- Where Gen Z goes, other generations follow
- Brands need to tap into the cause of the retro trends as well as the trend itself
- What this all means: how to engage Gen Z authentically
In the late 2000s and early 2010s—heyday of hipster culture, RIP—millennials revived retro aesthetics, embracing typewriters, vinyl records, and even cassette tapes as icons of authenticity. Fast forward to now, Gen Z is steering this retro revival into uncharted territory. Eschewing the polished vintage looks of Instagram’s X-Pro II era, they’re opting for TikTok’s raw, unfiltered vibe instead.
Reflecting this shift, SCREENSHOT data reveals that 62% of 18-25-year-olds prefer to present their real selves on social media, underscoring a move away from curated personas to authentic expression.
So, what makes Gen Z’s retro craze different, and why is it crucial for brands targeting this demographic to tune in? Gen Z isn’t just replaying the past; they’re remixing it, fusing nostalgia with digital savvy to craft a cultural identity that’s all their own. As 2024 unfolds, grasping this blend of the old and the new is key for brands eager to connect with a generation that prizes authenticity, creativity, and real connections.
This trend is in line with SCREENSHOT’s finding that the primary reason 45% of Gen Z use social media is to keep in touch with friends and family, showing a preference for genuine connections.
Back to basics: the analogue attraction
In today’s digitally saturated world, Gen Z’s pull towards analogue photography is a clear sign of a broader cultural shift. With over 333.1 million views for #analogphotography on TikTok, they’re leading a nostalgic yet innovative return to simpler tech. According to market research company GWI, “as a generation, Gen Z are the most nostalgic, with 15% feeling that they’d prefer to think about the past rather than the future.”
TikTok’s charm lies in its genuineness, a quality Gen Zers gravitate towards. Driven by a desire for content that’s real and raw, they’re sparking a renaissance in both film and digital photography. Stick around as we dive into these trends and more, revealing what makes this cohort’s take on nostalgia truly unique.
Trending on TikTok: a nostalgic turn
Building on the analogue allure we’ve seen with Gen Z, let’s delve deeper into how this fascination is manifesting in specific TikTok trends. In April and May of last year, we saw the ‘You better not act like you’re in a Wes Anderson film’ trend, inspired by the American filmmaker’s signature use of 35mm film cameras, take TikTok by storm. Anderson’s films, known for their unique aesthetics and shot with cameras like the Arricam ST and LT, have influenced a wave of TikTokers emulating his style. While specific statistics on the Wes Anderson trend’s reach are elusive, its widespread impact is evident in the myriad of TikTok videos replicating his visual flair.
Anderson’s aesthetic first made its way onto TikTok at the beginning of April 2023 thanks to a US user called Ava Williams. While commuting into New York City from her family’s house in Connecticut, Williams paired carefully aligned interior shots of her near-empty carriage along the Shoreline East with Alexandre Desplat’s song ‘Obituary’ from Anderson’s 2021 film The French Dispatch.
As Williams told Rolling Stone at the time: “I wasn’t super pleased that I had to go to work. I was tired and I wished I was with my family, and there I was on this train. But I didn’t want to end this really great trip on such a sour note, and I don’t want to be like, ‘I’m a victim of the world.’ So I decided I should romanticise this moment or make the most of this moment.”
To emulate the OG hipster’s distinctive style, users got a little help from TikTok’s ‘Movie’ filter and additional editing options that mimicked his cinematic visuals. This included adopting symmetrical compositions, a pastel colour palette, and font styles reminiscent of the ones seen in his movie titles and credits. This trend was all about capturing the whimsy, intricate framing, and vivid colour palette found in Anderson’s films, transforming ordinary moments into scenes that could easily fit into one of his cinematic creations.
The trend, which appeared due to the director’s then-upcoming film Asteroid City—his first foray into sci-fi, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May 2023—went full circle when it saw the movie’s cast join in with the fun with the help of TikTokker @guywithamoviecamera. Bryan Cranston, Scarlet Johansson, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Jason Schwartzman, Jake Ryan, Steve Park, and Jeffery Wright all took part, holding potted plants, snapping analogue cameras, and sitting motionless in symmetrically positioned chairs.
