The New York Times recently ran a piece on YouTube star Emma Chamberlain’s popularity. The article features an in-depth look at her innovative process of creating and editing videos, and her incredible influence on the platform. Beyond the nuts and bolts of video and editing, the audience really engages with her humor and relatability, and we say, “Amen!” 18-year-old Emma is part of Generation Z, and she shows it through the authenticity of her videos. She likes to capture her real emotions – crying or laughing, the good and the bad. It’s a trait she shares with many Zs, who value keeping it real more than anything. This is, in fact, what makes or breaks a brand among Gen Zs. They seek messaging and products that aren’t about the perfect life but about a life that reflects their reality, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So why does this young generation care about keeping it real?
Generation Z has had to face reality from an early age, and the oldest Zs are only 24. Collectively, they have already experienced a recession, wars, terrorism, school shootings, mass shootings, natural disasters, and environmental disasters. They are the first generation to do active shooter drills at school. Aside from birth year, generations are defined by moments of collective experience, and these have left a significant mark on the Zs.
Historically, parents and society used to shield their children from the harsher realities of life, but Zs are the exception. As true digital natives, they grew up with computers and the internet, so they’ve had access to more information at a younger age than previous generations. YouTube star Emma, for example, told the New York Times she started watching YouTube at age six. This generation’s access to information is unlike any before it. As a result, they see the world as it really is and are prepared to act accordingly.
As realists, they’re hardworking, gritty, financially responsible, and believe everything is earned, nothing is given. The Zs watched Millennials fail while pursuing their passions – so they are more grounded and realistic with what they go after.
In the qualitative research we do, we often ask our research participants—Gen Zs themselves—for their personal mantra as we begin to get to know them. Some examples of Gen Z answers from a recent study include “Practice makes perfect,” “There’s no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs,” and “I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill.” This is a generation that values hard work.
We’re seeing Zs’ values play out in the type of content they are drawn to. In a research study we recently conducted for a media company, we asked Zs if they prefer realistic endings or happy endings in entertainment. Sixty percent of Zs said they prefer realistic endings, and 40% said they preferred happy endings. So much for happily ever after.
And getting back to why Gen Zs love YouTube (and Emma Chamberlain) so much, in our research Zs told us the number one reason they love YouTube is the variety of content. But after that, the top reasons they’re watching YouTube are “many videos are created by regular people like me” (#2), “the content creators are relatable” (#3), and “the personal connection I feel with the content creators” (#4).
Why you should take note
The value Zs place on showing reality isn’t just for themselves, or the content they consume. It also means that Gen Zs expect brands to be more transparent and show their failures and mistakes. Remember? The good, the bad, and the ugly. Gen Zs expect messaging and products that aren’t about the perfect life but about a life that reflects their reality. We’re going to continue to see the shift from aspirational advertising to inspirational advertising. Think about it this way: for Gen Zs it’s less about aspiring to stand on the podium as the winner (that’s so Millennial!) and more about the journey it took to get there.