Gen Z Goes IRL

Time online has hit a ceiling, first beginning to slip in 2019, and then seeing a momentary increase during the pandemic; we are now back to nearly pre-COVID levels, with the most marked decrease since pre-2013. This, coupled with fact that foundational internet behaviours like searching for information and reading news are all slipping, is an indicator that we may be ready to step offline.

This is reflected in a social movement founded by members of Gen Z, called ‘Log Off’, encouraging peers to regain control over their smartphone usage. In this blog we take a deep dive to see how this trend manifests for the younger generation. We highlight four key areas, connecting each to a key learning for CPGs:

  1. Nostalgia for Simpler Times
  2. Return to Brick and Mortar
  3. Stepping off the Apps
  4. Stepping into Nature

1. Nostalgia for Simpler Times

The flip phone market has been reinvigorated as Gen Zers seek to simplify their lives; this trend saw the Nokia market share double from 2021-22. Young people are turning to flip phones for a range of reasons, from mental health breaks to digital detoxing and nostalgia over 2000s aesthetics.


Buy yours at 💕 old flip phone y2k flip phone old phones from 2000s flip phone 2000s flip phones in 2023 flip phone y2k photo samsung z flip 5 flip phone girl #fyp #y2k #y2kstyle #flipphone #socialmediadetox

♬ Chill Vibes - Tollan Kim

In a similar vein, there’s been a resurgence of digital cameras in place of the iPhone. You’ll be hard pressed to scroll on social media lately without seeing digital camera tutorials and recommendations; the #digitalcamera currently sits at 933.6M views on Tik Tok. This ties to a broader trend of ‘Nouveau Nostalgia’ which is emerging amongst Gen Zers – a feeling of nostalgia for things that happened before our time. Spotify have also observed this in the Music space – with 68% of Gen Zers stating that they like watching/listening to older media, as it reminds them of when things were simpler.

The Driver: Desire for simplicity and rejection of modernity. Millennials, as digital pioneers, followed a similar trend of pining for older technology; the most obvious example being their love for Vinyl record players.

The Opportunity: There is a chance for ‘outdated’ brands to claw back market share, by reinvigorating their products in a Gen Z friendly way. Think aesthetic flip phones and digital cameras with seamless iPhone uploads.

There is also an opportunity for CPG brands; Oreo recently brought back their iconic ‘Cakesters’, riding on the 2000s nostalgia. They teamed up with the last remaining Blockbuster for the American launch, described as “the only place in the U.S. where it still feels like the mid-2000s”. The event included a “co-branded marquee, OREO Cakesters-themed movie posters and free samples of OREO Cakesters – playfully delivered in retro VHS-inspired packaging.”

2. Return to Brick and Mortar

Gen Z are fairly divided on shopping in-store versus online, especially in Grocery where 51% say that they’re more likely to shop for this category in physical stores. They are keen to return to in-store shopping post-pandemic, and emerging Gen Z brands are taking an omnichannel approach for this reason. This is a marked difference to the previous generation of start-ups, which rose to popularity DTC.

The Driver: Post-pandemic Generation Z are keen to shop in-store again, but the experience needs to be enough to overcome the advantages of online shopping. Stores that offer extra special experiences, and garner social media hype, will be the ones to draw us in.

The Opportunity: Drive more sales by meeting your customers everywhere they are. Topicals are a Gen Z-founded skincare brand which launched omnichannel, quickly becoming Sephora’s fastest growing skincare brand. This bucks the DTC trend set by Millennial predecessors like Glossier. Topicals, launched in 2020, recently secured $10 million in series A funding to propel their omnichannel growth and support channel expansion.

“We’re an omnichannel brand, and we believe in being where our customer is.” – Olamide Olowe, co-founder and CEO – Topicals

The best brick and mortar stores offer a range of experiences, like Gymshark’s new London flagship, which builds community around the brand. They offer in-store workout classes, 1:1 consultation on weightlifting form, and even a Gymshark-branded ‘Joe and The Juice’ bar. For Gen Z-ers, brand loyalty is notoriously low – but not non-existent, and a strong brand community is integral to building this.

Check out our post on LinkedIn for a closer look at successful experiential stores.

3. Stepping off the Apps

One field where online fatigue is particularly strong is dating. Several start-ups are attempting to combat this by offering singles the chance to meet in real life.

Pear Ring (Global)

Pear is described as the ‘in real life social experiment taking the world by storm. #NotADatingApp’. Their mission is IRL connection, providing singles with a green ring to wear signifying that they are available and open to conversation.

“76% of people are open to being chatted up in real life.” – Vogue

Thursday Dating (UK & USA)

Thursday dating is an ‘offline dating app’, hosting IRL singles events every Thursday. Alternatively, the app opens every Thursday allowing you to match and meet up with someone that same day. The idea is to encourage singles to meet up in-person ASAP, avoiding lengthy online conversations.

Truly Twenties

We are also seeing this trend in platonic relationships, with Gen Z social media communities inviting members to in-person meet ups. Truly Twenties is a UK-based online community, designed as a place of support for twenty-somethings. They host a range of events, their latest being a retreat with mental health workshops, ‘Paint and Sip’ parties and much more. Lots of similar communities are popping up in cities across the UK, to help people make friends in a tech-first world. Examples include ‘Girls Who Walk’ and ‘London Lonely Girls Club’, both popular pages on Tik Tok.


First Truly Twenties event to bring 20-somethings together 💖 #trulytwenties #inmytwenties #twentysomethingevents

♬ original sound - trulytwenties_

The Driver: Loneliness and the desire for new connections not distanced by a screen. Generation Z is one of the loneliest, in fact, 73% of Gen-Z report feeling alone sometimes or always.

The Opportunity: Foster IRL interpersonal connection between your customers. Ben and Jerry’s – a CPG favourite of the younger generation, have now hosted several ‘Sundaes in the City’ festivals, with live music and free ice cream for fans of the brand.

4. Stepping into Nature

Digital Detox nature retreats are also trending, with young people stepping out of the house and into nature, as respite from technology.

Unplugged (UK)

Unplugged retreats are cabins in nature, easily reachable from big cities. Guests lock their phones into a box for the duration of their stay, provided with a flip phone and polaroid camera instead. The experience is designed as a ‘digital detox’, replacing online with outside.

The Driver: People are looking for a chance to detox from their phones and spend time immersed in nature. They are seeking a break from city life and ‘always-on’ digital culture.

The Opportunity: is there an immersive, offline experience that you could offer your customers? Tatcha beauty recently held a ‘Forest Awakening’ pop-up, developed with Space NK. The brand created an immersive greenhouse experience in the center of London. The event showcased Tatcha’s latest products, inspired by ‘Forest Bathing’— the Japanese ritual of connecting to nature through the senses. Visitors were immersed in the “sounds, scents and scenes of the forest.”

In summary, Generation Z are not totally off grid yet, but they are starting to look beyond their screens. Take the chance to offer a refreshing brand experience; technology is great in moderation, but we have lives off-screen too.


  • Do you have an older brand or product that could be reinvigorated for Gen Z? Consider how you could play on retro themes and tech nostalgia.
  • Sell omnichannel so you can meet your consumers everywhere they are, not just online. This will also strengthen your brand community, which is key to Gen Z loyalty.
  • Foster IRL interactions for fans of your brand, building friendships around a shared love of your products.
  • Immersive, offline experiences will be a breath of fresh air for brand activations, in a time where everyone is focusing on incorporating new technologies.
Gabrielle Carruthers Gabrielle Carruthers