13 July 2016
What Pokemon Go Teaches Us About Generation Z
By Yan Moukoury, Advertising Director

This summer has offered a strong rebuke to those who complain that kids and teens never leave the house to enter the great outdoors. Thanks to the hit Pokémon Go game, they are now walking around everywhere in search of characters and other rewards via the smartphone app’s scavenger hunt-style game, even reportedly stumbling on a dead body or tripping and falling as they succumb to the daze of the augmented reality game.

The vision of teens traipsing through public places staring at their smartphones may be a defining memory of this summer. Or it might be a vision of things to come.

Though Pokémon Go has its share of Millennial users, this appears to be a Generation Z-driven phenomenon. As such, it offers clues about how this demo will assert itself over the next few years which could provide insight into future marketing phenomena.

A portrait of Gen Z, the first generation raised with smartphones

As the oldest Millennials head into their late 30s, marketers and researchers are taking a close look at the next generation, which ranges in age from about 5 to 20. Such youngsters, we are told, are like “Millennials on steroids” because they embrace social media and mobile to the nth degree.

Most importantly perhaps, they are the first generation to be raised with smartphones. While the iPhone was introduced nine years ago, the average kid gets her first smartphone at age 10.3.

Viewing a smartphone as sort of bodily appendage from an early age has some effects. For instance, the Center of Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas, notes that Gen Zers are more into personal, immediate social media platforms like Snapchat and messaging rather than public forums like Facebook and Twitter.

What Pokémon Go shows us

Gen Z’s particular taste in media explains why Pokémon Go’s popularity took so many by surprise. The companies behind Pokémon Go — Niantic Labs, Nintendo and Pokémon Co. — haven’t put much marketing muscle behind the launch, except for a trailer released in September. Nevertheless, when Pokémon Go hit Google Play and Apple’s App Store on July 6, by the next day, it was the top game on each. Earlier this week, it had been downloaded more than 7.5 million times. What can we learn from all this?

Messaging apps are a prime driver: Given Gen Z’s propensity for mobile media, it’s safe to assume that a lot of the word spread on messaging apps and Snapchat rather than via Twitter and Facebook. That may be the trend for the next few years as well; by 2018 there will be about 2 billion people worldwide using messaging apps, eMarketer estimates. The use of such apps grew 31.6% in 2015.

Nostalgia rules: You might think that people born in the 1990s or 2000s are too young for nostalgia. Wrong! As BuzzFeed has taught us, even teens like to think back to simpler times. Teens are selective, though.Pokémon, a hit game which launched in the late 1990s, fits the bill.

Mobile gaming is everything: Gen Z takes their phones with them everywhere and uses them as portals to explore the world. Yes, we all do that, but they do it even more. A recent study boy Ooyala, for instance, found 57% of GenZers preferred watching TV on a mobile device to TV. In addition to watching video, young consumers are also playing mobile games: A 2014 study of Gen Z found that 66% listed gaming as their main hobby.

Since Generation Z appears to be more reserved than Millennials, it may be harder to get a handle on them. Unless you’re plugged into their world of messaging apps and mobile gaming, you may miss out.

However, take note: as young gamers leave their homes and set out in public to play Pokémon Go, they are in many ways also making a public debut, expressing new ways of interacting with technology and the world.

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