— Lisa Berardi (@lbsi0561_lisa) September 16, 2022
Weeks before Queen Elizabeth II passed, the buzz in Europe was over Finnish Prime Minister Senna Marin’s partying.
You probably remember seeing the story. Marin is 36 years-old – technically, a Millennial – and the youngest nationwide leader in Europe. She also likes to party. And she was caught by an onlooker in the throes of throwing down, creating something of a controversy, mostly in countries outside of her native Finland.
In the wake of this scandal, Marin ended up apologizing for her behavior, and even took drug tests to ensure her critics – many of whom could not pass the same tests – that she was exuberantly partying without the aid of illegal substances or pharmaceuticals.
The reactions to this alleged affront to governmental leadership generated headlines like this one around the world:
It was published by BBC writer, Elsa Maisman, who pointed out that Marin was literally acting her age…or generation with her behavior.
And it’s interesting that more typical behavior from the world’s heads of states – shooting animals for sport, for example – is deemed perfectly acceptable, especially because it’s been happening for centuries and it is most likely to be male leaders doing the hunting.
Come to think of it, government heads have been attending parties over the years. Perhaps they’ve been more discreet about their gatherings, and they were fortunate to be partaking in this behavior in an age before everyone carried a camera…that is, smartphones.
As noted, Marin was contrite after being caught doing the same things many of the rest of us do. But she also offered up this perspective:
“During these dark times, I need some job, light, and fun as well.”
And that sums up her dilemma, but perhaps, most importantly – ours. As Xers, Boomers, and members of the Greatest Generation (those born before 1946), many of us struggle to understand the behavior of those younger than us.
And as Queen Elizabeth II is put to rest today, it might dawn on us she was always discreet enough to avoid the parties like the one Marin attended. (Her grandchildren, for example, probably not.) After all, she defined the Greatest Generation.
Since this “incident” occurred, stirring up the world press as well as tongue-waggers everywhere, I have been thinking long and hard about young people and their place here in America and in the world.
And in order to do this, I have to purposefully go counter to my admonition in today’s blog post title. Some generalization about Generation Z would be most welcome in radio broadcasting circles, an industry that has had precious little to do with them up to this point.
Gen Z – like teens over time – are often misunderstood by their parents, their grandparents, and their elders. That is true in broadcast radio where the industry has never made much of an effort to include them in strategic planning.
Like thirtysomething Marin, they are frequently criticized for any number of offenses. A few weeks back, I wrote a post about the “quiet quitting” phenomenon, and received comments that pointed fingers at Gen Z’s for their lack of work ethic, their quest for a “work-life balance,” and their desire to continue doing their jobs from home rather than come into the physical office as has traditionally defined the workplace.
I thought about this new “generation gap,” and then ran across a story in Fortune by Steve Mollman about the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and longtime “shark.” The title jumped out at me:
In the piece, Cuban (a boomer himself), defends today’s teens, also surrounded by technology as he was when the Internet first began to influence our worlds, both real and virtual.
On the one hand, he criticizes boomers for their legacy of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, as well as the current state of the world.
Cuban sees Z’s as a generational cohort that has already had to confront life and society-changing events that could only be described as cataclysmic.
Consider the culture shocks of the past several years; the 9/11 attack, the Great Recession, political divisiveness approaching Civil War proportions, climate change, and of course, COVID 19 and its reverberations.
In the Cuban story, the Center for Generational Kinetics is quoted, noting the pandemic “is the generation-defining experience for Gen Z and will impact them for the rest of their lives.”
While we’ve all been affected in myriad ways, keep in mind these teens had to cope with the same sweeping effects as their adult counterparts have – at a much younger age.
Their educational worlds have been rocked more profoundly than any other generation perhaps in world history. Not only were they relegated to telelearning during COVID, the quality of their learning has been drastically altered. They were also the last to be approved for the vaccine, often sent to school as small human litmus tests.
Many have missed out on the social aspects of school, whether it’s K-12 or the college level. And let’s not forget the latest rash of school shootings, impacting their ability to simply participate in their educational endeavors, something every other generation in America has enjoyed.
If you remember hearing parents or grandparents recounting their experiences with the Great Depression in the 1930’s, and World War II a decade later, you might have some understanding and insight into what today’s teens have already endured on the road to adulthood. These events, catastrophes, and milestone moments affect people throughout their lifetimes.
Is it no wonder, then, their incidence rate of anxiety and depression is so high? Medical News Today wrote a story back in March that deserved our attention?
The story is based on a medical review by Dr. Matthew Boland, written by Alicia Sparks Akers. While acknowledging the mental toll taken by COVID, the authors note Gen Z’s are more likely than older generations to seek professional health to help them cope with the stress.
A research study from the American Psychological Association is aptly named “Stress in America Survey.” It reports high stress levels overall, complemented by a rise in suicide rates, the separation/deportation of immigrant and migrant families, and high levels of sexual harassment and assault.
Given Gen Z’s huge size and diversity, why isn’t this influential group being more thoroughly researched by the radio broadcasting industry? Why will radio most definitely fall behind in measuring and marketing to a mass audience that is close in size to the “mother of all generations,” Baby Boomers?
Their media use is off the charts. And it should come as no surprise that radio broadcasters will be sure to miss the phenomenon that can ultimately sustain the industry if it doesn’t adapt its strategy.
There is nothing to believe Gen Z’s will ever come back to radio at some point down the road, even if radio does everything it can to cater to them. Most were never listening to begin with.
But given that content creation knows no bounds, other media, platforms, and collaborations are all within the realm of possibility.
Over this past weekend, the New York Times ran a telling story, “For Gen Z, TikTok is the New Search Engine.”
Like the title of the story implies, tech journalist Kalley Huang talks about the next level of mass disruption in media, thanks to today’s teens. They are using TikTok as a key search and discovery engine, supplanting the long-time leaders in the space.
And as you’d expect, that news has the incumbent on edge. Google SVP noted this interesting research tidbit at a tech event this summer:
“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place of lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”
Along the way, Huang quotes 22 year-old Jayla Johnson who articulates her use of TikTok in ways that should scare the bejesus out of Google’s brass:
“(TikTok) knows what I want to see. It’s less work for me to actually go out of my way to search.”
For any medium or platform to ignore Gen Z’s at this point is tantamount to turning away from the climate crisis and its impacts.
For starters, radio broadcasters (with collaborative help from funding groups like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on the public radio side to the NAB/RAB for the commercial radio community) need to come together, something rarely done. Maybe Nielsen plays a role here, too.
It might lay out like this:
- Recognizing the challenge
- A commitment to focusing on Gen Z
- Conducting relevant, comprehensive research
- Devising a strategy
- Searching out collaborations/partnerships
- Implementation industry-wide or via individual companies/players
The central pathway, “follow the money,” is always great advice for identifying opportunities.
In this case, recognizing this moment in the entertainment and information cycle is of paramount importance. It’s staring at us in neon lights.
Gen Z is a collection of consumers like every generation that’s come before it.
In this case, a large generation with a unique set of experiences, challenges, and opportunities.
Continuing to ignore them would be a fatal flaw that would seal radio’s road to irrelevance.
Us Boomers, in particular, would be wise to stop overgeneralizing Gen Z’s, and make every effort to understand and embrace them.
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