Protein Agency on Generation Z’s Brand Skepticism

Photo: “Nike Food Processair” by artist Ava Nirui; "Mock advertisements designed as odes to classic Air Max ads - with punchy verbiage to match" 

Photo: “Nike Food Processair” by artist Ava Nirui; "Mock advertisements designed as odes to classic Air Max ads - with punchy verbiage to match" 

Founded in London in 1997, Protein is a multidisciplinary insights and creative strategy agency that has worked with some of the world’s leading brands like Nike, Google, and Anheuser-Busch. They recently released their 2017 Youth Report, exploring the ways that Generation Z perceives and relates to brands, with sometimes surprising results. This resonated with Culture™’s own interest in younger generations, particularly as they become the creators, decision-makers, and audiences of cultural collaborations. We invited Protein’s Insights Director Jamie McCracken to share a few key takeaways from this year’s study below. 

Why create a “Youth Report”?

We felt there wasn’t a report out there that truly captured the independent, open and progressive attitude of today’s youth. Everything we read reduced them to their devices and framed everything as a result of a “mobile first mindset” - we felt readers were being mislead and the youth were being misrepresented.

The report focuses on how the youth are carefully balancing their demand for truth with the enjoyment they derive from embracing the irreverent and the fake.

Born woke, informed, inquisitive and self-educating with a heightened awareness of race, gender and politics – they’re coming-of-age faster than any generation before them. Intuitively cynical of big brands, global media and the establishment, they're searching out the authentic as well as fetishising the fake; pursuing personal progression and communal creativity on one side, whilst subverting reality and tearing down social constructs on the other. 

Emerging Cultural Theme - Branded Existence

Everything from the intimate to the generic is now a branded experience. From beds (Casper), healthcare (Oscar), wellness (Headspace) and period panties (Thinx), to office space (WeWork), Radio (Know Wave), transportation (CitiBike) and now even the office water cooler (Slack). Every product, service, interaction or transaction has become aggressively branded to generate desire, fascination and aspiration. This is having a profound effect on the way in which the youth are building their own personal brand of self.

Resulting Youth Reaction - Fake is the New Craft

The branding of progressive culture has commoditised it. The youth are being priced out of access to sub-cultural interests, experiences and products, and as a response, they’re drawing on makeshift sensibilities to reinstate their relevance. By co-opting the imagery and language of hegemonic institutions that have historically dictated the terms of cultural status, youth are recontextualising conventional symbols of wealth, prestige and intellect previously held sacred.

Fake LV bags are touted unabashedly, satirical logos of media companies are emblazoned onto caps and politicians are butchered (or idolised) into popular memes. Previously, people differentiated themselves by collecting niche items, but with the ever increasing speed of product dissemination and the rising cost of access, the youth are taking it upon themselves to differentiate their purchases from others. A resistance movement in itself, fake is a means of circumventing traditional barriers of entry constructed largely by the corporations that profit off of them.

Sign up for free to download the whole Youth Report (and other studies) here, and get in touch with Protein’s team to learn more about their work.