Making Brands Matter in Turbulent Times: Covid-19 – Generation Z

By Jo Wood, Chief Strategy Officer, Wilson Hartnell

The global pandemic will call for flexibility, agility, and resilience on the part of younger people. As parents and business leaders, older generations will need to support Generation Z in the long term as they navigate the aftermath.  It is a tough time to be a young person on the job market and it will probably be that way for longer than we think.

The Sensible Generation

Generation Z were already very focused on security, saving money and their careers.  An anxious generation, now they are likely to take emergency savings even more seriously and may continue to lose trust in just one source of income. According to a study from The Workforce Institute at Kronos and Future Workplace, 46% of Gen Z currently participate in the gig economy in some way. 1 in 5 Gen Z employees (18%) have two jobs – a side gig in addition to their main job, this is likely to grow as a result of what they are currently experiencing.  46% Gen Z plan on saving more of what they earn over the next 5 years. (Prosper Insights & Analytics, USA, April survey of over 8,200 consumers)

Leading Gen Z innovation consultancy in New York, PRZM, seeing how many young people were economically and professionally displaced by the pandemic has launched a free membership group called PRZM People, aimed at helping Gen Zers connect with companies with job opportunities, as well as speak virtually with professionals in their preferred areas.

Media consumption

The latest wave of Kantar’s Global Covid-19 Barometer shows that at-home media consumption as well as online consumption have grown significantly in lockdown, particularly among younger viewing audiences. Online video has seen the greatest increase, up 72% with Gen Z (vs 52% overall). Of all the online platforms, YouTube has now seen the greatest increase, with 71% of Gen Z using the channel more. TikTok is also gaining momentum, with usage up by a third (33%) among Gen Z.

Social media usage has also continued to rise, with over two thirds (68%) of the 18-34 age group spending more time on social channels. Instagram is the channel that has seen the greatest gains among young adults (63% of GenZ and 49% of Millennials say they are using it more), perhaps as more people turn to its live-stream capabilities to participate in activities such as virtual workouts and cooking classes.

COVID-19 is also driving learners of all ages to get to grips with digital tools to upskill, with many young people using the same platforms they use to socialise, for education. This reliance on tech may, in turn, force adults to see screen-time more positively.

Gaming as a campaign channel

Interestingly, the UK government recently partnered with games developers to bring COVID-19 information to young players. With Gen Z unlikely to watch traditional news outlets, the campaign targeted the platforms they were already frequenting to ensure they were aware of official messages and advice. There are an estimated 37 million gamers across the UK, with younger people spending more time playing than any other age group.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) worked with developers to ensure in-game messaging represented a creative, targeted, and immediate way to help reinforce the government’s ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ message to gamers. Similarly, in Finland, social media influencers were enlisted to share crucial news and information with their followers.

Maintaining Milestones

Keeping up routines, traditions, and rituals is an important part of staying mentally healthy through isolation. Young students in Japan took to Minecraft to build their own graduation ceremonies, while Facebook Messenger Kids has seen an increase in downloads as children look for ways to connect with their friends at a distance. Joe Wicks has given school students a sense of routine with his daily morning exercise videos on YouTube. Social media and video games are often criticized for their ‘anti-social’ nature, but during lockdown these platforms have enabled students to maintain a degree of normality. 

Many US teens have expressed sadness and disappointment at missing their graduation, something they “have been working towards for 12 years”. Natalie Reese, a high school student in California, hosted a prom at home. The TikTok video of her dancing in her prom dress with her dad received nearly 12 million views. Other teens followed suit, hosting their own virtual celebrations with the hashtag #tiktokprom, which have attracted more than 23 million views.

Giving Back

TikTok has been popular with socially engaged Gen Zs as a platform for good even before the pandemic.  New functions like TikTok’s donation stickers demonstrate its understanding of the demographic and the platform’s commitment to helping its community get involved during the pandemic as well as pledging a $250 million donation to relief efforts, part of which will be used to match donations made by users.

TikTok has reached over 2 million downloads, and has been a lifeline for teens during the lockdown – hosting virtual proms, giving them medical advice, and as an outlet for pandemic humour. Instagram also offers a similar donation function. The brand has added the option for small businesses to include stickers in their stories that direct people to a website where they can order food delivery or buy gift cards.


  • Forbes, COVID-19 Is The Crisis That Will Impact Generation Z’s Worldview
  • Kantar COVID-19 Barometer 23 April 2020
  • Canvas 8, How will Covid-19 change the cult of celebrity, 29 April 20
  • Prosper Insights & Analytics April survey of over 8,200 consumers, April