Do You Know the 27 Different Types of Gen Zers?

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When I took to Slack a couple weeks back and asked Ad Age Executive Editor Nat Ives the question posed in this column's headline, he started typing without missing a beat: "Lemme see ... social (media) climbers ... VYPs (very young professionals) ... bowl cuts ... glue sniffers ... Benjamin Buttons ... loopers ... Is any of this right?"

Excellent start! And sure, yeah, maybe all of it is right. Or at least it can be made right, in that, given an hour or two, I bet Nat—or you or I—could come up with thoughtful-ish justifications for those subdivisional labels, and another 21 to boot, do a quick Google image search for public-domain photos, fire up PowerPoint and, voilà, Nat would be a Gen Z "expert" ready to hit the conference circuit—cable news appearances and a book deal to follow. (Note to Nat: If you do this, I want 10 percent of your take.)

If there's one thing I hope you get from the Jan. 22 Gen Z-focused issue of Ad Age, it's that while it's entirely natural to make generational generalizations—and, yes, such generalizations are often useful and even necessary for marketers and content makers and other parties invested in reaching discrete audiences—there's also a lot of nonsense baked into the hype.

Of course, there's not even strict agreement on what exactly constitutes the Gen Z age range (other than postmillennial, or roughly born in the mid-'90s to mid-2000s). Which isn't surprising because we can't really seem to agree on when decades begin and end. For instance, some people say that the '90s only started in January 1993, when Bill and Hillary Clinton moved into the White House, and officially ended on Sept. 11, 2001. And the '60s started in 1963 when JFK was assassinated, or maybe in 1965 when 3,500 U.S. Marines descended on Vietnam, and then stretched on to 1973. That's the '60s-ending year that author Michael Walker argues for in his book "What You Want Is in the Limo" because '73 was when, as his book's subtitle puts it, "the modern rock star was born," with bands like Led Zeppelin, Queen and Pink Floyd exploding on the scene. (In which case, maybe the '90s actually started on Sept. 24, 1991, when Nirvana's "Nevermind" was released.)

All of which points to another complication for all of us olds trying to pin down Gen Zers: We're historically accustomed to some degree of monoculture, or at least common pop-cultural touchstones.

That, in turn, brings me to my oldest sister, who has 17-year-old and 15-year-old sons. Last time I saw them, in suburban Rhode Island around the holidays, the 15-year-old wanted to show me the amusing thing he was watching on his laptop while snacking in the kitchen after school (it was a YouTube video of YouTube stars bro-ing out in their YouTube-star apartment), while the 17-year-old and a neighborhood buddy were watching an episode of, I'm not kidding you, "That '70s Show" (!) on a proper big-screen TV in the actual living room. And then later, the 15-year-old showed me a hilarious "Family Guy" clip (streaming on his phone) from an episode that I'm pretty sure was at least a decade old.

So now I'm really confused.

Pop-cultural preferences aside, though, it's worth noting that the 17-year-old regards his younger brother as something of an alien because he's way more glued to his iPhone. The first iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, and somehow the two-year gap between these two boys resulted in one of them being much more of a smartphone native than the other.

To get back to the theoretical different types of Gen Zers, maybe that's what really matters circa 2018. So whereas marketers and media people used to think of generations based on the type of content they grew up with—Gen X is sometimes called the MTV Generation—now the defining traits may be device-centricity and platform-centricity within sweeping generational categories. Is the Gen Zer an iPhone native? A Facebook native? (Ever heard of Myspace? AOL?) A Snapchat native? A non-email user? A Netflix addict?

Speaking of Netflix, I'll leave you with a headline from The Independent (a British website that used to be something called a "newspaper") from last week: "Millennials watching Friends on Netflix declare love for '90s fashion."

Here I'll admit that I'm an out-of-sync Gen Xer who has somehow never watched a full episode of "Friends," but I know just enough to know what character Jennifer Aniston played. So I am looking forward to millennials' children—which supposedly we're gonna call Generation Alpha—all getting "the Rachel" haircut.

Unless Gen Zers beat them to it, in which case, sweet, there's another category: Rachel Juniors.

Only 20 left to go!

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