Why brands are embracing the language of Gen Z

Brands both large and small are leaning into a more subversive tone of voice to appeal to Gen Z audiences. But does the trend suggest we need to rethink our obsession with age demographics altogether?

The marketing world often heralds Gen Z as the first generation to have grown up entirely online. A staggering 99% of 17-year-olds in the UK now own a mobile phone, while six in ten children aged eight to 17 have more than one social media profile, according to Ofcom’s 2022 Media Use Report. As the digital landscape in which much of their daily lives play out develops at pace, it’s not surprising that the ways in which Gen Z communicate are rapidly evolving as well.

While in the past, words had slow, convoluted paths into pop culture, today a single social post can launch a new phrase into virality (see Insta account Depop Drama’s abbreviation of the cost of living crisis as ‘cozzie livs’). “What’s really different about Gen Z beyond any other generation is how multi-modal their communication is,” says Dr Karen Correia da Silva, strategy director at London-based communications agency the Digital Fairy. “It’s visual, it has text and sound, elements of nostalgia, indexing, remixing, it’s very memeable and very meme focused. The nature of the media being so rich means that the language takes on a new meaning.”