Digital Marketing Redux   //   February 26, 2024

After years of wooing Gen Z, brands are tapping Gen Alpha as ambassadors & influencers

Move over, Gen Z. Brands are already working to tap Gen Alpha as influencers.

Earlier this month, Claire’s introduced The Collab, a year-long marketing campaign featuring five Gen Zers and two Gen Alphas, the youngest of whom is seven years old. In May, the girls’ clothing brand Evsie created an ambassador program for those ages seven to 14. Meanwhile, the skincare brand Bubble lets anyone at least 13 years old apply to be a brand ambassador. The initiative is so popular that it had a waitlist of some 41,000 people as of July.

For the past several years, brands have scrambled to build a following among the highly-coveted demographic of Gen Z, people born between 1997 and 2009. From creating games for Roblox to appointing influencers on TikTok, brands jumped to be wherever Gen Z spent time and money. Now, it’s 2024 — the last year that someone can be born into Gen Alpha — and the landscape is starting to shift. As Gen Alpha grows up, gets on social media and nabs their first jobs, brands want to be right there with them. What’s more, brands are tweaking their marketing strategies to include these younger shoppers in a similar, but different way than they did with Gen Z a few years ago.

The oldest Gen Alphas were born in 2010, meaning they are old enough now to have their own Instagram accounts. They have never known a time before the iPad, and they are digitally-savvy and used to communicating with Alexa, tapping touchscreens and using AI. Gen Alpha is expected to be the largest in history at more than 2 billion people, according to McCrindle Research.

Because of their exposure to information and technology, Gen Alphas are experiencing “up-aging” and getting maturer at a younger age, Ashley Fell, director of advisory at McCrindle Research, told Modern Retail. While the youngest Gen Alphas may not have their own source of income, they still have tremendous sway as consumers and can shape what their families buy or do not buy.

As Kristin Patrick, the chief marketing officer at Claire’s, put it, “If you think that these kids are not influencing buying habits and parental decision-making, have another look.”

Similarly, Fell added, “This economic influence they already have, any organization that kind of fails to understand and engage with them will edge towards extinction.”

A new generation of influencers

To make inroads with Gen Alpha, brands are starting to tap them as influencers and ambassadors. The playbook is shifting, though, from how many brands collaborated with Gen Z.

For a few years now, brands’ work with Gen Z involved understanding how platforms like TikTok functioned. Their work with Gen Alpha, however, may lean more experimental due to their existing knowledge of technology. This is key because Gen Alpha’s tastes change quickly, and they are “the most globally connected generation we’ll see,” according to Fell. Gen Alpha expects speed and immediacy, and brands are learning to be nimble in how they think about marketing or the retail experience.

Many newer influencers aren’t what the world might consider “traditional influencers” in terms of their social media presence. Some Claire’s Collab members, for instance, have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, while others “are just kind of amazing, everyday girls,” Patrick said. Each has a special talent or talents, whether that’s designing clothes, playing soccer, cooking, drumming or skateboarding.

In addition, instead of giving influencers or ambassadors products to hawk, more brands are involving them behind the scenes. The Collab, for instance, will have an active hand in shaping Claire’s marketing, in-store events and product rollouts, Patrick said. Collab members also styled the photo and video shoot to mark the initiative. It was the first time Claire’s had ever put kids in front of as well as behind the camera.

Bubble, meanwhile, has set up chat channels on the app Geneva to collect feedback from its biggest fans. “Everything we want to launch, everything we want to do, they’re a part of,” founder Shai Eisenman previously told Modern Retail. “We send them pictures of stuff way before they launch, and they help us choose names, and they help us choose packaging. And they’re truly a part of the ideating and the decision-making process in the company.”

This type of active approach is a winning one, Kimberley Ring Allen, founder of Ring Communications and adjunct professor at Suffolk University, told Modern Retail. “You’re not just giving a kid $500 and having them post on social media,” she said. “You’re treating ambassadors like prosumers. That’s how you build customer loyalty and longevity in a time when there’s no shortage of competition for anything.”

The parents’ role

There is, naturally, going to be some wariness about using kids as ambassadors or influencers, Fell pointed out. At ages 13 and 14, kids are still developing cognitively. “This generation is more mature than previous generations were at that age, but they are still kids,” Fell said. “So, I do think there does need to be some rightful skepticism applied to reaching out and working with them.”

There are rules that brands need to follow if they market towards kids in the U.S., per the FTC. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) gives parents control over what information websites can collect from children 13 and under, and brands cannot advertise alcoholic beverages to kids. In addition, minors need parental consent to work with a brand and cannot sign a contract independently. The wording of Bubble’s ambassadorship program, for instance, says applicants need “a valid email address + parent/guardian email address if under the age of 18.”

Patrick said that Claire’s is in regular contact with Collab members’ parents or guardians, and that they attended the photo and video shoot earlier this year. “One of the things I think that is so important to these Alpha parents in particular is that the kids act their age and that they enjoy being young,” Patrick said of her conversations with the parents. “There’s this, I think, real rush to sort of grow up.”

But, Patrick said, parents didn’t seem worried to have their kids work with a brand like Claire’s. “We really encourage these kids to be exactly who they are,” she said. “So, I think that over the years, we’ve become sort of a trusted brand and source for kids and parents and somewhat of a safe haven.”

What about Gen Z?

Brands have always been drawn to the next generation, said Marcus Collins, a marketing professor at The University of Michigan and the author of “For The Culture.” “It’s a euphemism for, ‘We want young people because young people make things cool,'” he said via email.

But, just because a brand has started working with Gen Alpha doesn’t mean it should abandon Gen Z, sources said. “There’s definitely merit in not letting the Gen Zs go,” Fell said. “They’re still an important demographic to be thinking about and to be engaging with as they move into a new life stage.”

And, Gen Z is excited about working with Gen Alpha, Patrick said. “When you get them together, there’s this amazing camaraderie,” she said. “It happened on the shoot, and at the end of the day, they all gave each other a big group hug. They said, ‘I feel like I have five new best friends.'”

One of them was Maggie Sophie Brown, co-founder of the Pad Project and producer of an Academy Award-winning documentary. Brown is 20 and therefore part of Gen Z. “As someone who shopped at Claire’s as a little girl, if I had walked into a store and seen talented and motivated youth on the walls, it would have encouraged me to continue on my journey,” she told Modern Retail via email.

“I think that especially in fashion, having brands choose to have youth models and talent that
are dedicated to a sport or art is so powerful because it allows kids to see themselves reflected in
advertisements,” Brown added.