Thought Leadership

Are agencies and brands guilty of unfairly stereotyping Generation Z?

Age related marketing continues to split opinion amongst brands and agencies.

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Money-driven and ambitious yet unafraid to set expectations at work. Social media-obsessed yet conscious about digital wellbeing. A lack of attention span, desperate for quick reward yet prioritise purpose and meaning from brand engagements. Stereotypes around Gen Z are filled with contradictions. 

Engaging Gen Z is a challenge on the mind of almost every marketer but in the bid to understand young people agencies and brands can fall into looking to stereotypes to build connections. 

While there’s no denying that some stereotypes are born from truth (the world is becoming slowly more digital and it's proven that covid has contributed to a society-wide shift in attitudes) age isn’t a synonym for similarity. 

There are almost 2 billion people considered to be Gen Z at current. It's impossible to think that 2 billion people think the same. To rely on age-related stereotypes is to ignore the breadth of a Gen Z audience. 

While stereotypes can be useful to locate a baseline of similarity, we asked industry experts are brands and agencies guilty of unfairly stereotyping Gen Z?

Rory Natkiel

Gareth Hall Sid Lee.jpg

Head of Strategy

Sid Lee

If you want the short answer: yes, agencies and brands are guilty of stereotyping Gen Z.

But only in so much as they are guilty of stereotyping any generation. The evidence has been there for some time that, when it comes to marketing, generational groupings are about as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

BBH Labs did some great analysis of TGI data to show that daily nut eaters have more in common with each other than any grouping based on date of birth. And, if anything, Gen Z have less in common with each other than any other generation.

Of course there are certain differences in attitudes and behaviours that are interesting, and perhaps noteworthy. For example, someone under the age of 24 is more likely to be open-minded about gender identity than someone over the age of 65. But it varies massively from country to country, that attitude isn't exclusive to Gen Z, and there are many within Gen Z who aren't as liberal.

And while it's true that young people are more likely to be gamers than older people, one look at Global Web Index data shows that only 39.5% of those aged 16-24 worldwide have played a game online with their friends in the last year. A majority of Gen Z don't game at all. 

What we do know is that people have more in common with those who share their interests than those of a similar age. Research from Kings College London from 2021 found that Baby Boomers and Gen Z show very similar levels of concern over climate change, and willingness to change their lifestyles to address it. It's likely that a 20 year old environmentalist will have more in common with a 70 year old environmentalist, than another 20 year old who's a right-wing leaning motoring enthusiast.

So be wary of any brief that wants to target Gen Z. Look for the attitudes and behaviours that genuinely do unite the target audience for your brand or product and you'll have a much better chance of success.

Aliya Gilmore

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Cultural Strategist

CPB London

Oh, absolutely. As a Gen Z, I always feel as though agencies and brands regard me and my generation with a wary sort of fear and confusion (which to be fair isn’t always totally unwarranted.) There are the classic stereotypes that get thrown our way. We’re lazy, we’re all mentally ill, we’re always on those phones all day, and crucially for marketers – we’re impossible to market to. 

I’d say that the last one is absolutely wrong. What marketers have to remember about Gen Z is that they’ve seen almost every phase of marketing. They understand all the tips and tricks that brands have been using in the industry’s lifetime, thanks to their always-online exposure to ads, greenwashing, pinkwashing, and more. They (and I do mean we) distrust advertising, having grown up in a landscape of Pepsi’s out of touch Kendall Jenner ad and fast fashion greenwashing scandals. That’s one of the key reasons that this generation is so hungry for authenticity from brands – they want to be able to trust them. Marketers need to prove to Gen Z (me, them, us!) that they’re putting their money where their mouth is to support the causes and values that we care about, because then we will support them with the same youthful fervour we do everything else. 

Chris Maho

Chris, The Romans - Headshot.jpeg

Senior Account Executive

The Romans

I believe that brands and agencies are rightly – rather than unfairly – feeding into the stereotyping Gen Z. Yes, we know that we are all individuals with different values and characteristics - not all of us are lazy (I worked two jobs at 19), not all of us constantly push back with our seniors, and not all of us ask for the precious work/life balance in a rude way.

However, some ‘stereotypes’ have helped us Gen Zers to identify what the culture of our generation looks like – what we read, what we produce, the events that we attend, the content that we consume…it is all based on detailed marketing strategies that have been developed by tapping on those said stereotypes, which help us identify whether something is for us or not.

A good example – bearing in mind all the above work-related things that I mentioned not all of us do – is DeAndre Brown, also known as The Corporate Baddie. DeAndre’s content reflects the type of employee that comes to your mind when you think of a Gen Z. DeAndre has secured deals with brands like Dell, LinkedIn and Toyota creating content that (amazingly) fits into the Gen Z stereotypes, and brands know this when booking him for paid content. 

So yes, brands are promoting ways to stereotype Gen Z, and I love that for us – within reason.

Molly Holmes

Molly Holmes, IMA-HOME.png

Strategy Executive


Vibrant, opinionated, progressive, lazy, and loud. All words that are frequently thrown around when describing Gen-Z. But isn't that all young people? Weren’t we all once loud, proud and full of the urge for adventure and discovery?  

Yes, Gen-Z are different to those that came before us but we’re also just young people. I feel as advertisers we're guilty of stereotyping everyone and if we really want to tap into consumers wants and needs, we need to get more specific than top level generational classifications. In a study of 400 lifestyle and behaviour statements by BBH Labs, they found that generations are less cohesive than Guardian readers, introverts and people who floss…  

So, it's important to be wary of all generational generalizations and dig a little deeper. Gen-Z may have a lot of shared opinions and yeah, they may be more diverse, active and socially savvy than those that came before them. But they are also full of contradictions and are screaming to be treated like individuals.  

So, next time you feel Gen-Z is the right fit for your brand, ask yourself why and then do that another 5 times. Really drill down into the type of Gen-Z you want to target, and things will get far more interesting. 

Jessica Garlick

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Senior Strategist


We like stereotypes because they make us feel like we know more about the audiences we want to affect. 

Gen Zs are environmental warriors. 

Aren’t patriotic. 

Don’t care about money. 

Hate ads. 

Of course demographics are useful for plotting broad trends, but we get into trouble when we believe in sweeping demographic generalisations.

Harry Guild via BBH Labs created the ‘group cohesion score’, a measure to calculate the likemindedness of a group. All demographic groups tested were less like minded than groups like nut eaters or people who floss. 

Basically, saying “Gen Zs love X” or “Gen Z’s aren’t Y” should get you the kind of looks you’d get if you proclaimed “Nut eaters believe in X” or “People who floss hate Y”.

Generational “truths” only feel like truths because our industry talks about them so much. Step out of the marketing bubble and they barely exist. When I joined advertising most of them felt totally alien. We’re environmental warriors? But we drove the baked Feta challenge on TikTok. And the charcuterie board trend. Not to mention the fast fashion #Haul one. We fund PLT. 

Most of my friends don’t even know whether they’re a Gen Z or a millennial. 

I don’t know if lazily stereotyping Gen Zs is unfair on Gen Zs - I’d bet they don’t much care. But it is unfair on our brands. People born between 1997 and 2012 account for over 40% of global consumers and their spending power is growing up with them. So assuming that youngness equals sameness and ignoring nuance could cost a pretty penny. 

A good alternative? Strive for authentic insight with universal appeal over lazy insight we assume has demographic appeal. And know that inconsistent and contradictory findingings mean we’re getting closer to a true reading of who Gen Z are.

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