Talkin’ ’bout my generation: Gen Z language and marketing

The joy of language is that, for all intents and purposes, it’s constantly shifting and changing.

Traditionally, we’ve seen a shocking amount of factors impact how we speak to one another, from physical moves prompting linguistic adaptations to huge leaps in technology causing us to change the way we communicate.

And there’s no stopping it. These shifts can be virtually undetectable – even when they are constantly happening – which makes it tricky work for marketers (especially copywriters) who need to pin down the ‘voice’ of a generation.

It’s kind of a vibe, tho.

You see, marketers are constantly thinking of how to bridge generational divides and tap into the current zeitgeist with their messaging. It takes research, guts, and a little bit of panache to get there – and get it right – as, unlike previous generations, Gen Zers are incredibly intuitive when it comes to the content they consume.

You see, it’s not enough to shoehorn the latest meme* into your marketing and hope it will stick.

*Aldi is a shining outlier and should not be considered in this experiment.

Much like Louis Theroux, Gen Z’ers can be quick when it comes to smelling in-authenticity –  increasing the likelihood of your carefully-considered campaign doing the rounds on an Instagram comedy page. Big yikes.

As such, this generation is one of the biggest and most interesting challenges facing marketers today. In this brief overlook, we’ll explore some of the ways Gen Z language is shaped and how we, as marketers, can tap into it.

So… who is Gen Z?

It may shock you to learn that the disembodied voice rattling on about Gen Z-Ers is, in fact, one of them.

I know, I’m just as surprised.

According to the Pew Research Center, Generation Z is one of the youngest target demographics, considering anyone born between 1997 to 2012 as part of its cohort. It still gives marketers plenty to play with, as the oldest of us are getting well into our post-education years while the youngest has just turned ten.

Straight off the bat, it’s obvious that a 25-year-old and someone who is literally finishing primary school will not speak the same. However, there are plenty of underlying factors that unite our language and the way we want to consume content.

We love to see it.

Digital natives and taste-makers

Linguistically, Gen Z is likely the first language that will have formed an existence before the modern internet. As a generational ‘cusper’, I can remember AOL dial-up internet and the switch from VHS to DVD, but I wouldn’t say my language clings on to anything before that sweet Wi-Fi connection.

As such, we are the ‘plugged in’ lot.

However, it’s important to note that digital language that shapes vocabulary trends will differ from the Millennial Generation that came just a few years prior. Our go-to platforms are somewhat different, which prompts a shift in the way we speak, even minutely.

For example, Gen Z considers meme creation to be a creative hobby, with memes posing as another language in itself. It often uses imagery or situational shorthand to convey a direct message, finding traction in the way 60% of us check Instagram and Tiktok on a daily basis.

As sociolinguist Nicole Holliday explains, ‘whoever is cool leads the change.’

This explains why Tiktok is termed a linguistic rabbit hole, thanks to a huge user base that turns regional trends into global phenomenons – making certain phrases quickly become a deeply embedded youth term that spans continents.

So while your social team will be up to their eyeballs making Tiktoks and browsing the latest hashtags, writers focusing on this sector could always do with spending a little time on these apps to familiarise themselves with the lingo.

Plus, the joys of video platforms are all that tasty context right at your marketing fingertips, stopping you from making any basic mistakes.

When in Rome, am I right?

Mind your tone

As Britney famously said, “Everybody’s been doing emails.”

Famously, Gen Z isn’t for it. Some linguistic professionals say it’s all down to formality, which doesn’t fit with this generation’s overall flair for dynamic communication. The same goes for tone.

According to field research, Zoomers have a cool sense of social codes. That extends to how capitals are used, where lowercase is chill, but popping a full stop at the end of a sentence removes any neutrality. However, putting a full stop at the end of ‘k.’ is like saying someone is in serious trouble.

Go figure.

You see, a lot of writing for Gen Z is about reading between the lines and understanding the overall semantics of a piece, trying to convey a feeling rather than sticking to strict rules and observations. A lot of successful campaigns feel directly relatable – which is a different brand to the Buzzfeed-esque relatability of the mid-2010s, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s this all-encompassing feel that makes Gen Z feel spoken to directly, even if your content is going to reach a million people.

Tap into that main character energy, if you will.

Social issues and making a difference in society

Although it doesn’t directly affect a vernacular, semantics are also important.

Generation Z focuses on ethical, unlimited consumption that seems unique (even if it isn’t) – when it comes to the products we buy, things we watch, and what we put in our bodies.

They will point-blank drop brands that do not align with causes they believe in, which is why it is more important than ever for companies and marketers to be mindful of the language they use. Ensuring it aligns with internal processes and company rulings is crucial, otherwise, it comes across as disingenuous.

This lot is incredibly savvy to the whiles and ways of businesses, especially larger corporations. It’s not enough to jump on a hashtag or bandwagon, much like the great green-washing movement, as Gen Z’s want proof that their purchases endorse real action.

Everyone jokes about getting ‘cancelled’ (another term in the Zoomer lexicon) but I imagine it’s no fun for the stressed marketer having to explain why their campaign has gone sideways.

Liking what you’re hearing?

At Embryo, we like to explore the little-less-known. It’s us living up to our motto of ‘we see what others don’t’ – something we do in spades.

We use expert insight to create amazing digital strategies and campaigns that speak directly to your target audience, including those pesky Gen Z-ers. Get in touch today.


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