It seems like everyone’s gunning for Google and Facebook these days. Challengers like Amazon and AT&T are threatening to disrupt the current advertising power concentration held by the two titans. Meanwhile, both companies are facing increased scrutiny in Washington over everything from privacy fears to antitrust concerns.
But make no mistake: Competitors and regulators aren’t the biggest threat to the duopoly. Consumers, specifically Gen Z consumers, are whose spending power and influence within the market grows daily. This powerful generation stands poised to knock both Google and Facebook back down to size over the coming decade—not through outward hostility toward the brands, but via their inherent values and media habits, both of which run strongly counter to the strategies and principles that enabled the duopoly’s rise to power.
Where Gen Z spends its time
Gen Z’s migration away from Facebook has been well-documented, and it’s not terribly surprising. Facebook isn’t for them. However, Facebook understandably hasn’t panicked too much given that its Instagram and WhatsApp properties are beloved by this important demographic. Google, meanwhile, enjoys a good deal of YouTube viewership among Gen Z, a fact that has sparked some complacency at the company when it comes to its power over future generations. The company even put out a guide to Gen Z—embarrassingly titled “It’s Lit”—that reported how much Gen Z loves Google.
But here’s the thing: Gen Z might spend time with properties owned by Facebook and Google, but they also spend time with other properties, most notably gaming apps, music apps, niche content and messaging apps. Gen Z is widely dispersed in how it spends its time with media, and, importantly, they are not set in their ways.
Gen Z does not demonstrate the loyalty patterns that brands have come to rely on with past generations. They are fluid in their app choices. Yesterday’s must-have apps like Bitmoji, GroupMe, TikTok (musical.ly) and VSCO are likely to have been replaced by something altogether different within a year or two. Just because Facebook and Google might think they have a handle on Gen Z today doesn’t mean these young consumers will give them the time of day tomorrow.
Gen Z’s privacy expectations
If we know one thing about Gen Z it’s that they are a values-driven generation, and they tend to support brands that mirror their own beliefs and desires. This fundamental trait poses a problem for the likes of Google and Facebook when it comes to Gen Z attitudes around online privacy. As a generation that grew up not just digital-first but also mobile-first, Gen Z is keenly aware of online privacy issues, and they’re holding brands to a higher standard when it comes to respecting their privacy and enabling them to control their interactions with brands.
In this regard, Gen Z is turning away from the network-type experiences that built Facebook and are instead gravitating toward more personalized social media experiences, such as private Instagram accounts and even fake Instagram accounts where Gen Z can show their true selves. This shift is also evident in the popularity of Snapchat, where communication can be more targeted and messages are deleted by default.
For all the fuss that Google and Facebook have made about improving their data management practices and increasing privacy control for consumers, there’s no getting away from the fact that these companies deal in personal data. It’s the fundamental driver of their business models, and they will continue to gather and monetize all facets of a consumer’s data until they’re explicitly told to stop. This simply isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy if the duopoly expects to stay in the good graces of Gen Z.
Gen Z hates online ad experiences
Perhaps of greatest concern to Facebook and Google should be the fact that Gen Z fundamentally rejects the types of ad experiences around which the duopoly is built. The interruptive online ad experiences that previous generations have tolerated, thanks to their conditioning in other channels, don’t cut it for Gen Z. Those little screens in their pockets are and have always been most important, and they expect the personal nature of their mobile devices to be respected. That means not cluttering up their phones and content with unsolicited, disruptive advertising.
Gen Z overwhelmingly prefers advertising experiences with traditional media (outdoor, cinema, magazines) to online advertising (online search, desktop, mobile display). Overall, ad-blocking and ad-skipping behaviors are more prevalent among Gen Z than the general population. This poses a challenge to Google and Facebook, which will have to completely re-envision their ad models if they want to help brands connect with this younger generation. And as we all know, ships the size of Google and Facebook can be hard to turn.
The coming decade is going to see a massive power shift within the advertising ecosystem. When the duopoly topples, it won’t be because they failed to protect themselves against competitors like Amazon and AT&T. It will be because they failed to realign themselves with the people who have the real power: our next generation of power consumers.