The Future Of Time: Gen Z, Their Wants, And The Watch Brands That Could Woo Them

They don’t follow celebrities and don’t care about stories. If you thought millennials were a difficult generation to reach, just wait until you hear about what’s on the horizon.

By Barbara Palumbo

It feels as if the world has discussed, dissected, and even dissed millennials for, well, about an entire generation now. They been called everything from spoiled to narcissistic; from impatient to entitled. And yet as millennials are marrying and birthing a new generation of their own, they’re proving not only their worth as self-starters and young entrepreneurs, but that they can be the responsible adults they always told you they’d become as long as they did it on their own terms and as their own bosses. And now that we don’t have millennials to hate on anymore, it’s time to take a look at the next group we’ll wish would stay off our lawns: Generation Z. And if you think hearing about Gen Y drove you bananas, I suggest you grab some noise cancelling headphones and a bottle of moonshine, ‘cause the information about this group is filled with doozies.


Two years ago, I had the privilege of being invited to Washington D.C. to attend the New York Times Global Leaders’ Inaugural Meeting on Luxury that was held over a two-day period at the Watergate Hotel. It was there I first heard futurist Ray Kurzweil discuss supercomputers, A.I., his daily vitamin intake (over 90 of them!) and living forever. It was also where I had a front-row seat to author Thomas Friedman’s incredible insight into the advantages of being late. But the discussion that affected me most – and dare I say, everyone else in the room – had to have been the interview that NYT’s Fashion Director Vanessa Friedman conducted with Meridith Valiando Rojas – author of the upcoming book, “Selfie Made” and co-founder/chief executive of DigiTour Media – which delved deeply into the world of Generation Z.


Gen Z, for those unaware, is the post millennial generation that was born in 1995 or later (the end date for the generation has yet to be officially determined but some say it’s around 2015). They have also been referred to as “digital natives” as they came into a life fully surrounded by technology and have grown up in the era of the smartphone. As a Gen X-er and a parent to two kids who are Gen Z-ers, the information that Valiando Rojas put forth blew my mind ten times over. She explained that this group – which according to the 2017 Nielsen Audience Report, makes up 26% of the U.S. population – is unlike their older peers (the millennials) because millennials were all about individuality and their own uniqueness, while Gen Z wants to be popular and part of a group. She referred to Gen Z as the “Influenced Generation” but added that being influenced doesn’t mean they’re easily swayed.


A number of articles have been written about Generation Z kids with similar conclusions stated about them as a whole: their attention spans are short, they bypass advertisements on all forms of media, they can smell bullsh*t from a mile away, they feel that “likes” and “follows” are an extension of who they are, they believe they can learn everything on their own via the internet, they hate being “sold”, they love a good laugh, and they are relatively frugal on everything but technology. If those morsels of information don’t make the marketing departments at the world’s most famous watch brands’ heads explode, I don’t know what will.


How Do You Influence the “Influenced”?

So, if you’re a watch brand – be it a luxury brand or not – how in the world do you influence the influenced? How do you sell to a generation that hates being sold? And how do you survive the future knowing that the future is now the present? Well, believe it or not, you start with their parents.


Let’s break it down, shall we? If the oldest Gen Z kids at this very moment are twenty-years of age, chances are they’re still attached at the hip (virtually, financially, or otherwise) to their Generation X parents, which is where a little reverse psychology comes into play. As a parent, I know not to suggest anything related to fashion to my twelve-year-old, however, what I noticed is that he notices what I wear, down to and including my watches, and his peers are also influenced by things their parents do and wear without admitting to their parents that they (the kids) kind of dig it. So, rule number one for reaching the Gen Z kids? Pull in the parents but do so by being a brand that has a proven reputation while offering solid product at a reasonable price. 


