Free stuff? No thanks. Gen Z want access over exclusivity

Megha Sthankiya, Senior Culture Strategist at The Marketing Store highlights why, for Gen Z, access is more appealing than exclusivity, and a powerful marketing tool in itself.

Megha Sthankiya

Senior Culture Strategist The Marketing Store


I was on Clubhouse recently, the latest app born out of lockdown, currently causing chaos on Twitter, when I heard a Gen Z influencer talk about his frustrations working with brands.

 “I kept asking about job opportunities” he said, “but they just kept chucking free stuff at me instead.”

His argument reminded me of a soundbite from a recent piece of research I did for a client, where a young fashion designer eagerly asked me, “can you help me get my designs in front of Stormzy?”

Whilst my own powers don’t extend to having Stormzy on speed dial, yet, what I’ve realised is that ‘free stuff’ isn’t as thrilling to the younger generation as brands perceive it to be. In fact, I’d go as far to say, based on my extremely thorough and extensive Instagram Story watching skills, influencers aren’t even bragging about free stuff as much as they used to. I haven’t been jealous in months!

Jokes aside, when you look at the data, it’s no surprise Gen Z feel this way. They are, after all, the most entrepreneurial generation yet. In The Marketing Store’s recent If Not Now When? report, we discovered that 54% of Gen Z have made money from something they’ve made and for one in 20, their main source of income comes from entrepreneurial pursuits.

So, what do you offer people who are more concerned with their own brand than getting free stuff from other brands?

When properly wielded, access is a powerful marketing tool.

Megha Sthankiya

Access is a ray of hope

Through our award-winning Gen Z engagement platform, Culture Labs, we found the answer: access.

We learned that they favour access over exclusivity because their lives are currently one big roadblock. From degrees rendered useless to career ambitions placed on indefinite hold, access, in the form of work opportunities, upskilling and resources, offers a ray of hope and a chance at much-needed success.

This insight led to O2 teaming up with the UK’s leading black radio platform, No Signal, to create the #NSMasterclass, a three-part content series designed to open the doors to the music industry for young talent. We launched on 22nd February 2021, and initial social listening proves the rules to resonating with Gen Z have changed; access is king.

O2 aren’t the only ones shifting the focus of their Gen Z initiatives. A core pillar of our work with the adidas Football Collective, adidas’s purpose initiative, is to turbocharge the marketing efforts of grassroots football communities by giving them access to the brand’s athletes, sponsored clubs, and in-house talent.

When properly wielded, access is a powerful marketing tool.

So, go easy on the free pizza. Don’t waste your money on sending free sunglasses to influencers with cupboards full of unopened PR packages. Open the doors to your brand, and your resources, skills, and career pathways, instead. This is how you resonate with Gen Z.

Guest Author

Megha Sthankiya

Senior Culture Strategist The Marketing Store


Megha Sthankiya is a British-born South Asian woman, moonlighting as a Senior Culture Strategist by day, and as a curious consumer by night. Megha sees culture as a network of ideologies, with her purpose to create better ideologies that elicit joy in audiences and grow culturally relevant brands. At The Marketing Store, she leads cultural strategy for brands including adidas, McDonald’s and O2.

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Gen Z