The Class of 2020 – A Generation Like No Other

September 10, 2020

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A couple of months ago, when I told people that I felt most sorry for 18-year olds during the pandemic, most looked at me with a puzzled expression. Why, they said – they have no real responsibilities, no loss of earnings, and besides they all got away with not doing any exams and will get the grades regardless.

However, recent decisions made by governing bodies saw a rounding algorithm applied to the U.K.’s university qualifying grading system, “A Levels,” as there were fears that teacher predictions would be too biased. The resulting debacle meant that many gifted students lost well-deserved places at university all because of a poorly managed algorithm rounding their scores far too harshly and without any consideration. Whilst this was hastily rectified, the incident quickly put it into sharp perspective for us and left an imprint on society, as teenagers have had a sudden and jarring realisation that those in authority do not always have the answers.

With many of these teens about to head to university, start apprenticeships or break into the working world, the impact of this summer will affect their decisions – from the media they consume to the brands they invest in and follow on social media.

Gen Z did not have the influence to control the major changes to their lives this summer – and they will not forget this. According to creative scientist Katherine Templar Lewis, we will see a rise in Gen Z questioning the decisions made by figures of authority and brands. We’ve witnessed a rise in societal care for employees, but Gen Z will take this one step further – 68% are actively interested in supporting public health efforts.

It’s not just about grades. The summer after graduation is one full of nostalgia for us all. From the infamous results night celebrations, lost weekends at festivals or simply having absolutely nothing to do but hang out with your mates is a memory we all look back on fondly. Those milestones are ones that teenagers will never get back – they might cram double the fun into next summer, but the anxiety of being indoors is likely to influence how they spend their time.

So, what does this mean for brands? Whilst we may have previously assumed that the distrust aimed at big corporations would make it harder to speak directly to Gen Z, it leaves a space for brands with authority to make a true difference. Our Gen C: Virtual Sanity report showed that over three-quarters of Gen Z want to see brands ensuring employee and consumer safety showing that there is a desire for brands to actually support communities.

Whilst freebies for the U.K.’s National Health Service staff are great and well-intentioned, this generation wants to see true change. Purposeful initiatives are the things this generation will come to expect having seen pivot power from corporations during COVID-19.

Whilst Gen Z accept not all brands can change the world, there is an opportunity to provide entertainment and soothe anxiety for those who are having to make important life decisions in the middle of a pandemic.

For this generation, the future is still unsure. Seventy-eight percent have admitted they are feeling the financial impact of the crisis, and for those who are still studying and yet to enter the workforce, this is already a source of anxiety. Whilst we may not feel it yet, this generation will be fighting harder for the things they love – and it’s up to us to give them tools to do it.

The FleishmanHillard Youth & Culture specialist team within Brand and Consumer Marketing launched its latest report, “Gen C: A New Virtual Sanity – Culture Over Consumption,”  with support from the agency’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice. It examines Gen C, a group not defined by age but by their connected lifestyle, and explores changing expectations of brands as we enter a new era – and what that means for brands today and tomorrow.