Meet Generation Alpha
Also known as the “children of Millennials,” Generation Alpha have birth dates starting in 2010 – the same year Instagram was founded, the iPad introduced, and “App” was word of the year. Many of this generation have not yet been conceived or are still in diapers, with the oldest of this cohort entering middle school.
As kid content creators (and kids-at-heart), Ultra has been in-the-know about what kids want and love for decades. Every year we revisit those evergreen truisms about kids to see if they still hold true and then examine what trends have changed in toys, clothing, entertainment and flavors. It helps inform our annual Kidtopia content and the work we do with branded kid content.
So, what is there to know about the Alpha Generation today, and how is it relevant to brands who are reaching kids and/or parent of young children? Here are five key learnings we discovered.
Remember Alphas’ Millennial Parents
Now mostly in their 30s, Millennial women gave birth to 82% of all the babies born in the US in 2016 and remain the largest demographic of parents to Generation Alpha. Millennials rate being a good parent as a top priority, according to Pew Research, with more than half (52%) saying it was one of the most important goals in their lives, well ahead of having a successful marriage (30%). According to the study, 60% of Millennials said that being a parent is extremely important to their overall identity.
So what do we know about Millennial parents? They thoroughly embrace “Kidulting” and love 80s and 90s nostalgia that reminds them of when they were kids. They are also heavily invested in their children, with regard to both time and money. Many Millennial parents pamper their kids with safe, natural and premium products, citing quality as a top reason for brand loyalty. And they are putting their kids at the center of family experiences, looking for immersive entertainment experiences like Brown + Hudson's ‘The Great Game’ that turns travel into play with a combination of challenges, chance encounters, geo-cache clues, puzzles, riddles and augmented reality scenarios. When considering Generation Alpha, use the lens of their Millennial parents and what we know about their values and interests. It is translating to their families and kids.
Keep Pace with Technology and How it’s Used
Generation Alpha will grow up with AR, AI and voice technology, seamlessly integrating them through home, school and play. To Bethany Koby (co-founder of STEM-focused toy company, Technology Will Save Us) these new interfaces promise a more engaging way to use technology: “I think kids more and more are demanding their physical play experiences to do more, to be more fun, to be more interactive and more responsive, and for them to be a part of that process in some way,” she says. For example, Procter & Gamble's Crest Kids recently unveiled an Alexa skill for Amazon's smart speaker designed to help kids brush their teeth by telling jokes, offering fun facts and signs songs for the dentist-recommended brush time of two minutes.
But be on the lookout for major innovation and growth that will cater to the sophistication of Alphas: "Simply bringing characters or objects to life as 3D images, whilst novel, did not lead to extended play," Marsh told Wired in February 2018. "The apps need to be designed so that they enable children to create objects and scenarios themselves, or foster play, open-ended inquiry, problem solving, and critical thinking." In other words, technology should not be viewed just as a novelty or entertainment, but as a way to engage, empower and delight.
Part of this push today is over concerns of tomorrow. Generation Alpha will grow up in a time of continued AI development, changing the skills needed of the future workforce. There is growing research that suggests the ability to play is more important in a tech-dominated world than ever before, and many big businesses are highlighting the importance of play as a way of shaping the workforce of the future. Play should cultivate creativity, develop emotional intelligence and build empathy – the very skills that robots can't replace.
After years of focus in schools on STEM, there is a renewed focus on preserving the role of art and design in education to include “Arts” within the STEM program to help students stretch their imaginations, to think and dream big – creating STEAM. Play, being fundamental for development and crucial in all forms of art-making and creating, is critical to this conversation and to the creative well-being of a generation.
Rethink Traditional Conventions
Parents are increasingly raising their children in a more inclusive way that avoids gender stereotypes. What first emerged as an urban fad quickly shifted to a more mainstream cultural conversation about how boys and girls are raised differently.
Established brands like Abercrombie & Fitch have launched gender-neutral clothing collections and Target has removed gendered retail signage in its toy, home goods, and children’s clothing sections. Brands like Primary, Peach Fuzz and Toca Boca have launched with gender-neutrality baked into their brand and product proposition.
Beyond gender, inclusion in all its forms will continue to expand. Characters and people with a representing a wide array of race, religion, abilities, and gender roles will be a part of Generation Alpha’s bookshelves, programming, advertising, and classrooms. Efforts like Unified Sports in school and extracurricular activities, like Best Buddies, will continue the merger of typical children and their peers with disabilities.
Slow It Down
Millennials are turning into the burnout generation, trying to manage too much with their side-hustles, focus on family and self-care efforts. Gen Alpha, however, won’t approach well-being as something to squeeze in to their busy schedule but as a standard of life. This is a generation growing up with yoga and meditation in the classroom, as well as a more open discussion about mental health in wider society.
To unplug and reconnect with one another, families are turning to experiences that prioritize storytelling, get creative and escape from the trappings of normal life. This perspective certainly resonates with recent camping data: Millennials constitute 40 percent of campers which Toby O’Rourke, president of KOA attributes to shifting priorities towards nature among Millennials: “As millennials start to have children, they’re…seeing the value of getting their children outside.” And the RV world is taking notice, updating RV models and offerings to reflect the needs of a younger generation - and ones with children.
As touched upon above in talking about the role of play, even schools are slowing it down. New educational institutions that put ‘soft’ skills ahead of traditional academic achievement are bubbling up, like forest schools which use outdoor free play as the basis for developing cognitive and physical ability in addition to creativity and social development. Turning to more basic ideals and the natural world provide the needed balance and contrast to continued technological advances that only become more seamlessly integrated into our lives.
Connecting with kids means connecting with them and their parents. The family as a whole will play a role in what kinds of brands and products make it to the consideration set, how decisions are made and what will ultimately stick with them. Recognize the out-sized influential role that kids will have on their families because of their parents’ focus on them, and the out-sized role Millennial parents will have on their children by living out their values through family decisions.