GenNext Talks

To tap into the lucrative youth market, brands must answer these questions

Being in tune with zillenials is about more than knowing the latest TikTok trends. It's about understanding who SA's youth are and what they represent, which is why you can't afford to miss the 2023 Sunday Times GenNext report

10 July 2023 - 08:46
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According to the 2022 GenNext report, today's youth seek authenticity and honesty in their interactions with brands.
According to the 2022 GenNext report, today's youth seek authenticity and honesty in their interactions with brands.
Image: Unsplash/Yingchou Han

There have been various efforts by many brands to tap into SA’s youth market. This is primarily due to the fact that zillennials make up 64% of the country's population and account for R303bn of the nation's spending power. 

According to CNN, zillennials (under 34s) refer to a small cohort born between the early 1990s and the early 2000s. They’re on the cusp of Gen Z and millennial, thus the mash-up label of zillennial. 

“With their significant buying power, they are a difficult market to stay relevant in,” says Samkelisiwe Dlalisa, senior communications strategist at Yellowwood, the company behind the barrier-breaking GenNext study.

Now in its 19th year, this study forms the basis of the annual GenNext report, SA's leading youth brand preference and consumer behaviour research report, produced in partnership with the Sunday Times. Its publication is accompanied by a series of yearly events including the GenNext Awards, an interactive brand showcase and a youth marketing conference.

The 2022 GenNext report highlighted that SA's youth market is emerging from a world of chaos which has an impact on their brand preferences and buying behaviour.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges of youth unemployment, graduates searching vainly for work, a shrinking economy and load-shedding, it's no wonder that today's youth seek authenticity and honesty in their interactions with institutions — in many cases, the very businesses who enjoyed uncritical acceptance in the past,” says Dlalisa.

“Young people are searching for brands that connect meaningfully with them. This isn’t news to marketers, but many brands are still failing to achieve an understanding of who the youth are and what they represent,” she says.

“Beyond the modern in-your-face-and-on-your-insta-feed caricature of youth culture, brands will need to work harder in understanding the ecosystems where the youth operate. Brands that have been successful with zillennials navigate these ecosystems as ‘culture-engines’, driving behaviour and gaining trust through meaningful interactions.”

Brands that have been successful with zillennials have become ‘culture-engines’, driving behaviour and gaining trust through meaningful interactions
Samkelisiwe Dlalisa, senior communications strategist at Yellowwood

Being in tune with zillennials is about more than just knowing the latest TikTok trends. Businesses need to also understand that beyond entertainment value, social media platforms and technology provide young people with many opportunities which they otherwise would not have access to in a shrinking economy. 

According to the GenNext Report 2022: “Technology had a positive impact on the lives of South African youth, as they leveraged technology in many ways to connect with the outside world during the pandemic to improve their living circumstance or situations. This was also driven by affordability”.

“Several brands are getting it right and have built sustainable relationships by becoming a catalyst in the upliftment of youth. Knowing where to play as a brand and unlocking how your brand can become the 'culture-engine' for young people is often one of the key ingredients,” says Dlalisa.

The Nedbank Youth X platform is an interesting case study of how a brand has emerged as a partner to young people, understanding their tensions and knowing that they are not only consumers of media, but also want to create their own narrative using technology. The platform has several components designed to give young people access to resources and inspiration, helping them tackle socioeconomic issues head on. 

“Young South Africans are becoming more self-sufficient,” says Dlalisa. “They believe in taking action to make things happen and have strong self-esteem. Above all, they are resilient and optimistic and want to learn new things and develop skills.”

To be part of the future and tap into the booming youth market, Dlalisa says that brand owners must answer several questions. These are: 

  • What unexpected experiences could your brand create for young people?
  • What life-connected purpose is your brand helping young people pursue?
  • What material change in how you invest in youth are you willing to do today?

To gain further insights into Yellowwood's GenNext research, or to arrange for a personal presentation, email Ntombi Mkhwanazi at Follow Yellowwood on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This article was sponsored by Yellowwood.

The countdown to Sunday Times GenNext 2023 is on

Lock the dates for these upcoming events into your diary:

September 7: Sunday Times GenNext Interactive Brand Showcase

Hundreds of young people between the ages of eight and 24 will gather to enjoy interactive displays, activations and competitions from their favourite brands.

It’s an opportunity for marketers to showcase their products and get direct engagement and feedback from their target market.

September 20: Sunday Times GenNext Awards

The coolest brands as voted for by SA's youth will be awarded across numerous categories. Winners are based on the results of the Sunday Times GenNext research study, which reaches young people across the country with surveys conducted by Yellowwood in schools among tweens and teens, and an online survey completed by young adults in tertiary institutions.

Watch some highlights from last year's Sunday Times GenNext 2022 events.

September 24: Publication of the Sunday Times GenNext supplement

Share how you’re embracing the youth’s point of view to connect them with your brand. Become part of the game by placing your advert in the Sunday Times GenNext annual supplement, where the latest trends and insights from this year’s youth marketing awards ceremony will be revealed. For advertising opportunities, email Debbie Montanari at

September 28: Sunday Times GenNext Youth Marketing Conference

Brand leaders and marketing experts will convene to discuss the latest trends and preferences in the youth sector, and share insights for the benefit of marketers and brand owners.

Partner with Sunday Times GenNext

Along with Yellowwood, this year’s Sunday Times GenNext partners include the Gautrain Management Agency, African Bank, Mercedes-Benz SA, Rookie USA, Converse, McDonald’s, Doritos and Cliff Central.

Are you keen to join them? For more information about partnering and sponsorship opportunities for Sunday Times GenNext events, email Cortney Hoyland at

For general inquires, email Jade Searle at, and for more information, visit the Sunday Times GenNext website.

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