April 21, 2023
The Economist’s surprisingly shallow attempt at cracking Gen-Z customers
A stack of Economist papers
In 2019, Generation Z – people born in the new millennium – became the largest generation on Earth. According to Bloomberg, in the same year, 32 percent of the world’s population was younger than 20. And, according to India’s latest census, 52 percent of the Indian population is below 30.
Young people make up a significant workforce and command massive purchasing power. Unsurprisingly, these fresh, undefined, sometimes naive customers who are yet to form established habits as customers are of enormous importance to businesses.
Targeting this demographic in marketing efforts can yield excellent results with considerably less convincing than in the case of older customers, who are more likely to have habitual shopping routines and long-term loyalty to brands.
Therefore, I was unsurprised to see The Economist printing a lengthy analysis of young customers, with ‘a myth-busting memo for your boss’ in the Leaders section supported with an analytical article on the issue’s Business pages. “They are woke, broke and complicated. Businesses should take note,” the magazine stated.
Mentioned in this article:
The Economist was founded in 1843 by a liberal Scottish banker James Wilson. Over a hundred and fifty years later, it is one of the world’s most famous magazines. It is renowned for its apolitical editorial line and for keeping its readership well-informed on current affairs, especially politics and economics. Unlike in other outlets, authors don’t sign their articles – The Economist takes credit and responsibility for every story.
The Economist’s analysis of young customers falls short of a genuine attempt to give a platform to Gen-Z. It feels like writers and editors have not taken the time to understand and embrace the complexity of the ‘new world of shopping’ they attempted to explain.
The first and utmost problem is the language. I found it to be superficial, as it was coming from a middle-aged person attempting to mimic the vocabulary used by my generation. The final result felt like what I would expect from a previous-generation conversational AI engine.
Even if a young person was involved in the writing process, their input was almost completely lost during the editing process. Understandably, editors aimed to make the story accessible for its regular readership, mostly senior professionals, but they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
An excellent example of how difficult it is for established businesses to reach young customers successfully, one might say.
Even more troubling for me was how the data that the magazine used attempted to deliver a verdict on young customers. It is not the writers’ fault that the Credit Suisse, McKinsey and Forrester surveys they used seem only to scratch the surface of the issue. Still, The Economist is renowned for its excellent research and critical approach.
In some aspects, it shows. For example, the analysis fully appreciated the social media revolution’s effect on young customers and their spending habits. More often, however, the magazine arrived at vague recommendations like “Brands that do not match up to the long list of requirements had better watch out” or “young consumers profess to be more value-driven than previous generations”. While reading, I longed for a sentence about how little is known about young people and their perspective as customers.
Effectively, I expect The Economist to have higher standards. It is, after all, one of the most recognised current affairs magazines globally and justly renowned for its high quality of research and writing. I have been reading the magazine for a long time – at least by my measure – and find it to have good evaluative points on politics, markets, and sciences.
Yet, if The Economist wants a growing subscription base amongst the youngest audiences, I encourage its editors to represent youth on its pages properly.