Who are the Gen Z and what’s the language they speak?


Part One

IN a previous column (May 8, 2017), I wrote about today’s digital jargon, and why it is important for communications practitioners to keep abreast of digital marketing terms and master the new business language.

In the workplace, I lead a team made up mostly of millennials or the Generation Y, the demographic cohort that comprises young influencers age 20 to 36. However, I can imagine that we would—more sooner than later—hire people who belong to Generation Z, or Gen Z, who, at age 19 and below, are considered the youngest inhabitants of this planet.

If we have at one time or another been confounded by the millennials’ own style and manner of doing and looking at things, I believe it would pay to take a good look at the generation that follows them because we, as communicators, will increasingly need to address Gen Z consumers, especially when we are asked to develop PR campaigns and programs that will target them.

According to a study conducted by ad agency Barkley and Futurecast and published in AdWeek, Gen Z, which the study referred to as the “pivotal generation”, has the following traits:

  • they want to work hard for their success;
  • they think equality is non-negotiable;
  • they believe brands have to be real; and
  • they have their own “system of rules and etiquette” for social media.

Given this brief introduction on how Gen Z thinks and acts, let’s now take a sneak peek at some of the words they use and how these words can possibly be “pivotal” in crafting our communications messages. I have to give credit to our Digital Content creator, Hannah Palima, a Gen Z herself, for gathering and defining these words for me to include here:

  • Woke–To be aware of social issues, to possess the ability to identify something as problematic.

Wow, you read the New York Times? You must be woke.

He tries to sound woke, but he really isn’t.

Gen Z has been identified as a generation that cares deeply about social issues and are more likely to support brands whose values are in line with theirs. In response, companies have tried to appropriate the culture of “wokeness” to appeal to this market. Ads at the last Super Bowl tried to comment on issues like sexism, immigration policies and diversity. However, these attempts have to be thought out and executed very carefully, as Gen Z is also quick to pick these apart.

Interestingly, some ad-program publishers have benefited from this surge in demand for political content. Stephen Colbert, for example, has seen his ratings rise steadily due to his sharp criticism of the Trump administration. Teen Vogue, to the surprise of many, has received acclaim for their content that tackles political and social issues and is being called a political force for the younger demographic.

When controversial public figure Mocha Uson urged her followers to sign up for Twitter and extend their reach to the platform, the Twitter accounts of Esquire, Scout Mag, Young Star and the Ayala Museum made allusions to joining the #MochaUsonIsOverParty trending topic that took a stand against misinformation and fake news.

  • Squad–A crew or posse with similar interests.

Take a groufie of me and my squad!

I don’t understand why she’s a part of that artsy squad.

Gen Z is also known to trust individuals over big institutions, which has furthered the spike in influencer—marketing campaigns all over the world. While many celebrities are considered influencers, other “experts”, in a particular field of interest, may be more useful to a brand wanting to focus its efforts on a particular market.

L’Oreal Paris, for instance, created a five-member beauty squad of YouTube beauty bloggers, all of different ethnicities. Rather than choosing stars as the face of their strategy, the company turned things around by involving the consumers in the production and making them the ambassadors for products they actually liked.

Meantime, some influencer campaigns can backfire just as easily. The fiasco that was the Fyre Festival, a music festival held on the Bahamian Island of Great Exuma that was heavily promoted by influencers called the Fyre Squad, drew so much flak for promising luxuries beyond what they were capable of giving festival goers. With tickets set at $2,000 and up, not only did the Internet make endless fun of those who thought they lost their money (the organizers later announced tickets would be refunded)—they also called out influencer culture for taking it too far.

  • Fam–Derived from “family”, used to describe someone you’re close to and can trust, sometimes used ironically.

I gotchu, fam!

I’d like to thank my fam for having my back.

Nah, fam.

While it may seem similar to the concept of a squad, fam is a little more personal, and can be used for a particular individual. However, it’s also sometimes used in an ironic or sarcastic way. Brands can use the idea behind fam for campaigns that highlight close-knit relationships.

  • Lit–To feel intoxicated or amazing, can also be used to describe the mood or atmosphere of an event.

It’s lit, fam.

You should come to the party! It’s gonna be lit!

We were so lit last night!

Lit, as it turns out, isn’t a new term. Its earliest recorded use was in 1918, though then it primarily described the feeling of intoxication. These days, lit is more commonly used as the equivalent of “cool” or “fun”.  Digital football network Copa90 titled its weekly Snapchat Discover show, “Saturdays are Lit”, which aimed to bring Saturday morning football shows to younger sports fans. More recently, lit has acquired the meaning “exciting”, as well as broader to mean “excellent”.

  • Tea–refers to juicy gossip, can be spilled (shared) or sipped (quietly consumed).

Time to spill the tea.

I’m just sitting here, sipping tea.

“What’s the 411?” is long gone, and “tea” is now being used to refer to gossip in general. Variations like “spilling tea” or “sipping tea” show who’s sharing and who’s listening. It has found its way to mainstream online lifestyle and entertainment media, where the phrase is used in headlines and articles.

So when we encounter terms like fam and lit and even tea being used by younger people in an entirely different context, we should no longer be surprised. After all, Yolo (You Only Live Once?).

PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the UK-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior communications professionals around the world. Joy Lumawig-Buensalido is the President and CEO of Buensalido & Associates Public Relations.

PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or to askipraphil@gmail.com.

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