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19-year-old CEO: Gen Z is 'not too young to be political'

Katie Krzaczek
Associate Editor

Nineteen-year-old CEO Ziad Ahmed is hoping to bridge the gap between big brands and the next generation of consumers: Gen Z.

The New Jersey native and Yale University sophomore says current marketing strategies to reach Gen Z-ers, people between the ages of 2 and 19, don’t know how to address the group.

“The current models of understanding us are so broken,” Ahmed told Yahoo Finance.

Ahmed, who founded a nonprofit in the eighth grade to break down cultural stereotypes, launched JUV Consulting three years ago to help companies better appeal to Gen Z.

“Research takes so long, by the time it comes out, our trends have shifted,” Ahmed said. “And focus groups treat us like guinea pigs rather than partners.”

‘It’s easy to typecast us as a monolith’

Ahmed is wary of claiming to be an expert on his generation, but he wants to provide some insight to break down the stereotypes often attributed to Gen Z, which will account for about one-third of the U.S. population by 2020.

“You’re familiar with lots of the real tropes: We’re always on our phone, we’re so lazy, we don’t do anything,” he said. For a lot of people, he said, “It’s easy to typecast us as a monolith. … And I think it’s much harder to grapple with the nuance … that my reality and my life experience [are] vastly different” from that of every other Gen Z-er.

High street fashion targets Gen Z customers with gender neutrality and inclusive sizing. (Photo  Collusion/ Chloe Sheppard)

‘It’s about tapping into the humanity of our generation’

One of the biggest ways Gen Z is different than older generations, Ahmed noted, is its inclusive mindset. “We think in terms of ‘we.’ … When I go to the polls November 6 … I’m not just thinking about the people who live on my street. I’m thinking about the people who I’m connected to on social media from all around the world and thinking about how my vote and my life affect them,” he said. “And I think that that ethos … is a core tenant of our generation.”

The young CEO stressed that companies should appeal to his generation’s sense of social justice and responsibility. By doing so, he said, they can gain access to a whole new level of organic marketing.

“Gen Z controls the hashtag, and we made [the Kaepernick–Nike ad] go viral because we want the provocative,” Ahmed said. “We’re following the issues. We’re not too young to be political. Our personhood and our politicalness are not separable.”

Ahmed says companies should take note of Gen Z’s distrust of “big institutions … of a lot of these power structures that have really oppressed a lot of people for a long time.” 

“We believe in moments of beauty. We believe in stories,” Ahmed said. “It’s about tapping into the humanity of our generation.”

READ MORE: Boxing Legend De La Hoya on Nike–Kaepernick: ‘I live in America for a reason’

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