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Understanding Gen Z and Their Smartphones

Posted Apr 30, 2019

Brands have spent the past several years focused on millennials but the spotlight is starting to shine on Generation Z. As the first digitally native generation, constant innovation in technology has prompted those born between 1997-2012 to develop its own behaviors and preferences very different from previous age groups.

With overall spending of almost $100 billion, brands are looking to better understand Gen Z as their consumer habits start to take shape. While the generation enters adulthood, their spending power will only continue to grow as they enter the workforce and earn disposable income. Piper Jaffray and eMarketer recently studied U.S. teenagers’ digital preferences as interest peaks for this age group.

Teens Prefer Mobile over Desktop/Laptop
Unsurprisingly, teenagers spend a great deal of time on their phones. According to an eMarketer report, U.S. teens spend an average of 85 hours a month on their smartphones. Smartphone usage accounted for 62% of teens’ total mobile and desktop/laptop time, while mobile usage accounts for only 41% of adults’ total time. As smartphone technology continually evolves, Gen Z’s preference for mobile devices will likely continue to grow which will be imperative to advertisers who are looking to reach them.

iPhone Continues Reign Among Teens
Piper Jaffray completed its semiannual “Taking Stock With Teens” survey of 8,000 American high school students to assess their spending habits and brand preferences. A staggering 83% of 8,000 participants stated that they own an iPhone as of Spring 2019. This metric has steadily grown from 75% since 2016.

Gen Z’s loyalty to Apple products will continue as a record 86% of respondents said they plan to buy an iPhone as their next smartphone. This early brand loyalty can be attributed in part to services such as iMessage, Apple Music, and iCloud. Positive experiences with Apple products at an early age could lead to trust, habit formation, and brand loyalty that could last until adulthood.

Teens Just Want to Have Fun
Teens’ high usage of their mobile devices is due to the several resources it provides them. Smartphone users were polled about the categories of apps they have downloaded. Teens’ top downloaded apps are used for fun and entertainment with social networks, games, and music streaming being their top categories. Adults’ prioritize social networks as well but also download apps for more practical matters like weather and maps/navigation/search. Though this survey was aimed at current teenagers’ preferences, advertisers will need to pay close attention to Gen Z’s app usage as they transition into adulthood and possibly shift to utilitarian apps.

Authentic Advertising Is Key
The high volume of digital usage has teenagers’ viewership of television yielding to streaming platforms like Netflix, Youtube, and Hulu. Reaching teens through digital platforms could be the right path, but the messaging has a heavier impact. eMarketer’s report stated that 77% of teens said they like ads “that show real people in real situations,” while 65% said they dislike ads “that make life look perfect.” Additionally, 56% of respondents found ads to be more manipulative than informative. Glossy ads through influencers aren’t going to cut it anymore. Testimonials from relatable people will be more effective and authentic to the teen audiences.

Based on the recent studies on teenagers and their digital usage, it is undeniable that brand advertisers’ best access to Gen Z is through their smartphones. As they pull away from television and desktop computers, advertising through mobile platforms will be the essential method to reach this expanding demographic. Brands’ real challenge will be crafting ads that present authenticity for a savvy generation.

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