Gen Z: Understanding Sad 16

February 18, 2020

Marketeers urged to react to sharp drop in happiness amongst 16-year-olds as new study highlights the need to understand Gen Z.

At the age of 16, teenagers shift from being excited, relaxed and happy 75% of the time, to just 45% of the time. These stark findings have been released as part of a study analysing the online habits of Gen Z and highlight the need for marketeers to understand key attitudinal shifts amongst those born between 1995 and 2010.

At this critical stage in young people’s development, feelings of happiness are replaced with rising anxiety, boredom and tiredness, with 84% claiming they feel overwhelmed by the work and activities they have to do (Ipsos).

Key drivers of these rapid mood changes are concerns regarding relationships, body image and health.

Commissioned by The Lucre Group in conjunction with ResearchBods, the study was conducted through a combination of quantitative research* and passive device monitoring**. It analysed 16,000 days’ worth of unique mobile phone usage data over a three month period.

Not only does our research emphasise the need for marketers to better understand this complex generation, it highlights the need for brands to revise their multi-channel mix and engage more emotively than ever before.

According to the study, between the ages of 10-15, it’s parents that children turn to for advice (51%), whereas 16-18-year-olds turn to their friends (32%) and perhaps more importantly, Google (32%).

Tamarind Wilson, Co-founder and Director at The Lucre Group, said: “Zoned out but clued up; this generation’s behaviours are already impacting brands and loved ones. At 2.5 billion people, Gen Z accounts for 32% of the global population with an estimated buying power of $600 billion, but within this generation there are polarised beliefs and behaviours depending on age. Not only does our research emphasise the need for marketers to better understand this complex generation, it highlights the need for brands to revise their multi-channel mix and engage more emotively than ever before.”

10-18-year-olds are now spending five hours per day online – and half of that is on social media channels. In total, 25% of Gen Z’s time online is spent on YouTube. The thriving video-sharing platform is by far the most popular channel for all 10-18-year-olds – 80% use it to fuel their knowledge, 68% use it to improve or gain skills and 80% proactively share videos on it.

However, TikTok is hot on YouTube’s heels, particularly amongst 10-15-year-olds, who say they spend around 10% of their browsing time on the short-form mobile video network.

The analysis also revealed that online freedom post-16 is exposing children to sources that they would have been less likely to access pre-16; the passive device monitoring showed that at 16, Gen Z view porn sites just as often as Netflix – statistics being largely, but not exclusively, driven by boys.

The study also highlighted differences in engagement between 10-15 and 16-18-year-olds, with GIFs and photos favoured amongst the former and Memes and photos amongst the latter. Use of Instagram and Snapchat also increases with age.

Some of the most important findings for marketeers, however, were related to 16-18-year-olds’ attitudes to brands.

The overwhelming majority (71%) are aware that brands advertise to them on social media without them realising it, and 73% view this as a negative. Of those individuals researched, 82% believe brands need to improve their advertising and/or marketing social media channels in order for them to engage.

There is also a marked increase at 16 in the extent to which children expect to be rewarded for spending more money with brands, taking pictures which support brands, wearing items provided by brands, being more environmentally responsible and being willing to receive marketing material.

Both Millennials and those in Gen Z are mobile-first, have shorter attention spans than older generations, are media multi-taskers, and tend to be early adopters of things that simplify their lives.

“However, there are key differences as well. Gen Z are not only increasingly resourceful, driven, competitive and independent, but they also put a high price on their privacy. In addition, they consume media very differently to Millennials. It’s these seemingly subtle differences that make an enormous difference,” Tamarind added.

Mary Thomas, marketing insights expert concluded: “”We have particularly focused on 16-18-year-olds within Gen Z – as these are the  ‘next up’ consumers, on the cusp of independent lives and navigating a state of flux as they transition to further education or the workplace, with increased spending power and control. Our research data confirmed that these Gen Z-ers have very distinct attitudes and behaviours, and in particular online consumption habits. Brands really need to get underneath these insights in order to engage with these young people effectively, as they do not conform to previous norms.”


*Quantitative research was commissioned by The Lucre Group and conducted by ResearchBods in November 2019. 1,200 10-18-year-olds were polled from across the UK.

**Passive metering was commissioned by The Lucre Group and conducted by Bonamy Finch between October 2019 – January 2020. The online behaviour of 160 18-year-olds was metered over 100 days.