Gen-Z Content Creators: With A Smartphone, iCan – White Paper
Anyone born since 2007 arrived into a touchscreen world, where strategist Matthew Ball says they are “wired for interaction, for creation, to participation, for marketplaces, to be a click away from communicating with their friends for shared experiences anywhere.” This is the ‘iCan generation.’
They have never known a world where they couldn’t create, watch and play through the technology available to them. The tablet may have revolutionized how children consume brands and content, but convenience, portability and connectivity make the smartphone the device of choice after ages 6-8. “With a smartphone, iCan, and I can anywhere.” We may still call it a phone but it’s really a powerful pocket PC.
Rise of the Smartphone
In Pew Research Center’s 2011 first survey of smartphone ownership, just 35% of Americans owned a smartphone; as of 2021, that number stands at 85%. According to Newzoo (2021), half or more of the global population have a smartphone. When Dubit Trends launched in 2015, around a quarter of US and US 2-15 year olds had a smartphone of their own; by April 2022, it was over 40% (>90% among 13-18s and two thirds of 9-12s).
This ageing down began with mobile manufacturers and service providers marketing to technology-thirsty youth. Tapping, pinching, swiping and scrolling soon became second nature for kids, fueling an exploding industry of app developers that invited younger and younger users to create, explore and discover.
Fulfilling Needs, Anytime and Anywhere
The smartphone’s portability, connectivity and flexibility fulfil the iCan Generation’s pursuit of ‘independent media lives’. Among the top smartphone uses are:
- App games that offer many different gratifications – gamification of learning, creative expression, discovery and mastery;
- Taking photos, a digital alternative to the physical scrapbook for capturing, keeping and sharing special moments;
- Watching YouTube, or “Channel Me.”
As children become teenagers, social and messaging platforms become dominant on smartphones.
Implications for Brands
Of the top brands among 6-11 year old smartphone owners, there are two each video platforms, messaging and social networks, plus six games. Teens’ time goes to five social networks, two messaging and two video platforms, and four games.
Video formats that had no home in a linear-only television world – un-boxing, influencer how-tos, game walkthroughs and UGC fails – now drive huge audiences. YouTube perfectly aligns to the iCan Generation’s desire for social currency.
The iCan Generation has more media options than any preceding cohort, but too much choice creates anxiety. Short-form video platform TikTok sidesteps FOMO: just ‘swipe’ to the next. The paradox is that many users spend as much time swiping as they would have watching traditional TV episodes.
Social and Messaging
Social networks were already popular pre-pandemic, but became critical for staying in touch during COVID.
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook is no longer a preferred platform, but youth do use it, particularly to connect with relatives. Instagram is where young people where they express their zeal for creation and sharing.
The iCan Generation uses social games (Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox) to play or make games, express themselves, learn, share, interact and even buy, sell and trade. Social gaming is the proto-metaverse, lowering friction barriers to an abundance of experiences.
Children and teens opt for devices and platforms that support their independent media lives, so brands need to optimise digital outreach for mobile screens and interfaces; support authentic engagement with the audience; and invite fans to create around the brand or content, all while ensuring age-appropriate safety.
Dubit is a global research, consultancy and digital agency entirely focused on children, teens, and families. We work behind the scenes, providing research, consulting, and digital services to some of the biggest kids brands and start-ups.
Dubit provides research services and data to help our customers make informed decisions. We operate the longest-running global kids’ media and tech tracker. We survey 12,000 families every year. Since 2015, we have collected over 50,000 data points across hundreds of thousands of kids.
Dubit’s interactive team creates apps, educational products, games, AI-based solutions, virtual worlds, and VR & AR products for kids. We provide full-service digital product development using data to inform strategy and rapid prototyping to test concepts with kids, through to launch and marketing.
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