A CLEAN SLATE
As some pandemic restrictions begin to open up, many Gen Zs have told us they’re looking at this moment as a fresh start. Having gained invaluable perspective over the last year and a half, Zs said they are now making resolutions to behave differently than they did in both the languid days of lockdown and theBefore Times. As Julie, 20, put it:“The pandemic has given me a clean slate and made me reconsider what I want to put onto this new one.”
Gen Zs are tapping into a larger phenomenon that psychologists refer to as the “Fresh Start Effect.” As explained by Eva M. Krockow, Ph.D., for Psychology Today the effect is characterized by “temporal landmarks” which “can signal new beginnings and inspire big shifts in mind set,” as well as “offer a motivational push for making life changes previously thought impossible.” Most often associated with New Year’s, back-to-school season, or a landmark birthday, the Fresh Start Effect is a very real psychological condition that boosts confidence, optimizes for new behaviors, and enables individuals to truly embrace a clean slate — all of which have been major themes that emerged organically in our conversations with Gen Zs regarding the pandemic’s impact.
This Fresh Start Effect is playing out across Gen Z culture and lifestyle, impacting finances, retail, fashion, and more — all of which we’ll explore in this report.
As Gen Zs embark on their “fresh starts” coming out of the pandemic, they’re likely treading new ground with a boosted sense of self-confidence. “Due to psychological separation from the past self, people embarking on fresh starts are less likely to feel tarnished by their previous failures,” wrote Eva M. Krockow, Ph.D., for Psychology Today. “Their new, positive self-perception affords them with a fresh sense of self-efficacy and confidence. Consequently, they are likely to feel more able to pursue ambitious goals even if presented with unforeseen challenges and difficulties.”
A new sense of self-confidence reverberated through many of the conversations we’ve had with Gen Zs recently. Ashley, 19, told us that the events of the last year kindled her interest in psychology, so much so that she just declared it as her college major.“I definitely think the pandemic has created a clean slate for me because of the growth I’ve had this year,” Ashley told us.“I feel like I have truly cultivated a‘new self’ because of the many lessons this year has brought.” While Gen Z’s individual covid experiences may have differed drastically, many speak similarly about brand new hobbies, skills, majors and even business upstarts that have come out of the pandemic. Noah, 21, developed a love of cooking; Vanessa, 22, taught herself to play new musical instruments; Jack, 19, got really into surfing; and Shae, 18, developed her sewing skills.
Similar to how previous generations were shaped by events like 9/11, JFK’s assassination, and the Apollo 11 moon landing, Zs will always remember where they were when the pandemic took effect. While each individual has had their own experience, this fresh start moment is also uniquely collective. As Julie, 20, told us,“This moment is different from other milestones I’ve had because we’ve all had to experience this pandemic and quarantine time collectively. Even though we all experienced it differently, I think it brought us together in a weird way.” For Gen Zs, the pandemic will continue to be a deeply bonding experience that we predict they’ll refer back to throughout their lives.
THE FRESH START ZEITGEIST
The idea of this collective Fresh Start is capturing the zeitgeist at-large. We’ve seen it called out in commencement speeches, such as that of Vermont’s Burlington High School valedictorian who told his fellow 2020 graduating classmates: “Use this as a clean slate, a new start to prove yourself. Be a bootstrapper, a nonconformist and mold your definition of success.” Even in usually hyper-competitive athletics, coaches are making the blank slate the foundation of their pep talk. Cincinnati Bengals coach Frank Pollack reported telling his players that “Everybody gets a clean slate. We’re starting everything from day one and it’s really irrelevant what you did last year.”
We’ve also seen this idea of the Fresh Start making its way into products and marketing campaigns. Fresh Start, a new face wash by Gen Z beauty brand Bubble, aims to capture Zs’ mindset for starting their day. Myriad restaurant and event spaces are currently using the “blank slate” concept and moniker as a means of embracing flexible pop-up models and sources of revenue. Meanwhile, EXTRA Gum launched a 2021 campaign spotlighting the notion of the post-pandemic fresh start: videos and print ads showed a world where socializing, celebrations, and even making out with strangers are all possible again. This desire for better moments, even dramatized for humor, will resonate with Gen Z consumers as they lean toward the future with optimism.
