Need to Know
29 : 12 : 21

Young people are considered products of the digital realm, but 2021 became the year they broke out of online spaces and were re-immersed in the offline world.

The Trend: The Zalpha Reckoning

Kaleidoscopic Home by Tin & Ed for Ikea’s Everyday Experiments at Space 10 in Copenhagen. The exhibition brings the digital platform to life to explore how playful interventions in our home can enrich physical and mental wellbeing, Denmark Kaleidoscopic Home by Tin & Ed for Ikea’s Everyday Experiments at Space 10 in Copenhagen. The exhibition brings the digital platform to life to explore how playful interventions in our home can enrich physical and mental wellbeing, Denmark

Our final macrotrend of 2021 offered a glimpse of an entirely new demographic, the Zalphas, who exist at the intersection of Generations Z and Alpha. As the climate emergency and inter-pandemic uncertainties spiral, we unveiled the key behaviours that are bringing the loudest generation yet to the fore of brands’ consciousness.

Aged between nine and 14, we revealed that these Zalphas are using their childhood – once a time of innocence – as a time for great productivity and education. The climate crisis has been central to this reckoning, with a staggering 45% of global youth saying that climate anxiety affects their daily lives (source: Bath University). As a result, Zalphas’ awareness of environmental, economic and social issues is an unavoidable reality as we enter 2022.

Consequently, this generation have no time for childhood wonder. From the rise of metaverse-inspired Immaterial Play to Planet-based Diets and the forthcoming wave of Positive Recklessness we could see in the coming years, our macrotrend revealed how youth is no longer innocent – it’s an exercise in salvation.

The Big Idea: Third-space hangouts

The metaverse might have been the buzzword of the year, but as brands made steps to colonise these digital spaces, Generation Z set out to re-populate physical spaces, imbuing cities with a fresh dose of youth culture.

As identified in our Gen Z Hangout Market, unexpected third spaces were rapidly turned into unofficial youth clubs. Airports thrived as affordable meeting places for teenagers, with plenty of stimulation, food outlets and connection opportunities, including the consumption of edibles.

In some regions, young people re-ignited traditional rituals by embracing activities more commonly associated with older generations, from public bathing to slower, nature-led hobbies. One example was Russia’s banyas – public bathhouses that date back to the 10th century – which have become a ritual for young people. The centuries-old tradition of fishing also made a comeback among Gen Z, with young Parisians taking to the River Seine in the name of community and posting their catches on social media.

Pudu Pudu by Dr Oetker and design agency Uxus, Los Angeles

The Campaign: Zalando proposes luxury on Gen Z’s terms

Luxury on Your Terms by Zalando in collaboration with Vincent Haycock, Ib Kamara and Coco Capitán

Youth marketing mostly took place on social media this year, with TikTok, Roblox and Instagram the vital channels for brands to reach young consumers. Fashion brand Zalando took note of this when launching its Luxury on Your Own Terms campaign, which applied Gen Z’s digital-first aesthetic and shopping tools to the luxury fashion sector.

Tapping into the video-first nature of Gen Z, the campaign included a shoppable film series, The Life of Liberty, featuring characters wearing products from Zalando’s luxury collections. Promotional TikTok content also formed part of the campaign, with diverse young creatives such as queer activist William Ernult acting as brand ambassadors.

With the campaign, Zalando paved the way for a future in which the luxury brands of tomorrow are built by young, social-first consumers. ‘By 2025 it is expected that Gen Z and Millennials will conduct the majority of luxury purchases,’ says Anaheta Metghalchi von Berenberg, buying director at Zalando. ‘We are uniquely positioned to provide our customers… with an incredible cross-category offering in an online environment.’

The Interview: Marc Baghadjian on rebooting youth dating

Postdates, US Postdates, US

In April 2021, we spoke to Marc Baghadjian, the co-founder of Lolly, a dating app designed specifically for Gen Z, about how post-pandemic connections will be defined by social media crushes and increasingly non-committal mindsets.

The app, which combines the user experience of TikTok and Tinder, uses short videos to allow for more focus on humour, personality and creativity over people’s looks. ‘Video is a tool that allows you to tell your story in a multi-dimensional way. You can vicariously see other people on Lolly and think: ‘I want to hang out with them.’ We've always been attracted to funny people with strong personalities. But we haven't had platforms that let you find them,’ explains Baghadjian.

He goes on to argue that his generation, who are often stereotyped as introverted and non-confrontational, are in fact keen to return to in-person experiences. ‘A year of the pandemic is not enough to reverse hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection. We will go back to socialising in groups... We're still going to go to clubs. We're still going to do heinous things.’

The Space: Beta Cinema brings social entertainment to Gen Z

Beta Cinema by Module K, Vietnam Beta Cinema by Module K, Vietnam

In the past year entertainment venues returned to city streets, with new leisure space such as cinemas and nightclubs popping up to capitalise on the resurgence of socialising and recreational activities with friends.

In August 2021, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City welcomed the opening of the Beta Cinema. The new branch of the chain was designed to appeal to visually driven Gen Zs, with bold, colourful Art Deco design referencing architectural elements from the city’s historical roots as Saigon. Designed by interior studio Module K, the post-modern space features contrasting hues such as flamingo pink, sea green and bright orange.

Through the striking approach to placemaking, the cinema lends itself to being captured on social media platforms. ‘Mil­lennials and Gen Z don’t go to watch the movie,’ explains Jade Nguyen, CEO of Module K Vietnam. ‘They want to go together, talk and hang out.’ As friendship groups return to physical meetings, we can expect to see more examples of spaces that take inspiration from the social media behaviours of the next generation – especially after such a long period spent immersed in the virtual realm.

Download the Future Forecast 2022 report

Now that you know what shaped 2021, discover what’s on the horizon. Download our Future Forecast 2022 report comprising 50 new trends across 10 key consumer sectors, insights from our analysts and interviews with global innovators.

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