From ‘woke-washing’ to doing it for the 'Gram: What makes Gen-Z tick in Malaysia?

The study found that to Malaysia’s Generation Z, food is ‘status-fying’ and therefore, keeping their Instagram feed engaging determines where they eat. — Picture by Choo Choy May
The study found that to Malaysia’s Generation Z, food is ‘status-fying’ and therefore, keeping their Instagram feed engaging determines where they eat. — Picture by Choo Choy May

PETALING JAYA, Feb 13 — Malaysia’s Generation Z’s behaviour and attitudes are shaped by six pop culture elements, a study by Ipsos UU in Malaysia in partnership with Ogilvy Malaysia has revealed.

They are language, sports and fitness, gaming and social media, music, food and beverage, and sustainability.

The term Generation Z, or Gen-Z for short, refers to those born between the late 1990s and 2010. They currently make up 26 per cent of Malaysia’s population, according to the study.

Among its revelations, the study titled “The Not-So-Secret Lives of the Malaysian Gen-Z” found that language is very much visually-driven for Gen-Z, who also like to turn the meaning and gravity of common expressions on their head.

So, for example, the use of profanity is commonly used by Gen-Z in their everyday language, “but the intent is not necessarily to offend, but to express surprise, sarcasm, hyperbole and even to compliment,” the study said.

Gen-Z also like to rely on visual communication, such as GIFs, memes or stickers, to get their point across in an immediate way, especially if it involves expressing complex emotions.

Food is a major national obsession and this is no different for Gen-Z — with a plot twist.

The study found that to them, food is “status-fying” and therefore, keeping their Instagram feed engaging determines where and what they eat.

“Food needs to have the element of show-off. ‘Camera eats first’ is the norm,” the study said.

“They are also experiential-seekers, hence open to fusion food, which are unique in terms of sensorials; be it Boba tea-cake, Nasi-lemak ice-cream or Durian wafers.”

And like one of Gen-Z’s most famous faces, Greta Thunberg, the study revealed that sustainability is a key part of their lifestyle and they feel strongly about taking action to foster positive change in society.

“Value-conscious Gen-Z want to buy green without burning a hole in their pockets as only affordable and accessible sustainability will go mainstream,” it said.

However, should a brand be suspected of “woke-washing”, severe backlash and trolling from this social media savvy generation will be swift, the survey added.

“Woke-washing” is the term used to describe a scenario in which companies cynically prey on customers’ social awareness to make a profit.

While they have never known life without the internet and were born into the era of social media, Gen-Z have a love-hate relationship with social media.

The survey found that they “are both addicted to and plagued by social media” and that “the need for constant validation compels Gen-Z to live a carefully-curated digital life,” even as they seek “authenticity and personalisation” from brands.

Ipsos is the world’s third largest market research company.

The research was conducted through a two-pronged process. Primary research was conducted with Gen-Zs who are considered a bit ahead of the curve in their respective fields, such as foodies, music jammers, fitness and sports enthusiasts and gamers.

This was followed by conversations with Gen-Z experts to validate key observations about the behaviour and attitude of Gen-Zs across the six elements of popular culture that are significant to them.

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