A connected generation: please market responsibly

Generational labelling has reached the end of the alphabet and is now starting again – from Generation Z to Generation Alpha. But that doesn’t mean brands have to start from scratch as well.

Sociologist Mark McCrindle coined the Generation Alpha label, applying it to people born between 2011 and 2025 – so the oldest Alphas today are nine years old, and the majority haven’t even been born yet.

As a rule, I take predictions and business advice based on generational trends with a healthy pinch of salt. But as the proud dad of two Alphas, I’ve got a vested interest in how brands are going to relate to this age group, both today and as they grow up.

Generation Z were the first to grow up with smartphones as a normal fact of life. For Generation Alpha, replace smartphones with AI voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. Millennials bought into ‘connected home’ devices for their convenience, and for their Generation Alpha children, these devices are just part of the family.

This technology is already influencing the way this generation learns and plays. The growing ‘internet of toys’ uses image and voice recognition to encourage interactive play. Mattel’s Hello Barbie, dubbed the world’s most interactive toy, can interpret and respond to a child’s voice. My favourite, Cozmo, is a robot that communicates huge personality and emotion through simple expressions and movements.

For Generation Alpha, connected home devices are part of the family

Robot toy Cozmo goes from contented to confrontational

Generation Alexa?

All this could make Generation Alpha the first generation brands and marketers don’t have to speculate about.

Whenever a new generation is minted, there’s a rush to define what their supposed values and behaviour might mean for business, and how brands should change to attract them (or to avoid attracting their wrath). But with so much of their home life and education mediated through connected devices and AI, Generation Alpha’s whole lives could well be mapped in data. And why speculate when you can measure?

The temptation will be huge. But I’ve pointed out before that brands need to be careful how they use marketing data and automation. That’s especially true when we’re talking about children. I’d be put off by any brand trying to insert itself into my kids’ lives just to sell them things, or to sell me things through them.

But I’ve seen some brands taking a smarter approach that I really appreciate. Google Home ran a TV ad showing how its smart speaker fit naturally into a conversation between a dad and his inquisitive child during reading time. And Crest Kids recently unveiled an Alexa skill that helps children brush their teeth – entertaining them with jokes, stories and silly songs that keep them giggling and brushing for the full recommended two minutes.

Fitbit are also getting into the game with the Ace 2, a device targeted at the six-and-ups. This is the first generation with the potential to have their health monitored from birth, so their healthcare can be preventative rather than reactive.

Know your destination

Why are these brands more welcome than the ones advertising products to my kids on YouTube?

They’re delivering something useful and, more importantly, something wholeheartedly connected to their purpose. Google wants to help you find information. Crest wants kids to have healthy teeth. Fitbit wants to help people live healthy lives. They’re all taking advantage of changing attitudes and new technology, but they’re not diverting from their core purpose. It makes the activity feel like a natural part of their journey, and not like a cynical intrusion into our family life.

So learn from these examples: make sure your brand has a strong sense of purpose. With that, there’s no need to chase the shiny new thing, whether that’s a new technology or a newly named generation of consumers. Purpose gives your brand the natural forward momentum it needs to stay ahead of any trend.

A strong purpose means there’s no need to chase the shiny new thing

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