Marketing to Gen Z: Subcultures are the New Demographics

From Gamer Girls to Adult-ing Hackers to Real-Time Fashionistas: New Horizon Media study highlights five categories and 12 emerging subcultures and action steps for brands

Mass marketers be warned: in a new study by Horizon Media, 91% of 18–25-year-olds say there’s no such thing as ‘mainstream’ pop culture.

Of all Gen Z’s defining characteristics, perhaps the most important is the degree to which popular culture and counterculture have been replaced by a passion for subcultures and niche communities. With an estimated $360 billion in buying power, the highly influential youth culture is defined by its social media habits and algorithm feeds.  Reaching the Gen Zers meaningfully requires marketers to follow them through the labyrinth of personalized worlds they discover through their unique interests.

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The Gen Z Field Guide: A Marketer’s Manual for Following the Niche Over the Norm identifies five categories and 12 emerging subcultures within the key sectors of Gaming, Entertainment, Education, Fashion, and Beauty. The report, a collaboration between Horizon Media’s WHY Group and Blue Hour Studios, provides a roadmap for marketers to connect more deeply with Gen Z consumers, including an audience breakdown and insights into the myriad branding and creative content opportunities that exist within each group.

“As Gen Z’s influence on commerce and culture continues to grow, brands that learn to connect with these subcultures will thrive,” said Maxine Gurevich, SVP, Cultural Intelligence of WHY Group, Horizon Media’s intelligence center of excellence.  “To drive critical mass and conversion, niche and relevancy at scale will trump traditional reach and frequency tactics. Capturing Gen Z’s attention requires breaking conventions to develop brand experiences that authentically suit their algorithms. There’s a lot of noise when it comes to influencer content, and Gen Z is looking for more intimate spaces to connect on a personal level.”

The five categories and emerging subcultures are:

  • Gaming: Streetwear X Gamers, Gamer Girls
  • Entertainment: Horror Healers, Poetic Connectors
  • Education: Adult-ing Hackers, Scientific Edutainers
  • Fashion: Maximalists, Real-Time Fashionistas, UP-thrifters
  • Beauty: Cursed Cosplayers, Beauty ASMR-tists, Cover Boys

“Gamer Girls,” for example, are a rising subculture of 3.1 million Gen Zers within the overall Gaming category. These take-no- prisoners Femme-Faze Clan-ers are driven by a cultural shift toward equity and inclusion, breaking gender norms in the spirit of belonging in traditionally male-dominated arenas.

Gamer Girls follow streamers who go beyond gameplay to create vlogs, cosplay, or makeup tutorial content, as well as stylish musicians with a strong online presence. They construct their stylized look through a range of cosmetics, decked-out PC setups, and eye-catching accessory brands.

“A traditionally male-focused consumer brand that wants to connect with this rapidly growing audience can tap into subculture signals to build a breakthrough campaign for female gamers,” said Matt Higgins, VP of Strategy at Blue Hour Studios, Horizon Media’s full-service content agency. “The brand could build community and fandom by launching a female-focused esports team with anime-inspired apparel and co-branded content channels on YouTube or TikTok that mirror the visually stimulating social media experiences this audience seeks.”

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