What You Can Learn About Gen Z From Netflix’s Instagram Documentary ‘Social Animals’

The feature length documentary, Social Animals, is the latest insider into Gen Z and how they steer the digital age. It breaks the normative assumption that teenagers act predominantly on an irrational basis and instead portrays a generation of tech-savvy and strategic marketers, shedding light into their purchasing power, innate understanding of branding and innovation, and the stark contrast between those that came before them (Millennials).

Following three teenagers from different backgrounds across the US: an aspiring swimsuit model Kaylyn Slevin, a daredevil photographer Humza Deas, and a Midwest girl next door Emma Crockett Robinson, the show gives a glimpse into their lives and the world around them – both of which almost exclusively revolve around Instagram – to reveal incredible insights about Gen Z’s mobile first mind-set.

The Purchasing Power of Gen Z

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z has come into a world of economic instability, social change and rapid digital innovation. They’re a subgroup that faces the reality that a university degree will not guarantee them a job, nor the certainty of a fiscal future. And yet, by 2020, Gen Z is set to become the largest generation of consumers. Perhaps even more importantly to note, is that 93% of American households have admitted to being influenced to purchase via the younger members of their families. Their financial impact is huge! And it’s imperative to the survival of marketers to understand how to tap into it.

So, from a marketing perspective, what can we learn about Gen Z From Netflix’s Instagram Documentary ‘Social Animals’?

Each case study presents three apparent trends, consistently throughout the film and they are:

#1 Self-Marketing is Life

Being a teenager is highly characterised with the realisation of the self and how to express that – this hasn’t changed. A guy in the ‘80’s taking an hour to get ready before a roller disco, is no different from a girl in 2019 taking an hour to get ready for a selfie – they’re both experimenting with identity and seeing what comes back. It’s just happening at a faster pace with a wider audience.

The fact that 55% of Gen Z spend 5+ hours on their phones a day  with the go-to place being Instagram, makes sense of the idea that social engagement plays such a significant role in their self-worth. As such, they largely view themselves in branding terms, constantly curating themselves.

#2 Standing Out from the Crowd is Necessary

In the quest of self-expression, teenagers will always err towards the side of individuality, which again, isn’t a ground-breaking realisation. Within the confines of a high school, it’s not such a hard thing achieve (to one degree or another). But, when you widen that context to include more than 1 billion people  (Instagram’s current subscription number), creativity and innovation become key!

We see this all the time, pranks, stunts, new filters; Gen Z will do almost anything to get noticed on social media. In the documentary Humza Deas climbs to the top of the worlds tallest buildings and Kaylyn outsources her image to a photographer, in the hopes to boost her visibility. Gen Z has had to become expert marketers and brand managers to prevent themselves from drowning in the din of peer profiles.

#3 Social activity is all through the ‘Gram’

Spending almost half (or more) of your waking life on your phone, means that when you’re not eating, showering or doing something else that requires two hands, you’re doing it on your phone, on (yep you’ve guessed it) Instagram. The component of direct messaging offers Gen Z a platform to communicate through their DM’s.

So, what happens when a young 20 something flaunts a new watch? Someone jumps on into their DM’s and asks where they got it from, or when they’re scrolling through their feed and come across an ad for a bag that caught their eye, they tag their friend for an opinion. Purchases amongst Gen Z remain from a peer-to-peer influence , making Instagram a powerful tool to access a custom base with the (soon to be) largest spending power.


Gen Z is the designer of their commerce and they say that remains on Instagram.

The major takeaway of the Netfilx documentary, is that teenagers aren’t simply passive voyeurs in the space of social media; they aren’t the sheep, they’re the shepherds. They’re speaking almost natively, not just a digital language, but a marketing language. They are thinking strategically on how to gain followers, often as a means to monetize their account. It’s not simply a matter of youthful narcissism, but more a sophisticated kind of pragmatism, that truly defines Gen Z.

“Because of this platform and the democratization of audience, they’ve been able to have careers they otherwise wouldn’t have had.” JG

The director, Jonathan Ignatius Green’, the Creative Director of marketing agency ‘We Are Conscious Minds’, realised early on in the making of the feature that the ‘kids’ of the documentary had more insightful and interesting knowledge on the topic of the social impact of/on Gen Z, than any of the academic experts he had initially found.

What were your thoughts when you watched Social Animals and how have they effected the way that you perceive the future of marketing? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your opinion!

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