As Gen Z Weathers COVID, They’re Shaping Tomorrow’s World

Gen Z is the generation most likely to be transformed by COVID-19. Their education has gone virtual, proms and graduations have been cancelled and their careers put on hold. That being said, as digital natives they may have also been the most prepared for the changes caused by the pandemic. The shift to a virtual life wasn’t far off from the way they were already living as an online-first generation, connecting with friends through social media while shopping and playing games on the internet.

In other words, this has always been a trend-setting generation, and the way they respond to the disruptions of the pandemic is likely set more. Just consider the numbers: A recent Ad Age article about the rise of Gen Z noted that, according to the United Nations, people under 25 now constitute over 40% of the world’s population.

The 2020 U.S. presidential election was one of the first times we saw the type of influence this generation has. According to the president of the NDN and the New Policy Institute, “53% to 55% of registered 18-29-year olds appear to have voted. That may be the highest ever recorded in the modern era of politics.” Gen Z is passionate about the issues they care about, which during this election included coronavirus, jobs and the economy, and climate change. And not only do they vote about those issues at the ballot box, they do so through the brands they purchase from and interact with.

To help get you acquainted with this rising generation, below are some key trends about Gen Z that we gathered from attending the recent 2020 YMS Virtual Conference.

It’s Not Easy Being Z

Caused by more than just the pandemic and the stresses of 2020, Gen Z is experiencing high anxiety overall: 61% say they’re constantly stressed out, while 57% are looking for products that relieve stress and anxiety. Everything they are experiencing right now is out of their control—one commonly heard phrase at YMS was “It’s not easy being Z.” While previous generations—Gen Y, Gen X and Boomers—have a little more life experience under their belts to weather this storm, it’s all wildly unknown for Gen Z.  Dreams are disrupted, the job market is non-existent and social lives are a struggle. It’s not life on pause, but life cancelled.  So, Gen Z is evolving into “Consummate Copers” to deal with the constant barrage of stressors thrown at them.

The Bedroom Is the New Boardroom

Gen Z consumers want to shop from brands that do good and make them feel good: 60% expect brands to give back to the world, 64% want a brand that is fun and 58% want a brand that cares about the same things they care about. During one YMS panel, one of the speakers noted they look for brands that show they care beyond profits. They want to see how inventive and innovative a brand can be because they are self-starters themselves. They won’t wait for permission and don’t need ideas to start from the four walls of a boardroom when they can create anything from their bedrooms. Unlike Gen X, which values collections of things, and Millennials, who value collections of experiences, they value collections of ideas and achievements.

The A Word Still Reigns  

Authenticity. Gen Z has had the internet at their fingertips their whole lives so they know how to dig up a company or person’s history. It’s important that brands stay true and authentic to themselves, otherwise it won’t resonate: 78% of young consumers believe it is somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent.  That means you need to know your audience like the back of your hand, but know your brand like the front of your hand. You can NOT act on something that is not true to your brand. Know your limitations, but don’t be afraid to experiment (what a scary proposition for a traditional brand!). And your purpose is a long game… not a campaign.

We’re passionate about the enthusiasms, concerns and opportunities of Gen Z. If you share our passion or would like to talk more, just let us know.

Angela Fernandez, our Senior Vice President, Strategic and Creative Planning and Engaging Gen Z lead, is based out of Ketchum’s Los Angeles office.


Lauren is a Managing Consultant with Ketchum Analytics in Chicago. In her four years at Ketchum, she has managed studies in a multitude of business verticals, including retail, CPG, food, home and energy. Lauren’s research experience is expansive, ranging from primary studies such as surveys and focus groups to media measurement, issues heat mapping and target audience profiling. Lauren has a passion for youth marketing, constantly looking for ways to help our clients reach the ever-changing Gen Z and Millennial generations. Lauren also recently received the Highly Commended recognition for Young Professional of the Year at the 2020 AMEC Awards.