Youth marketing
min read

Marketing to Gen Z? It's all about subcultures

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
September 25, 2023
Last updated
January 19, 2024

What this article covers

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Gen Zers are fluid, fragmented, and independent. They're an undefinable generation who aren't afraid to be themselves and favour the brands that stand up for what's right and champion authenticity.

It's no secret that Gen Z's internet consumption skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic - after all, what else did they have to pass the time aside from downloading TikTok and baking banana bread?! Some of the biggest and most influential trends and creators went viral during this time, and it changed Gen Z culture forever.

With this increased internet consumption, Gen Zers across the world began to dive deeper into their online communities, discovering who they really are and what they're really interested in. In fact, our research revealed that 24% of this generation feel like they can be themselves more online.

And this is where subcultures come in, something that's absolutely key when it comes to engaging young people and tapping into their spending power. In this blog post, we explore Gen Z subcultures, sharing what's hot right now and how brands can get involved when it comes to marketing strategies.

What are subcultures?

Subcultures are groups of people who differentiate themselves from the norms and values of mainstream culture. For Gen Z, this means they're looking for community-orientated experiences, ones that encourage them to connect through their passions and interests.

We recently caught up Michelle Green, Manager of Insights and Cultural Intelligence at Paramount, about the importance of Gen Z subcultures. She shared: "By really honing in on their emotions, those vibes that [Gen Z] are feeling will really connect them together."

Young Gen Z man looking away from the camera

Why are Gen Z subcultures important?

So why exactly should subcultures be a focus for youth marketers? Well, subcultures give young people the opportunity to understand who they are and where they belong in the world, and as such have become the new demographics for the generation.

When it comes to results, targeting smaller communities will lead to a higher engagement rate, as these audiences are ready and waiting to eagerly consume any content that aligns with their values. Mass marketing no longer works: it's about targeting smaller groups.

The evolution of subcultures

Culture, particularly Gen Z culture, is constantly changing, and sometimes it can feel hard to stay on top of it. 

We've experienced Tumblr, which was eventually taken over by 'stan culture' (think Beyonce's Beyhive and Lady Gaga's Little Monsters). Now, thanks to the evolution of social media, digital creators are going viral for extremely niche content, which then can develop into thousands of subcultures. This shift is, Michelle shared with us, "more about filling those emotions".

What are the most popular Gen Z subcultures right now?

Our research revealed the leading Gen Z aesthetics to be:

  1. Minimalist - 36% (UK), 41% (US)
  2. Soft - 30% (UK), 36% (US)
  3. Vintage - 19% (UK), 27% (US)
  4. 90s - 18% (UK), 23% (US)
  5. Baddie - 12% (UK), 20% (US)
  6. Y2K - 13% (UK), 17% (US)
Young Gen Z woman looking down at her phone.

Honourable shoutouts also go to:

E girl

Drawing inspiration from the emo, anime, goth, and K-pop worlds, e girls are easy to identify thanks to their cutesy look, bright hair, bold makeup, and gaming accessories. They're also defying the stereotypical idea of an influencer by preferring time online, alone in their bedrooms.

Cottagecore

Cottagecore celebrates simple living and aesthetics. The look embraces neutral colours, the vintage look, and 'granny chic'.

Coastal grandmother

All about celebrating natural beauty and drawing inspiration from coastal landscapes, the coastal grandmother aesthetic is defined by soft colour palletes, linen, and spending as much time as possible by the beach.

Skate culture

There are no rules when it comes to skate culture. Much like skateboarding, it's a subculture/aesthetic that defies the rules. Skaters can usually be found in baggy jeans, bold-print t-shirts and trainers (a definite crossover with the '90s aesthetic!).

Clean girl/boy

This lifestyle has taken over TikTok in recent months, and is characterised by productivity, healthy living, and wellness. With dewy skin and natural makeup, clean girls/boys are most often found in athleisure wear.

Gamer Girls

A subculture of female gamers who are breaking the mould of a traditionally male-dominated space. They're passionate about diversity and inclusion and tackling toxic gaming culture.

Brand case study: Razer

Described as 'the world's leading lifestyle brand for gamers', Razer is a brand designed by gamers, for gamers. Their recent Xanthus collection perfectly blends fashion and gaming, drawing on the idea that young people use fashion to express themselves and to promote a sense of individuality.

@razer For on-the-go gamers who crave style and utility as much as play, meet your needs with the new Razer Xanthus collection. Discover our latest line of apparel that blends fashion with functionality. #gaming #merch #streetwear #razer ♬ original sound - Razer

The collection is functional and fashionable and perfect for those gamers who want to nod to their favourite pastime in their day-to-day outfits. And with a dynamic ad to market the collection, it's a range that's for the community, by the community.

Tips for brands wanting to engage Gen Z

So you want to engage with Gen Z subcultures. Great! But how? Michelle shared some top tips with us:

  1. "I would recommend picking a clear cultural line instead of dipping your toe into everything. Choose what makes the most sense to your brand that you represent."
  2. Listen to the people in the communities and subcultures. "As a brand, you’re creating content that competes with thousands of hours of content, so it’s really time to focus on your strategy and be the support that [Gen Z] needs", advised Michelle.
  3. Have Gen Z on board throughout the creative process - it's a time to flex your storytelling skills. And they can offer really valuable feedback!

Key takeaways

  1. The algorithm should be your new best friend. It's the perfect way for Gen Z to discover your brand.
  2. Don't tailor your marketing towards one person. Find their tribe.
  3. Subcultures give brands the opportunity to build a genuine connection. Building an authentic, real relationship is mutually beneficial.

Want more like this? Check out our Gen Z Subcultures Snapshot now for more exclusive stats and actionable takeaways. US and UK editions are available.

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