As Zs look to trade in their blank slates for full slates, they’re reshuffling areas of their lives in unexpected ways — creating innovative, surprising, and deeply personal paths forward for themselves. Already known for their fluid approach to identity, Gen Zs are jumping at the opportunity to redefine themselves right now. They’re using this blank slate moment to push, develop, and investigate their identities and boundaries. Shae, 18, told us,“I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that most of my current friends have either never met me in person or haven’t seen me in at least a few months or even a year. I want to reinvent myself.”
We’re seeing Zs make new BFFs, announce new sexual orientations, rethink their relationship statuses, quit their jobs, change their majors, move cross country, and altogether redefine their definitions of success. According to Edelina, 17, “Although this was not the year I was expecting, it truly has brought on tremendous personal growth, which I would not trade for anything.”
While we’re currently seeing this reinvention of self play out in loud, maximalist, and somewhat experimental ways (check out The Roaring 2020s for more), Zs will likely settle into a more fully formed and grounded sense of self going forward. Noah, 21, told us, “I have changed a lot over quarantine and really feel like I’ve finally been able to discover who I am. It doesn’t feel temporary. I want to continue to find who I am and keep chasing new experiences.” Meanwhile, Jack, 19, said, “I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself the past year and a half.” Many Zs we spoke with described the experience of having two separate identities — an “old self” and a “new self” — with their new self here to stay.
As Gen Zs rethink their own identities, they’re also reimagining their relationships. Deemed the “loneliest generation” even before the pandemic, Zs are emerging from lockdown ready to forge deeper social connections and find their communities. Many Zs are bringing a newfound sense of purpose to relationships, and a major silver lining is that they’re already reporting finding more deep and meaningful relationships coming out of the pandemic. “I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic or college itself, but I have definitely found more meaningful relationships lately,” said Shae, 18, adding, “I think I finally learned what I’m willing to put up with in a friendship and what I’m not. I’ve learned who I want to tie myself to and who will only bring me down to someone I don’t want to be.” Vanessa, 22, told us that she’s “being more intentional with my relationships,” while Jack, 19, said, “This time has taught me the importance of quality over quantity. I have found a small group of friends who mean the world to me.”
RISE OF THE BLANK SLATE BRAND
For brands, this reshuffling of routines, relationships, and priorities among consumers means they also have to approach the market as a blank slate. Consumers who were once loyal to your brand, for instance, may now be playing the field and perhaps looking for brands that fulfill new needs. Gen Z consumers will likely be motivated to try out different brands that are suited to new budget restrictions, more aligned with the current cultural climates, or simply more convenient in their new lifestyles. Like consumers, brands should embrace flexibility as they reestablish consumer relationships.
Finally, brands hoping to connect with Zs’ blank slate mentality will need to recognize one key factor: Zs see this moment in time as an opportunity to create a “new normal” that’s better than the one we had before the pandemic. Zs’ post-pandemic resolutions are aimed at not just remaking their own lives, but making a better world for everyone. “I want to keep moving forward to do bigger and better things, and hopefully make a good impact on people around me,” said Theo, 20.
Ashley, 19, told us, “I plan to attempt to become my best self in all aspects of my life,” while Julie, 20, said, “I want to do more stuff on my own. I can’t always wait for others.” (For more on this, check out The Manifestation Movement). Though their time in quarantine was undeniably difficult, Gen Zs are determined to use the memory of the pandemic as their motivation to try to change the world — and they’re looking for brands to play a role as they forge their fresh starts and embark on new journeys.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS:
- Consider ways in which your brand can become integral to Gen Z consumers’ fresh starts. Provide consumers with tools, guidance, and opportunities as they start anew.
- Know that “now” is a moment in which Gen Z consumers are renegotiating their relationships — brands included. Don’t lean on historic loyalties, but rather communicate how you’ll meet their new needs and values.
- While Gen Z is looking forward to a new future, they haven’t forgotten the past entirely. Don’t avoid “hard” portions of the past; rather embrace this moment as one where we can all resolve to build a better future.
- Acknowledge that starting from a blank slate often comes with confusion and mess — and that’s okay. As consumers reformulate both their short-term routines and long-term life plans, make sure to comfort and support them through transitions.