What is data worth to Gen Z?

Consumers’ feelings about brands collecting, storing and using their data can vary dramatically, with some more willing to make the trade-off than others, so it’s an area marketers should consider with care.

James Colborn, Global VP – Data, Teads, discusses the need to take into account the important views of the Gen Z demographic and place even further emphasis on delivering ethical and transparent experiences to ensure campaigns are relevant and effective.

I’m part of Gen X and, while I don’t speak for the generation as a whole, I view brands as functional, providing a service when I need something. For me, the use of my data with brands is purely transactional. If you demonstrate value, you will get my data. Beyond this, I don’t think about my data that much and only really care about it being used for nefarious or illegal activity (such as identity theft).  

With this in mind, let’s talk about a different generation: Gen Z. As someone who is naturally curious, imagine my interest when I was asked to host a discussion with a collection of highly talented and insightful Gen Z leaders in our advertising industry. I was intrigued by what their viewpoints would be on the use of data, how it is captured, consumer privacy and the use of data by brands.

I was expecting radical differences within the group, knowing that Gen Z audiences have the highest propensity of any generation to favour brands that share their values and support key social issues (such as mental health, DE&I and sustainability). I expected the use of data to be a contentious issue based upon this fact, and that consumer data usage by our industry has been opaque over the past few decades (to say the least) – an issue that has only been really addressed in the past few years through regulation and technology company privacy measures.

What followed was interesting, and unexpected. Despite their differences, the majority of our Gen Z group was in agreement:

  • Gen Z will freely give their data in return for a value exchange. Their data is not precious to them; they are happy to share it and, if it gives them a better experience, they are even positive towards giving it away. As Gen Z is the first purely digital generation, data isn’t as confusing as it might be to those used to dial-up internet and rotary phones. For them, data exchange is and always has been part of their lives.

  • Gen Z is, however, equally concerned about how their data is gathered. Despite being comfortable with all things digital, the gathering of data is still a bone of contention with Gen Z audiences. Transparency is key, and the group agreed that gathering data using clandestine measures was wholly inappropriate and damaging to brands’ reputations. 

The conversation about how data is being used was one of the best I’ve had in days, months and even years. 

  • Gen Z is worried about how data is being used to influence actions that may not be in the individual’s best interests. The potential for psychological manipulation of people using their data was a cause for concern, highlighting that the irresponsible use of personal data could get people into financial trouble and bring about greater mental health issues. If using data to encourage gambling is regulated, why isn’t the use of personal data for the manipulation of retail habits when the impact can often be the same? This was an even greater worry when artificial intelligence was added to the mix – along with its ability to go beyond current measures and make data usage even more harmful. 

  • Gen Z is worried that the value exchange for data will cause a greater social divide between socio-demographic groups. When posed with the question ‘For free access to a streaming service, would you select: a) partial ad-funded with some use of your data; b) total payment for no ads and no data; c) completely free with the use of your data?’, the outcome was fascinating. There was no consensus. As you might expect from a generation perceived to be more socially conscious, there was universal concern about the wealth divide removing consumers’ agency; their options when it comes to data sharing. In a cost-of-living crunch, with households looking at bills and monthly outgoings, could subscription services become something only the wealthy could afford, and therefore could data privacy become the preserve of the rich?

While this discussion took place among a small group of Gen Z, and by no means a sample big enough to make foregone conclusions, I left the conversation with a warning for everyday media buying and selling. We must discuss social issues more.

Today, we fill in privacy requests and requirements, but these often only address the mandated requirements of either regulation (like GDPR) or combat the changes brought about by companies like Apple and Google.

When we think about who is buying, and who we are selling our solutions to (Gen Z), we need to add in more social aspects to the discussion around how data is used, audiences are made and consumer solutions are funded.

James Colborn

James Colborn

Global VP – Data