Gen Z may be in the limelight, but are Millennials the real influencers of culture?

Sophie Stone
By Sophie Stone | 3 April 2024
Sophie Stone.

I need to start off by saying that I’m a Zillennial, so I’m not just a biased Millennial with an agenda to prove that they are actually the cool ones - I promise.

Identity confused, I sit on the generational cusp, thanks to being born in 1996. This means I spend my time either proving to my Millennial friends that I’m not one of those “baggy jean-wearing, no-work-ethic, social-obsessed kids”, or trying to stay relevant and leaning into my Gen Z side by keeping up with all the latest trends and spending well over the average 90 minutes a day on TikTok.

The term ‘Millennial’ these days gets thrown around like the ultimate insult. Whether being mocked for the Millennial Pause, for trying to use phrases like “slay”, or countless videos telling people to “stop dressing like a Millennial”, the cultural narrative is that Millennials are uncool or “cheugy”, and that Gen Z are now calling the shots and setting the trends.

Though from where I’m standing, with one foot on either side of the generational divide, I don’t quite believe this is the reality. It turns out there’s a lot of evidence to suggest most Gen Z culture is actually just Millennial culture. So, while Gen Z are grabbing headlines in the cultural limelight, I think the Millennials are quietly steering the ship. Is it therefore time we consider that although Gen Z are the shiny new consumer, it’s actually the Millennials we need to convince.

Some of the biggest pop culture moments that defined 2023 were driven by Millennial’s; think Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour, Rihanna performing at the Super Bowl, Sam Kerr, Scandoval, and the year of the celebrity divorce from Brittany Spears to Joe Jonas & Sophie Turner.

Of course, how could we forget Travis Kelce and the biggest pop star in the world, whose recent cultural impact has been hard to escape (sorry to bring her back into the spotlight again). As well as being a Millennial herself, it turns out an estimated 45 percent of Taylor’s fans are too.

Recent figures from Tik Tok also suggest that the app isn’t just the teen platform everyone thinks it is, and in fact, half of Tik Tok’s users are over 30. While Gen Z may have initially dominated the user base, it’s essential to highlight that many influential content creators and trendsetters on the platform are Millennials.

As it turns out, Millennials are also 2.3 times more likely to be the ones fueling this online content engine by posting videos and tagging brands. Gen Z overall are known for posting less of themselves online. Meanwhile, my Roman Empire is that I still have PTSD from uploading entire Photo Booth albums to Facebook, and guess where the Roman Empire trend originated from - yup, another Millennial. It’s evident that Millennials significantly contribute to shaping the platform’s culture by creating and popularising various trends.

And while I won’t delve fully into the Y2K fashion resurgence, I will say that nostalgia, by definition, is a wistful desire to return and therefore can only be felt if it was experienced the first time around. So, is it in fact Millennials' own nostalgia for ‘90s and early 2000s styles that has helped influence this revival?

Adding to that, Shein’s average customer is 35, and online retailers such as Revolve and The Iconic see a similar core consumer. I’ll also point out that the average age of a fashion designer sits around 37.

Finally, it dawned on me that when considering media and editorial influence, many senior positions are now held by Millennials. They are the ones responsible for shaping the narratives, influencing discussions, and determining which topics gain prominence. Their influence extends beyond just editing. They’re the ones ensuring that pop culture remains dynamic, inclusive, and ever-evolving. Or as Ryan Broderick put it: “In the ultimate act of millennial narcissism, they are now just writing trend pieces about themselves and projecting it onto young people.” 

So, the next time you’re scrolling your FYP, read a thought-provoking article, decide to lean into a new fashion trend, or listen to a popular new song - take a minute to question whether it’s those ‘Gen Z kids’ responsible for what you’re seeing, or if it’s indeed a Millennial who is actually to blame. And when you’re crafting your next campaign, consider whose influence truly holds sway in shaping consumer preferences and behaviors.

Sophie Stone – Strategy Director – This is Flow


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