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Placing some Gen Alpha bets in 2024

Ed Hayne, planning director at Grey London dives into three of the emerging trends and behaviours within Generation Alpha and the potential implications for brands

By Ed Hayne

Whenever a new generation emerges with purchasing power, the inevitable questions around how they’ll shape consumption patterns are asked. 

As with previous age-based cohorts, the simple answer is we don’t really know. We’re talking about over two billion people, some of whom haven’t even been born yet. Plus, we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future. Just ask those who commented on the outlook for Gen Z before the pandemic hit. Awkward. 

Errors such as these have given rise to an angry mob who like to refer to any analysis around age groups as, and I quote an old boss, ‘generational crap’. At the risk of antagonising them further, my view is that the base idea is strong and there is something in collectively experienced events affecting a whole cohort. Furthermore, when you interrogate the global data around Gen Alpha and start to observe what they get up to, some unifying attitudes and behaviours begin to emerge. Of course, it’s not an exact science, but it’s short-sighted to completely ignore the clues we’re being given.  

So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into three of the emerging trends and behaviours within Generation Alpha and the potential implications for your brand. 

First up, it would be remiss not to acknowledge their demands around immediacy and the role technology plays in enabling it. Hardly a ground-breaking revelation, but what surprised me was the level of disdain for brands that can’t deliver it. Fuelled by the development of AI, it seems expectations around instant gratification will only rise as it gets more intelligent. 

Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s are setting the standard in this space with its ‘Accelerating the Arches’ strategic plan. It serves as a blueprint on how to appeal to Gen Alpha by ‘doubling down’ on what they care about most - Delivery, Digital, Drive Thru and (Restaurant) Development. Whilst there’s still plenty of room for creativity, they’re future-proofing their business by establishing rock-solid foundations that deliver seamless feel-good moments on and offline. 

That latter point is key and the second big trend to highlight. Those who argue that Gen Alpha’s life is lived almost entirely online and that face-to-face interactions matter far less are ignoring reality. Take Booths, the posh supermarket in the north of England. It isn't just ditching self-checkouts to appeal to older demographics. Regardless of age, its customers have been vocal about how much they value the reliability and warmth of the team on the shop floor. And like Nationwide, which are bucking the trend by keeping its branches open, it’s a move that will serve as a powerful brand differentiator in a commoditised category.  

It's also behaviour that’s indicative of a group that is less screen obsessed than their older siblings. A relative statement, but a consequence of parental concerns around the role of technology in their lives, coupled with a desire to break free from the claustrophobic lockdown years. So, whilst the like of MrBeast and KSI have built their vast followings on YouTube and TikTok, with over half of Gen Alphas first hearing about brands on the former, it’s no coincidence that they are as much about delivering hyperbolic real-world experiences as they are nailing their online presence.  

If you’re still not convinced, check out the Las Vegas Sphere, a new venue that features the World’s largest LED screen. Of the 20,000 total spots in the arena - standing room included - half are designed with built-in seat haptics that enable attendees to ‘feel’ atmospheric effects. Its chairs shake and tilt, pipes and hoses shoot heated steam and compressed air to imitate a warm breeze or cast a scent, and temperature and humidity controls can recreate blizzards and desert scenes. Whilst older generations have called the project a massive waste of money, that view isn’t universally shared by the oldest members of Gen Alpha, who are waxing lyrical about the experience on their social channels and sharing footage of the OOH activations that have turned the site into a Vegas landmark. 

The third area of interest for brands is recognising what this generation value most when online. Forget, deep and meaningful. Almost half of Gen Alpha’s primary reason for using social media is to find funny posts and look at memes. They’re also more likely than not to be a gamer, with 70 per cent of 12–15-year-olds playing daily. It’s no coincidence therefore that Grey London’s work for Pringles often involves creating shareable and light-hearted content and we’ve worked hard to make them the snack of choice amongst the gaming community. Yes, it’s a non-greasy product so practically we have an advantage, but it’s the brand’s commitment to not just showing up, but enhancing the experience, that has really captured the imaginations of Gen Alphas attending in person Gaming Bus Parties or simply hanging out with their mates online. 

What’s interesting is that many of the examples cited in this article are operating in increasingly regulated categories. Ever wondered why the brilliant ‘Raise your Arches’ campaign by McDonald’s doesn’t feature product? As restrictions grow, they can no longer rely upon HFSS products in their advertising. They’ve therefore had to think laterally about how to get their brand front of mind with the next generation of customers. 

For me, that’s the key to unlocking this audience. Half-baked and obvious won’t cut it. A commitment to creativity across an entire organisation, not just the marketing team, is how you’ll win over all customers, but particularly Gen Alpha. Fail to be smooth in your delivery, entertain in person, as well as online, and you’ll suffer the same fate as the kid who loses a ‘Roast Battle’ on WhatsApp. Based on what I’ve heard from my young sources, that’s not a good thing. 

Ed Hayne is the planning director at Grey London


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