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Filling the Generation Gap

Teens are looking for ways to mark milestones now that proms, graduations and other seminal events have been canceled. Jewelers should be stepping up to meet that demand.

Jun 23, 2020 10:19 AM   By Deborah Yonick
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RAPAPORT... Adolescence is hard enough without having to deal with Covid-19 on top of everything. This year, teenagers are missing out on coming-of-age moments like proms, graduations and sports seasons. Slightly older ones are missing career opportunities, from dream internships to first jobs.

Quarantined young consumers are looking for new ways to celebrate life milestones and hang out with friends, reports market research firm YPulse, which specializes in millennials and Generation Z. It describes teens as “devastated” that their proms have been canceled. High school and college students in the class of 2020 also feel “robbed” of their graduation ceremonies, YPulse has found.

Schools have been scrambling to develop alternatives to these rituals for grads, including virtual events. On a grander scale, media geared toward the age group stepped up in May: Teen Vogue hosted a Zoom Prom with celebrity guests, DJ sets, customized playlists and interactive choreography. To follow, restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill hosted a virtual after-party with YouTube star David Dobrik, including giveaways, Instagram and Snapchat lenses for photo ops with him, and a chance to chat with him on Instagram Live. For the college set, women-focused site Her Campus hosted an epic “I’m Still Graduating” virtual graduation sponsored by Aussie Hair Care. I was glad to see jeweler Pandora among the brand partners.

What a great opportunity for the diamond and jewelry industry to capture the next and biggest consumer demographic for life. Gen Z-ers are looking for new ways to celebrate milestones; they’ve told us so. And jewelry, one of the most compelling markers of the human experience throughout history, should be out front on this.

The right messaging

I didn’t find much in a search for jewelry sponsors of virtual proms and graduations. Enso Rings came up as one of the companies sponsoring a virtual prom in April for students in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois area. If you want to see the right messaging for Gen Z, visit the website of this Utah-based brand, which specializes in handcrafted silicone rings. I especially love its “Rings for a Reason” campaign, which donates the proceeds from a line of customizable engraved rings to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

I also searched manufacturers of class rings, such as Balfour, Jostens and Herff Jones. While these brands are helping schools produce virtual graduations and other ways to celebrate, there have been no broad-scale partnerships with Gen Z-focused channels to promote class jewelry as a keepsake.

Listen to what they want

I know Gen Z-ers like jewelry because I have one at home. My 19-year-old son, Sam — a 2019 high school grad — likes looking good and expressing himself through fashion and accessories. He stacks gem bead bracelets alongside links, and wears chain and leather cord necklaces. He sports real watches, not smart ones, and small cubic zirconia and silver studs, one in each ear. He aspires to genuine diamonds in gold of all colors. While lab-grown diamonds sound interesting, he says, what’s most meaningful to him about a natural diamond is that the stone took a long time to become what it is — like the human story — and that has value to him.

Sam wasn’t interested in a class ring when he graduated, and neither were his friends. “We don’t want Super Bowl championship rings,” his friend Lily told me. “They’re ugly and too expensive!” I felt that way back in 1981. Lily said she would have loved affordable options in minimalist, gender-neutral styles like engravable bands and signet rings, charms on chains and adjustable bangles.

Having a keepsake is even more important this year for many students. As a friend posted on Facebook about her daughter: “Before everything got canceled, I took some money I had set aside and bought Kat her class ring. She is so happy that I did. At first, she wasn’t thrilled, but now that it is the only thing that represents her senior year, she is so happy she has it.”

Not just the diamond’s journey

The diamond and jewelry industry should be out there offering ways for Gen Z to celebrate these milestones. It should be fostering an appreciation of keepsakes and a collector mentality by promoting quality jewelry that young consumers and their families can afford.

The “Diamond Journey” campaign that the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) launched last fall targeted older Gen Z-ers and millennials getting engaged. Its focus was on the diamond’s progression from the earth to people throughout history. Yet I encourage the DPA to pivot in its campaign so it speaks to those starting their own life journeys as young adults.

Archrival, a creative agency focusing on youth culture, expects Gen Z-ers to seek stability, safety and comfort, at least in the near term. It suggests to brands: Have a human-first approach. The world feels scary, hopeless and overwhelming now; empathy is your North Star. Let Zs know that everyone is in this together, regardless of age, race, class or generation. Give Zs ways to celebrate the moments they’ve lost out on. Provide chances for Zs to experience freedom and adventure without stepping far beyond their safety nets.

Imagine a “Reach for the Stars” campaign that builds diamond appreciation with a sprinkling of tiny diamonds on a simple band, bangle, tag or earrings — designs that our younger Gen Z-ers and their gift-giving families could embrace to mark their milestones. The campaign could be connected to educational scholarships and grants, industry internships, the Jewelers for Children charity, international student exchange programs. I envision the DPA partnering with Seventeen magazine and social media video platform TikTok to deliver an epic red-carpet end-of-school-year virtual dance, with diamond giveaways and digital technology such as a try-on ring glam cam.

Short videos that tell authentic, relatable stories are most compelling for this generation — not a three-minute film like the DPA produced, which takes nearly that long to show anyone resembling Gen Z. Gen Z-ers don’t want to hear about why a product is so amazing, according to social media monitoring service Mention. They want to know how it fits into their lives, how it benefits them, what experience it brings if they own it.

Life, the saying goes, is about the journey. I encourage the diamond and jewelry industry to help our young adults recognize each leg of that journey toward discovering who they are.

This article was first published in the June issue of Rapaport Magazine. It uses the old name of the Diamond Producers Association, which has since rebranded as the Natural Diamond Council.

Image: Young women wearing Enso jewelry. (Enso Rings)
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Tags: balfour, David Dobrik, Deborah Yonick, Diamond Journey, Diamond Producers Association, Dpa, Enso Rings, Generation Z., Her Campus, Herff Jones, Jewelers for Children , Jostens, Natural Diamond Council, Reach for the Stars, YPulse
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