Chloe Combi is a writer, speaker and consultant with a focus on teenagers and future generations, on their education, their status in the work place, their interaction with social media, pop culture and brands.
She is coming for the first time in Romania, this weekend, for a special workshop designed by Brain 4 Strategy, for their clients.
In 2015, she launched the book Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives, a pack of both painful and funny life stories, which she said it opened up eyes about the realities and challenges of the modern teenage experience and made it clear that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ teenager. The book launched in UK is to have a 2020 update, which will be for a global audience.
She writes for a variety of media and political publications like The Times, The Guardian or HuffPost, and regularly appears on UK TV and radio including Sky News, BBC News, Radio 4 or Newsnight.
She recently launched The Sixteen Project, which gives teenagers the chance to engage in change around the world, and The Thought Laboratories, from where she gathers all her data.
Figuring out the future
For me, anything that’s focused on the future is inherently interesting, because if you can figure out future generations – what they see, think, like, love, and what’s important – you can start to figure out the future. I’ve become pretty adept at recognising future patterns, and that takes a lot of observation and a lot empathy.
On a more human level, I’m also a big fan of paying things forward, throwing down the ladder and giving more marginalised people voices. I’m sure everyone can remember feeling ignored and disenfranchised as a teenager, and I think it’s really important adults lift young people up and help them find their voices and support them in changing their world.
The thing that really sets Gen Z apart from previous generations of teenagers is of course technology, which for them isn’t just buttons and apps, but intertwined with their entire beings and psychological makeup. Generation Z are the first generation to consume the same media they create – which is fairly revolutionary.
There are no longer any (adult) gate-keepers telling Gen Z how to think, or what to buy, or what to wear etc. – via their own media, they and their own influencers do that. This means they are much harder to engage with from an external point of view, so you really have to understand and tap into their language and platforms, if you want to engage with GZ.
Generation Z are also, because of these global platforms, very quick to galvanise and react, which means they really have the ability to change the world as a collective generation.
Challenging the status quo
Because of the very unstable nature of the world, after the relative social and political apathy of my generation (millennials), Generation Z are really starting to exhibit far more social consciousness and a countercultural need to rebel and protest against systems and governments – you are starting to see that all over the world.
In that way, they have quite a lot in common with the young people of the ‘70’s, who also found themselves in extremely socially turbulent times and felt that they needed to take things into their own hands, and force through change.
We are certainly starting to see that with GZ on climate, human and animal rights, and political systems. Parents and grandparents from countercultural eras should hopefully appreciate that. But also, any thinking and feeling adult should be 100% supportive of a young generation trying to forge a better world, and going into the 2020’s, I hope to see a lot more generational collaboration.
Without a doubt the biggest pop culture influences on GZ are internet and social media star – the YouTubers, VSCO girls and boys, Instagram influencers, TikTok stars, gamers and so on. These things are far bigger for GZ than pop stars, Hollywood actors etc. and I think it’s the democracy of it they enjoy. Anyone with a phone can become a YouTuber.
Brands point of view
Brands are finding GZ a real challenge, because of their access points. Unlike previous generation of teenagers who would have been heavily influenced by TV, magazines, newspapers, and film – GZ pretty much only engage with social media as their media.
This means brands have to get very creative to break through the noise and get attention. All of us, but particularly young people have low attention spans because of the sheer volume of information constantly flooding our systems, so brands have to rely heavily on emotion, hyperbole, word of mouth, viral trigger points and something really exciting to stand out from the pack.
Similarly, if brands get the message wrong and cause offence with their message, the punishment/reaction from this generation can be swift and harsh resulting in the dreaded ‘cancelling’!
Teenagers perception of brands
When brands do break through with GZ, they can enjoy lavish and sometimes obsessive and cult-like devotion, and lots of free marketing! In an uncertain world, where there is very low trust in systems like banking and politics, Generation Z definitely increasingly look to brands for a kind of moral compass, which is increasingly why you see brands taking stances.
Ethical, political or social neutrality is increasingly not advisable for brands and they have to wear their ideologies outwardly.
The impact of technology
It is difficult to calculate in its enormity. It has totally transformed how we talk, learn, socialise, eat, communicate, date – even have sex. And this is the absolute norm for teenagers, because they’ve never known an existence outside of technology we have now.
As a result, they are both the most globally interconnected and also disconnected generation of young people ever - because this is the first generation who literally don’t have to leave their bedrooms at all to be connected – everything is available at the touch of a button. Of course, this is great for convenience, but not necessarily for human connection.
For GZ, the era of movies and Hollywood is pretty dead. It’s all about TV series on vastly popular online platforms like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. There are wildly popular series that resonate with this generation whether it’s retrospective series set in the past (Gen X’s childhood) like Stranger Things, Dark or IT (all set in the 80’s) or contemporary series like Elite, Riverdale, Sex Education, Euphoria or 13 Reasons Why. GZ seem to love either shows/movies that weave a great tale with fantasy/dystopian elements or series that depict the huge challenges and pain of their lives.
Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives
It’s had huge impact – and put the whole concept of Generation Z on the map. It’s a book that listened rather than proselytises and that’s what made it unique. In terms of parents, I think it really opened up their eyes to the realities and challenges of the modern teenage experience, but also reassured them that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ teenager. Everyone has secrets and pain as well as really great things about them.
Some of the stories are extremely sad and painful, and some are hilariously funny, with all the emotional points between that. My book has been a real experience for anyone who reads it – it certainly was researching and writing it!
The 2020 updated version of the book
Change happens now quicker and more resoundingly that at any point in human history. Change that takes place over a year used to take maybe ten years. A staggering amount has happened in the four years since the first publication in every possible way, and I want the 2020 version to be global (the first was UK-based) and represent all the crazy change and evolution that has happened since.
The Sixteen Project
The Sixteen Project is a project I am launching with others, to help young people to organise, engage and be instrumental in change across the globe. We’ve seen in the last two years, the enormous potential, capacity and desire GZ have to change the world for the better, the Sixteen will be instrumental in ensuring all engaged young people get a seat at the table.
The Thought Laboratories
TL is how I sometimes collect and make sense of all the data I work with.
Workshop in Romania
It’s going to be a big oversight of Generation Z, with lots of elements to it. I will talk about GZ as a generation, their likes and dislikes, the power of social media, brands, how to successfully market to GZ, GZ as successful employees and finally future trends.
There will be a slight emphasis on how brands and companies work with GZ (as they are now entering the workplace) and how to overcome the challenges that might represent and turn them into strengths.
What’s next for you?
Writing books, filming a big new series that is still a secret (will be revealed later on this year), working with lots of different brands, companies and governments around the world, and giving insight on what the future looks like and how we can make It better. I think the 2020’s are going to be really challenging and we need to fully prepare for them in every possible way!