“You better not be acting like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie with the cast of his new film,” read the opening caption, in a direct nod to the trend.
Similarly, the digital photography trend on TikTok echoes the Y2K aesthetic, a resurgence of early 2000s fashion and culture. This trend aligns with the era when digital cameras became mainstream, mirroring the styles and technologies of the time. The Y2K trend on TikTok, though difficult to quantify precisely, is visible in the popularity of hashtags related to early 2000s fashion and culture, indicating a strong connection between digital photography and the revival of this era’s aesthetics.
Although Y2K has seen a resurgence in popular culture and social media for a couple of years already, on TikTok, it’s clear that the Y2K trend has gone beyond clothing and music, reaching into the very essence of early 2000s digital technology. The grainy, unpolished quality of images produced by these cameras is not just a visual style but a portal to an era marked by the dawn of the digital age. For Gen Z, engaging with these artifacts is a way to explore and reimagine a time that they have little to no direct experience of, yet feel profoundly connected to.
This fascination with everything pink, bedazzled, and Paris Hilton-inspired has given rise to a unique TikTok trend: users recommending and rating digital cameras based on the style and aesthetic they help achieve. Content creators are not only showcasing the distinctive visual qualities of different camera models but are also providing insights and tutorials on how to emulate different Y2K aesthetics.
In a way, each camera recommendation becomes a guide to recreating a slice of the early 2000s, offering a hands-on experience in crafting images that are as much about capturing a moment as they are about connecting with a bygone era.
The move towards authentic experiences
Gen Z’s growing affinity for analogue technology—from vintage cameras to classic video games—speaks volumes about their quest for authenticity in a digitalised world. This shift is not just about nostalgia; it’s a deliberate move away from the unattainable standards of perfection that often characterise social media. For Gen Z, technology and media are not merely tools for communication; they’re vehicles for self-expression and identity formation. By reviving various elements of past decades, they’re not just recreating styles but redefining authenticity for the digital age.
On TikTok, this search for authenticity transcends specific trends. It’s evident in the way Gen Zers embrace diverse forms of self-expression, whether it’s through unfiltered vlogs, candid storytelling, or creative content that breaks traditional moulds. This platform has become a melting pot of past and present, where the charm of bygone eras is blended with modern-day sensibilities. Here, authenticity is about being real and relatable, rather than perfect or polished. The popularity of trends that hark back to simpler times is a testament to Gen Z’s desire to connect with a past that feels more tangible and less constructed than their present digital reality.
TikTok’s role in this cultural shift is pivotal. It’s not just about the trends it spawns, but the way it empowers young users to explore and express their identities. For Gen Z, TikTok is a digital canvas where they can paint a picture of who they are and who they aspire to be, unbounded by the constraints of traditional media. Through these expressions, Gen Z is not only revisiting the past but also reshaping it, crafting a narrative that resonates with their values of authenticity and realness.
What this all means: engaging Gen Z authentically
The shift in youth audiences’ preferences towards authenticity and a blend of nostalgia and modernity on platforms like TikTok offers valuable insights for brands looking to connect with this demographic. Here are key takeaways and examples of successful brand engagements:
- Embrace authenticity: Gen Z values realness and relatability. Brands should focus on creating content that feels genuine rather than overly polished or scripted.
- Leverage nostalgia with a modern twist: Incorporate elements from past decades but modernise them. Adidas, seizing upon the viral popularity of its Samba trainers on TikTok, launched versions made with vegan leather. This move not only tapped into the nostalgia for a classic design but also aligned with Gen Z’s increasing concern for sustainability and ethical fashion choices. By updating a beloved product to reflect contemporary values, Adidas demonstrated an understanding of Gen Z’s preferences.
- Engage through User-Generated Content: Encourage TikTok users to create content with your products. This not only increases brand visibility but also builds a community. There’s a reason the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag is currently sitting at 88.5 billion views.
- Collaborate with the right influencers and content creators: Instead of going for creators with impressive follower numbers, consider partnering with more nano and micro creators who embody authenticity and have a genuine connection with their audience.
- Responsive and adaptive marketing is key: It goes without saying, but stay attuned to the ever-changing trends and moods of Gen Z on social media. Only a quick adaptation to these trends can position your brand as relevant and in touch.