Ogilvy–Ipsos collaboration reveals insights into the underbelly of Malaysian Gen Z popular culture.

Ogilvy has partnered with Ipsos to understand The Not so secret lives of Malaysian Gen Z through a new study. This is the third part in a series of thought leadership piece, by Ogilvy, following The Secret Lives of Malaysian Millennials (2017) and The Secret Lives of Malaysian Millennial Moms ( 2018).

Born between 1995 to 2009, Gen Z make up 26% of Malaysians. At 99% smartphone penetration, Gen Z are considered Malaysia’s true digital natives, having not known life without the Internet and digital technologies. Coupled with a 23% increase in spending power, Gen Z consumers are steadily becoming game-changers in an already fast-paced market. For any client, the focus is shifting from the Millennials to the Gen Z.

At the launch of the study, Ogilvy and Ipsos shared behavioural quirks of Malaysian Gen Z with brand custodians, offering them insights into this generation across six elements of popular culture that are significant to them – language, sports and fitness, gaming and social media, music, food and beverage, and sustainability.

Data was gathered through a two pronged process- first they spoke to the Gen Z through primary research (in-depth interviews and triads) and then they spoke about the Gen Z with experts in these six areas for validation and reading between the lines for understanding the drivers and motivations behind the behavioural quirks.

Arindam Chatterjee, Regional Planning Director at Ogilvy Malaysia highlighted the crucial need to understand the behaviours of Gen Z and the way they interact with brands. “Gen Z are a force to be reckoned with. While brands have been known to evolve over time to keep up with changing consumer trends, the scale and pace with which Gen Z grow in terms of influence and relevance is unprecedented.

Engaging Gen Z is not only critical to the survival of a brand, it only helps brands re-discover and re-align their purpose to values that are important to Gen Z consumers. The funny thing, we realised, we know very little about them.”

Alternate sports, whether it is Snookball, Ultimate Frisbee, Dodgeball, Archery or Esports, are gaining popularity among Gen Z. In the digital sphere where individuality is celebrated – and to a certain extent, commodified – alternate sports speak to the hearts and minds of Gen Z for the novelty and talkability of standing out and cultivating an uncommon interest.

This trend also has led to the proliferation of gaming into the mainstream, with endorsements from the Youth and Sports Ministry and introduction of e-sports as a medal sport at the upcoming 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines. Some may see Gen Z gamers as addicted slackers, but according to Gen Z themselves, they are learning valuable life lessons and social skills in the hours spent playing games online.

The constant need to exert individuality, particularly in social media and other digital spheres, has given rise to “status-fying” experiences. In the case of food, for instance, it is no longer at the centre, but instead relegated to remodeled aspirations. A big portion of their gastronomical experiences revolves around feeding their Instagram feed, which informs the places they go to eat and the orders that they place there. “The camera eats first, is the ritual”, quipped Chatterjee.

Another food consumption-related behaviour commonly observed among Gen Z is snacking. This can be attributed to boredom or Time Squeeze, with many feelings that excessive snacking can lead to guilt and skipping of main meals.

There were interesting insights churned up within music as well. For instance, K-Pop is not just confined to music; it extends into overall culture to include beauty, fashion and lifestyle; and micro-communities are fuelling pop-culture with examples such as female rapper, Zamira, and hip-hop artist, Dato Maw, who tap into local culture, language and sound to express themselves in bleak but emotionally honest ways that embrace failure against ideas of traditional success.

Of hyperbole and profanity

In terms of language, everything is “extra” among Gen Z. They constantly express themselves in hyperbole, and the outcome of this is they are altering the meaning and gravity of common expressions. They also use profanity quite liberally but not necessarily in an offensive manner. It is used to express surprise, sarcasm, hyperbole and even compliment someone.

As many parents out there can attest to when texting with their Gen Z child, an emoji speaks a thousand words in aiding them to express information or complex emotions instantly and creatively while memes they use are topical, customized but above all, superfast.

Chatterjee added that language was a key in defining how brands can communicate with this generation. “We gave them the opportunity to rework content on some popular ads; the language and tone they used was not only unconventional but, at times, it was almost Greek to us. This was illuminating as it clearly showed that brands need to get on board Gen Z speak, to ensure their communication was hitting the right notes with this audience.”

Taking stock and moving forward, brands should socialize and connect with their Gen Z audience, understand the way they consume information, and curate content that is relevant to them. Decoding Gen Z is key to resonating with this target audience as they set about to leave their imprint on these individuals.

For more information on the study, pls contact nizwani.shahar@ogilvy.com or campbell.cannon@ogilvy.com.