Insight: Seed study reveals emerging generation of digitally-jaded but ethically-minded students

Global student marketing agency, Seed has collated the views of tomorrow’s consumers by interrogating Gen Z student culture. The study, called What Matters To Us, questioned over one thousand students across the UK on their attitudes to everything from social media’s impact on mental health through to political activism.

With 77% of questioned students saying they would consider taking extended time out from social media, and a hardcore 10% saying they really need it, the study reveals an emerging subculture of students who are turning their backs on social media. 35% said they’d be willing to do a month-long social media detox, with a further 41% expressing interest in the idea subject to dependency levels and participation from friends.

As a truly digital generation that has never known life without the internet, 74% of contemporary students are feeling pressure to attain perfection both in the digital and physical worlds; a finding that correlates with all-time high levels of anxiety and depression amongst students. This suggests brands should start portraying more attainable models of beauty in their comms.

Seed’s managing director, Joe Brailsford, said: “It looks like there is a tide of social media scale-back on the horizon. And this poses a challenge to all the youth-focused brands that are heavily dependent on social media. The question is: are you going to help or hinder Gen Z on this journey of finding balance?

“And, are you considering how you can seamlessly integrate on-the-ground, real world experiences into your strategy? Similarly, if you’re a brand that student audiences look to for direction, are you brave enough to be a pioneer who encourages imperfections and new models of beauty?”

The study also highlights a common thread: the high importance that this generation places on ethics. With 60% of students saying they believe artists should be paid fairly for their music, there is evidence that students – once the masters of illegal ripping and downloading – are now more willing to pay.

This suggests that fair remuneration is another critical area for youth-focused brands. Likewise, 94% said it’s important for brands to be completely honest about their business practices. This demand for business ethics means brands need to be utterly transparent and ensure internal and external cultures are fully aligned.

Because today’s young people are likely to experience financial and environmental difficulties, they face the most uncertain future of any generation in modern times. This explains why 89% now consider themselves ‘pavement protestors’ or ‘keyboard warriors’; a finding that supports brands’ newfound hunger to take a political stand on societal issues.

Working alongside youth research agency Youthsite, the quantitative and qualitative study combined questionnaires with autoenthnographic videos for exploring the study’s more nuanced findings.

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