x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Even at eight, a Gen Z 'tween' is a potential consumer

Turning eight for the Gen Z kid, or 'digital native', is a whole new ball game.

Remember the days when turning eight was just another birthday? You'd left the major milestones behind - think newborn, your first birthday, toddlerhood, preschooler and kindy kid - and were hurtling towards your first double digits, otherwise known as the big 10.

Now that really was a major birthday to celebrate, at least in my day.

But turning eight for the Gen Z kid, or "digital native", is a whole new ball game, as I am fast learning.

My daughter celebrated her eighth birthday a few days ago and I've just come to the awful realisation that she's been catapulted into another world: she's officially a tween and, therefore, a marketer's dream.

No longer deemed a little girl who loves princesses and Dora the Explorer, she has entered a powerful demographic of sophisticated, switched-on eight to 12 year olds who last year had an estimated global spending power of US$335 billion (Dh1.2 trillion).

The signs have been there for a while, despite my best attempts to ignore them.

The most recent was a letter from Etihad Airways. Thanks to a few long-distance flights over the past year, my daughter now finds herself a member of the airline's Guest Silver programme. She even has her own card to prove it. And with just 12,000 or so more air miles to go (a snap when you are from Australia), it won't be long before she hits gold membership.

Her taste in travel matches her new status. Gone are the days when she willingly travelled in economy, where leg room was never an issue for somebody so small, headphones were unnecessary because watching the movement on the TV screen was enough and the activity pack kept her amused for a good 15 minutes.

Instead, she wants the five-star treatment when she flies - flat beds, food and snacks on demand, the occasional massage in her business-class seat and her Netbook and Nintendo DSi within easy reach.

According to a study by the US-based Grail Research, called Consumers of Tomorrow, many parents of Gen Z kids are typically Gen Xers who have a parenting style that can be described as high involvement thanks to the social trend of divorce during their own childhoods. More worryingly, Grail Research found that "Generation Z and their parents are purchasing and developing an affinity for the same brands, such as Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren". While the study doesn't mention my daughter's affinity - and, by extension, mine - for Etihad's business class, I get the uneasy feeling here that this is all my fault simply because of my Gen X, hands-on parenting style.

Even more unsettling is that I have never before felt so, well, average. I can live with the guilt that we have an "affinity" for the same brands. In fact, I'd like to think that I'm at least instilling a little style and good taste into the mindset of my daughter. But, according to the study, I am an average Gen X parent who plays Wii with her child and watches the same TV channels because broadcasters now offer programming for both adults and children. Oh, and we wear Ralph Lauren.

OK, my hands are up: I'm guilty on all counts. But at least I'm above average when it comes to playing Wii. Just ask my daughter, who (still) admires my skills when we play Super Mario Galaxy and needs me to get her out of tight fixes when she plays Sonic the Hedgehog (for the record, I blame these long-dormant skills on my hard-working Baby Boomer parents, who left me at home with the Atari).

While it's just a coincidence that my daughter is a silver member of an airline at the ripe old age of eight - and let's face it, which expat child doesn't have their own frequent-flyer card these days? - what worries me more is the tween world she has entered. Marketers are ruthless and are doing everything they can to target this young demographic. They know that the child of today plays a part in deciding what big-ticket items their family will buy, such as cars, holidays and wide-screen TVs.

According to the Grail Research study, companies targeting Gen Z are looking to "enhance their virtual world presence with online product information" through technologies such as mobile phones, the internet and profiles on social networking sites.

But "catching them young" is the catchphrase of the marketers - and what better demographic to start with than the impressionable tweens, who also happen to be experts at nagging their parents to buy the latest must-have thing, be it a mobile phone, a computer, a PlayStation or even convincing them that Disneyland Paris is de rigueur this year - for eight year olds, at least.

None of this comes cheap. But we've got four years to go before my daughter grows out of her tweens. Perhaps by then she'll be savvy enough to make it through her teenage years and keep her head out of the clouds, despite that looming Eithad Guest gold status.