significant marketing opportunity available to those capable of better capturing the lived experience of Gen Z, according to Wattpad. “Striving for better representation in marketing and allowing Gen Z to see themselves in the face of their favourite brands would invoke confidence and a deeper connection. Gen Z’s attitude toward equality is a powerful indication in regards to the types of marketing Gen Z reacts strongly to.”

The research also found that many in the cohort have experienced mental illness (17%) or another mental health challenge (46%), the most commonly diagnosed being depression and anxiety. Those challenges stem in part from “the pressures of growing up and the constant expectation to succeed.”

By and large, the group feels pressure to achieve stable careers in fields like medicine and law. However, 48% still aspire to having a career in the arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media industries (when asked to select all that apply). A surprising 11% wish to become an influencer – the same proportion as those who want a career in management – although power and influence is the least motivating factor for many when it comes to career aspirations. Overall, Wattpad found that the primary career motivator is the social impact it will have (32%), followed by work-life balance (26%), social aspects of the job (13%), money (10%), travel (8%) and power and influence (3%).