On the Runway: Luxury Brands Seek a Way Into Generation Z

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On the Runway: Luxury Brands Seek a Way Into Generation Z

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On the Runway

By ELIZABETH PATON

Millennials, the much-studied generation whose behavior has seduced and puzzled luxury brands in equal measure, are no longer the sole focus for companies hoping to attract new customers: Generation Z, the label given to those born since 1995, is the latest target audience, thanks to their future purchasing power and the influence they hold over the spending of their parents and grandparents.

Unlike their older peers, who have watched technology gradually embed itself in their daily lives, members of Generation Z are known as “digital natives”: those who cannot remember what it is like to not have a cellphone permanently attached to their hand.

“This is an impulsive group who will turn adverts off, call BS really easily and hate being talked down to,” said Meridith Valiando Rojas, co-founder and chief executive of DigiTour Media, a Los Angeles-based group that has led the way in a booming events trend in live entertainment. “They know there is always something else out there as they have always had that information at their fingertips. That is hard for many brands to contend with.”

DigiTour Media hosts festivals where social media stars step out from behind their bedroom webcams and meet their teenage fan base. The festivals showcase people who have created mass followings on YouTube, Instagram and Music.ly, the lip-syncing app with over 100 million monthly users and that anyone over 21 is unlikely to have heard of. DigiTour Media group now puts on approximately 200 events a year, comprising both DigiFests (one- or two-day showcases) or DigiTours (groups of performers who rove the United States). The combined reach of the acts is 350 million people.

Meridith Valiando Rojas, left, co-founder and chief executive of DigiTour Media, speaking with Vanessa Friedman, The Times chief fashion critic, at the newspaper’s Global Leaders’ Collective conference in Washington.

Mike Cohen for The New York Times

“It is all about bringing the internet to life — their internet to life,” said Ms. Valiando Rojas at The New York Times’s Global Leaders’ Collective conference, held in Washington this past week. A former music executive, she recognized in 2010 that there was no equivalent of a music festival on the market for younger teenagers. She also saw that when it came to hormone-fueled popularity, 21st-century social media stars had as much clout as the biggest boy bands.

“Generation Z are the most influential group of consumers right now. Whether or not they are buying luxury today, they will be tomorrow,” Ms. Valiando Rojas said. “So understanding where they think, where they go and how to advertise to them without rubbing them up the wrong way is crucial.”

That more and more people are looking for experience-led luxury purchases over products is another factor in why brands should be looking to build relationships with this demographic, both on and off their phones.

There is a distinction between Generation Z and millennials in how they behave within their social media communities. Millennials are keen to be unique, but members of Generation Z want to be popular and part of a group. Having grown up immersed in social media, members of Generation Z define their identity by how many “Likes’’ they get on Facebook or how many followers they have. They see their online personalities as extensions of themselves

“That is why these influencers are so important: Teenagers today trust these voices,” Ms. Valiando Rojas said, adding that she booked acts based on their popularity and what the followers of her company’s social media accounts suggested. She pointed to Baby Ariel (age 16), Jacob Sartorius (age 14) and the Dolan Twins (age 16) as some of the biggest names to watch.

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