Times, Thankfully, Do Change

Believe it or not, many of the web’s biggest YouTube stars (keep in mind that Gen Z made them who they are by becoming the largest demographic of their millions of followers) don’t really give a damn about labels on clothing, watches, or otherwise. Or rather, they don’t give a damn about the labels we know and are familiar with. YouTuber Ryan Higa doesn’t wear a watch. PewDiePie (aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) wears a 2nd generation Moto 360 on his wrist and has been quoted as saying he only wears cheap watches because he gets tired of them so easily. The guys who made up team Smosh on YouTube even did an episode on just how much the Apple watch sucks, and yet these are the guys who are influencing Gen Z. Are we scared yet? We should be. But there’s also some validity in what these young entrepreneurs are saying because the fact remains they’re saying it RIGHT NOW. Hell, I had a shaved head and wore combat boots in my 20s, doesn’t mean I still do. If what they want now is something they don’t have to pay a lot of money for because they know themselves and how quickly they outgrow trends, then heck, good for them! This is growth, people! This generation will show a maturity like none of the generations before them, and if we follow their clues, we’ll know exactly what they’ll eventually want.


Burn Your “How to Reach Millennials” Books

As it stands right now, Gen Z cares about tech, more tech, and nothing but the tech. And while not quite like millennials as it pertains to their being completely unique, they’re okay with being unique as a group or sub-group.

According to a 2015 study by Vision Critical which included infographics and information from Deep Focus and Marketwired, Gen Z is more than twice as likely to pay attention to advertisements featuring actual people instead of celebrities, which goes along with the notion that YouTube is Gen Z’s favorite website. Gen Z thinks celebrities aren’t relatable, so big watch brands need to keep this in mind as they sign “ambassadors” and put partnerships in play.


Another part of the study found that Generation Z would prefer a cool product over a cool experience, so remember all of those webinars you watched over the last ten years telling you that storytelling was where its at and that getting your story across will reach the millennial buyer? Yeah, well, you can forget all that now. Gen Z isn’t interested in your stories.

Big Brands, Anti-Brands, and Brands with “Cool” Product

The way it’s looking right now is this: even if you’re a big brand, it’s imperative that you pay attention to who your future customers may be, because some of you didn’t pay much attention to the millennials when it mattered and now the millennials are in their late 30s and are starting to have money to spend. 

The brands who very well may be able to get in early with Generation Z are the ones that go after what these future buyers are about. Take TAG Heuer, for instance. Sure, the company technically started as Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG back in 1860, but these kids aren’t going to care about that. What they’ll go after is the fact that the brand’s “Connected” watch keeps them, well, connected, while not being the Apple watch that every one of their parents’ friends has. And even if they grow “tired” of said Connected watch and move onto something different (see my earlier points about Gen Z’s short attention spans), the name, TAG Heuer, will still likely stick in the back of their minds and wind up being a watch they potentially buy as they get into their 30s and 40s when they want more of a traditional timepiece.

Another watch brand that is already appealing to Gen Z is G-Shock simply because they offer everything from price point, fashionable watches to “smart” watches like the “G Steel Connected Bluetooth” watch. 


The appeal of G-Shock is that even if a Gen Z-er does grow tired of the look of the one they have, it’s easy and fairly inexpensive to pick up another of these watches in a completely different style. This generation loves the vibe of what they wear regardless of label, so if they think that G Shock offers something cool, then G Shock needs to keep doing what they’re doing.


And while there’s nothing connected about them, Swatch watches offer Generation Z the opportunity to express themselves through fun and creative design without having to ask their parents for yet another loan. Swatch watches are easily accessible, unisex, inexpensive, and not as popular with millennials, which makes the brand pretty much everything Gen Z wants outside of a watch that’s tech-friendly.


Chances are, the watch industry will likely fail at marketing to this generation at the beginning in a similar way that it did with the millennials, but eventually, watch brands tend to figure it out. What’s most important with this generation is that they don’t want to be marketed to... directly. Marketing tactics will need to be smart, subtle, and outside of the norm if we want to see this industry survive the force that will be Generation Z.


And receive each week a custom selection of articles.

Mayday, Shmayday: Four Pilot Watches for Those Who Don’t Fly

By Barbara PalumboJournalist
If fear or finances has kept you from flying the friendly skies but you’re not quite ready to go public with your secret, then look like Maverick and...

Generation Next: Watch Brands Millennials Love (and why)

By Rhonda RicheEditor-At-Large
Our top selection of brands that “get” the millennial market and the backstory of how we got to today. 

Beyond the Wrist: Five Cool Jewels Watch Lovers Could Appreciate

By Barbara PalumboJournalist
With both COUTURE and COUTUREtime happening in Las Vegas this week, we thought we’d do a crossover post for those who just might want a little...