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The Needs of Gen Z During Coronavirus

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

Chris Stefanyk, Head of Brand Partnerships, Wattpad
Chris Stefanyk, Head of Brand Partnerships, Wattpad

This year, as soon as a national emergency was declared in Canada due to COVID-19, Wattpad tapped into their U.S. Gen Z youth panel, Generation Wattpad, to find out how Coronavirus was impacting their lives. In a follow-up survey, they tapped into the panel once again in order to better understand how they are coping and to gain insights into their current content preferences, what approaches from brands are working (and aren't), what they plan to do differently once things return to "normal", and much more.

Brand Storytelling hosted Wattpad at the Elevate Summer Session to gain further insights into their findings as they relate to the needs of Gen Z youth during Coronavirus.

In the data collected earlier this year, Gen Z youth cited they most miss hanging out with friends and family and attending life events. One of the aspects of their lives most being reevaluated is education. Ahead of the Summer, many young people thought they were simply sticking out the rest of the school year and that at the beginning of a new school cycle, life and the world would return back to normal. Obviously, this has not been the case as we’ve seen many return to school remotely or brave the return to their College campuses. Another aspect of life being reevaluated by Gen Z is their relationship with their hobbies and fitness. Many are finding inspiration reading and consuming visual media. The most important element of Gen Z content is the provision of safe avenues of escapism.

For brands looking to stay engaged with this young audience, it’s valuable to provide long form content that creates a sense of escapism. “It’s time to re-evaluate your messaging,” said Chris Stefanyk, Head of Brand Partnerships at Wattpad. “We’ve all grown tired of advertising centered around ‘these uncertain times’.” Putting out advertising messages and content that is focused on positivity in order to surprise and delight is the way to go, according to the data gathered by Wattpad. Most importantly, it’s imperative to look for new ways to build Gen Z trust. With trust in short supply at the moment, building Gen Z trust is a great litmus test for being on the right side of authenticity and exercising some humanity as a brand.

“Gen Z is the most media savvy generation ever, said Stefanyk. “If a brand does something simply for the sake of marketing, Gen Z will expose them publicly in minutes.” People are examining more closely than ever the practices and corporate makeup of brands. We’ve all seen the best and worst examples of this play out over the course of a few months during the Summer, as tensions were stoked even further in the United States by protests drawing attention to the racial injustice and inequity in the country. Not every brand that spoke up did so in its own best interest, and not every brand that was quiet caught negative fire for their silence. Using your brand, product, and positioning, you can publicly commit to acting with purpose in a way that aligns with your brand’s actual values. Making actionable decisions that simultaneously better our society and endear the brand to the youngest customer base can only be achieved if done for the right reasons, especially ones that connect to the long-term vision and values of the brand rather than speaking up for the sake of being politically correct in the moment.

If the remaining question is how to achieve authenticity that doesn’t drive the most media-savvy generation away, the answer is simple: listen to Gen Z! They believe our views and beliefs make us who we are, and they expect to see that reflected in the brands they are loyal to. Gen Z brand builders are using their own personal brands and platforms to stand side by side with activist movements and causes, spreading messages of personal and cultural awareness and generally working to better the people they reach and related to. Advice? Partner with an individual that has already established an authentic and informed foundation. Consult with them. Work with them. And champion their causes.


About Jordan Kelley

Jordan Kelley is a versatile creative intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content.  He is a lover of stories and an avid consumer of visual media.


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