July 20, 2019

How to Exploit Generation Z

“Once, not so long ago, I spent an afternoon emailing a few dozen evolutionary biologists. This was for my job, or one of my jobs—you know how millennials are (they’re broke, just like everyone else). My editor had assigned me to ask these people, who almost certainly had better things to do with their time, what the “newest animal” was. Most respondents hedged. They spoke of speciation as a “gradual process,” and mused on the difficulty of distinguishing between, say, an adaptively tricked-out Anolis lizard and an entirely new kind of reptile.

One, though—an evolutionary biologist, famous for his work with tropical fruit flies—wrote back to inform me that this was a “meaningless question” and that “even posing the question bespeaks an ignorance of how evolution works.” I assured him that I was, in fact, totally ignorant about how evolution works, and tried to rephrase my question. “That’s actually more or less the same question,” he replied, barely a minute later. “Pretty meaningless, and not of any interest to anyone.”

This might come as a surprise to the small army of marketing gurus whose livelihood very much depends on identifying what we could call the “newest animal”—in their case, a distinct generation of American humans, possessed of a vast array of seemingly occult characteristics, which, once discovered and isolated, can then be analyzed, catalogued, and sold to the highest bidder. The marketing gurus have only recently completed their lovingly assembled profile of the millennial generation, and their work is a true wonder to behold: a trail of mangled slang, twitching meme-gifs, and fast food brands masquerading as witty, clinically depressed twenty-somethings. But now a new generation—61 million strong—is marching to maturity, wreathed in Juul vapor and wielding billions of dollars in purchasing power.”

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