What you see ≠ what you get: Generation Z and their Perfection Paradox

Marketing to generation Z

The author(s)

  • Pauline van der Wel UU, the Netherlands
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Pauline van der Wel"Think you know Gen Z? I am almost a Gen Z myself (born 1994), but each time I think I am starting to figure them out, they throw a new surprise at me..."

Pauline van der Wel,
Qualitative Researcher and blogger at Ipsos

GenZ and their love for appealing visuals

Generation Z girl I didn’t expect to be so surprised and intrigued by what she told me.

Yesterday, I interviewed Merel (14) to understand what differentiates Generation Z and how brands could tap into that. Being almost a GenZ myself (I was born 2 years too early), I didn’t expect to be so surprised and intrigued by what she told me. I asked her how she decides which pictures to show on Instagram.
Her answer was: “Well, it goes like this. One of my friends notices nice flowers or an old front door somewhere in the area. We cycle there and take pictures of each other. It usually takes some time before everyone is satisfied with how their eyes, lips and legs look on the picture. Next, we go home and judge each other’s pictures. I always ask my friends which picture makes my butt and face look best, and that’s the one I post. Of course, I first put some filters on, always the same, so my whole feed looks as an appealing whole.”

Authenticity vs perfection

So, GenZ’s love looking good on pictures. That comes as no surprise, right? Right, but what confused me was that this seemed to contradict with common knowledge about this generation. Several studies claim that the majority of GenZ’s prefer the authentic / ’the real’. They like to see real people, like those in Zeeman’s underwear commercial, rather than perfect models in photoshopped campaigns: “These images just raise the bar too high, they make me feel insecure.”

Their Perfection Paradox

What I learned after interviewing several GenZ’s is that authenticity and real people are indeed highly valued among this age group, but that this appreciation also has its limits. Though they love to show their authentic selves, they also know that pimples do not generate likes, and neither do old clothes, fuzzy hair or an ordinary cheese sandwich. In other words: reality outplays perfection, but appeal outplays reality.
It has become clear to me that GenZ’s are very self-conscious about this logic. Sascha (18) showed me: “Photoshopping a pimple is done in a few seconds with the pimple bust app that I bought. I know that I am not the only one using these tools. I am fully aware that what I see on social media is as ‘natural’ as my own pictures.”
And Merel (14) says: “I like looking at pretty things, though I know most of it is fake: a well-shaped body, pretty face, nicely styled goods or fancy clothes.” Jane (15) says:“My friends order a salad, not because they like it or because they care so much about being healthy, but because it looks nice on Instagram and shows that they are very conscious about food.”

Generation Z two girlsHow to tap into this as a brand?

The most important thing I’ve learned is that ‘pretty’ is the key word.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that ‘pretty’ is the key word. The number of visual stimuli the brains of GenZ’s must process every day makes it very hard to stand out as a brand and to grab their attention. Therefore, a (commercial) picture or video needs to be visually appealing in the sense that it is well-styled, showing freshness and social engagement. But, as I said: perfection is not all. Below the surface there is still that need for authenticity. So, make sure GenZ’s can identify with the people in your commercial, as if they could encounter them in their daily life.


Disclaimer: for privacy reasons, names in this article are fictitious and the photos contain models.

Share your thoughts

I am curious to find out what your thoughts and experiences are in connection with this generation. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment!

Join my ‘Marketing to GenZ’ workshop

Together with my colleague I facilitate 3 meet-and-greets with GenZ’s as part of a GenZ workshop during September and October 2018. These sessions include the latest insights on this generation and views from experts in the field of generation research. Check out the Ipsos this webpage for more information or contact me.

Pauline van der Wel
Pauline van der Wel | Pauline.vanderwel@ipsos.com


The author(s)

  • Pauline van der Wel UU, the Netherlands

Media & Brand Communication