Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A Socratic Dialogue for the Next 25 Years

Umair Kazi decodes the Gen Z philosophy.
Updated 16 Jan, 2024 10:44am

Confession time: I’m not Gen Z and I struggle with understanding their behaviour, especially as they now constitute the bulk of our agency’s creative fire power.

When I joined the agency world as a naive Millennial, I’m sure people thought the same way about our generation. Since most top-tier agencies in Pakistan have been around for a couple of decades, their management structure now is usually consolidated in the hands of a few Gen X individuals (referred to as Boomers, but technically aren’t). I feel for them. They probably ‘get’ Gen Z even less than I do. So I set out on a thought experiment to decode and explain this new demographic’s philosophy as something much more palatable; a Socratic dialogue.

Plato is an early 50s Chief Something Officer at a renowned agency in Pakistan. Socrates is a 21-year-old rising star of the agency’s creative department. Here’s how the conversation goes:

Plato: Ah, Socrates! There you are, always engrossed in that scroll of yours. In my days, knowledge was sought through discourse, not devices.

Socrates: It’s all about the vibe, Plato. This ‘scroll’ connects me to the world. But discourse? Always up for it. That’s on-brand for me too.

Plato: ‘Vibe’? Your generation surely has an eccentric way of expressing yourselves. Back in my prime, our agency operated on discipline and hierarchy. Structure was the bedrock of creativity.

Socrates: Structure? Sounds kinda sus. Today, we value fluidity and collaboration. Hierarchy feels… restricting, you know? Like, why put creativity in a box?

Plato: But without clear boundaries, do you not lose direction? Our methods birthed some of the most iconic campaigns of our time.

Socrates: Totally get that, Plato. I too, wish that campaign creation was as easy as slapping on a goofy jingle and muscling it with enough media to etch it into people’s brains. But times have changed. Today, it’s all about authentic narratives and viral momentum. It’s gotta be organic.

Plato: Organic? The essence of communication lies in crafting messages meticulously. Your spontaneous approach might be relatable but lacks depth. In my days, we had this thing called the ‘Rhythm of Unity’ campaign for Morven Gold and…

Socrates: Ugh. Again with the Rhythm of… Plato, if you reference that stupid song and-dance stunt one more time I’m going to pack up my ‘scroll’ and bounce. It’s all about being real and relatable, bro. Depth is important, no cap, but Gen Z finds depth in authenticity. It’s not about how intricate the message is, but how genuine.

Plato: Ha! Intricate? As if slapping a Young Stunners rap onto any neon-lit environment is the zenith of advertising genius. That is all it takes to impress you lot! I find it hard to believe that short-lived, fleeting messages on these ‘social scrolls’ can have a lasting impact anyway.

Socrates: Don’t be hatin’, old man. You gotta understand; it’s the power of the moment. We live for the now. Our messages resonate because they’re in the moment, unfiltered.

Plato: But in your constant pursuit of ‘now’, you lose the legacy of our advertising industry.

Socrates: By legacy you mean boozing clients, slipping in ‘gifts’ as part of deals and strutting off to Bangkok on the pretext of ‘better post’? You’re out of sync, man. We remix the past to fit today’s narrative. Legacy is the playlist, and we just lay our own beat to it. That’s the agency culture you want!

Plato: Agency culture, you say? I fear there’s none left. All I see are disinterested young folk stuck to their tiny little screens all day. Some of my copywriters don’t even open their laptops the whole day. Just squirrelling away on their screens.

Socrates: Big mood, Plato. This isn’t just a gadget – it’s life. I can ideate, pitch and close deals, all from this little powerhouse. We’re the main character… and this is our drip.

Plato: Whatever that means. But the sanctity of work? It looks like mere child’s play to an outsider.

Socrates: I get the optics might seem sus, but trust me, it’s all legit work. This is our hustle. It’s like… why be anchored to a desk when the world’s at your fingertips?

Plato: Speaking of hustle, I notice that many of your peers flit from job to job. Where’s the dedication to one’s craft, the commitment to an employer or a team? In my time, one stayed with an agency for decades, building relationships, loyalty.

Socrates: No cap, Plato, it’s not about being flighty. It’s strategic. We’re not about that life where we’re tied down forever. We don’t feel beholden to a single job or boss. Why sell your soul to one gig when there’s a whole buffet out there? Plus, some of us are side-hustling on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, making bank! You know I earn twice as much as you, right?

Plato: But isn’t that a lack of commitment? Working multiple jobs?

Socrates: Not at all. It’s leveraging opportunities. We prioritise skills and adaptability over long-term tenure. It’s more about experiences than a fixed path. Also, sure – can you pay me the same hourly rate as my US freelance clients do?

Plato: Per hour rate?! It’s this casual attitude that I can’t fathom. Gig economy, bah! What you need to be doing is building a proper career. Back in the day, we took that very seriously. Even a job interview was a rite of passage. Now, it’s as if it’s just another appointment, easily skipped.

Socrates: Oh, big yikes. It’s not that deep, Plato. If the vibe’s off, why force it? We’re not thirsty for just any gig. It’s not about loyalty to companies, but loyalty to ourselves.

Plato: My young friend, this is troublesome. In my days, we revered the grind, faced challenges head-on. I hear your generation talking about mental health and being “out of spoons.” Work is supposed to be challenging!

Socrates: I’m not your friend, bro. Mental health is paramount for us. We acknowledge our limits. Many of us consult therapists to navigate life’s challenges. We prioritise well-being over perpetual grind.

Plato: Therapy sherapy! We revered our seniors, learned from them.

Socrates: Maybe you’re right, but if said ‘seniors’ can’t even fathom the fact that overly polished high-production-value micromanaged brand videos won’t fly on TikTok, it leaves us no choice but to question their wisdom! Here’s the tea: We’re all about flattening the pyramid. Titles? They’re just labels. We want a space that’s low-key, where ideas flow freely. Toxicity? Thank you, next.

Plato: It’s a brave new world you paint, Socrates.

Socrates: It’s all love, Plato. We respect the OGs. But times change, and we gotta adapt.

Plato: Looks like the tables have turned! Now tell me, how do I embody – like you kids say – the vibe?

Socrates: For starters, you can stop pretending to be a Gen Z and writing articles to capture their essence by overdoing what you think are “Gen Z terms” picked up from a random article on the internet. You got half the references wrong and it feels pretty sad. Remember that bit about authenticity?

Plato: Uhhhhhh.

Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.