Graphic by K8 Strassman

C.A.R.L.Y’s — The kids who “Can’t Afford Real Life Yet” are a marketing super force

How the C.A.R.L.Y‘s are fueling momentum for trends, brands and movements today

Mike Berland
4 min readJul 21, 2020


Pre-COVID, Millennials were projected to spend $1.4 trillion in 2020. Industries have spent years trying to crack the code on how to reach these Americans ages 25 to 40. But living in the momentum mindset, we know the importance of looking around corners. It’s time to dig in deeper to Generation Z — the cohort on track to spend $143 billion this year, even despite the fact that they are primarily still dependents.

Embedded in Gen Z is a niche known as those who “Can’t Afford Real Life Yet,” or CARLYs — a generation native to the depths of the online world that the rest of us are still getting used to.

In the past 4 months, as the entire country moved even more of their everyday lives online, to social media like TikTok and to platforms like Zoom, the rest of the world is starting to understand the impact of the CARLY demographic.


C.A.R.L.Y’s want to spend aspirationally but, more important, they’re a marketing super-force with the power to make or break a brand. While their MFactor remains a 1 due to low mass (awareness), their velocity has surged from 1 to 17 since March. This increased is fueling their impact, making them the driving force behind the momentum of trends, brands and movements taking off right now:

  • TikTok Activism: from 1 to 46 since March
  • Climate Change & Environmentalism: from 50 to 56 since June
  • Crocs: MFactor has risen from 40 to 56 since June
  • Starface Pimple Patches: MFactor increase from 7 to 12 between March and June.
  • MadHappy: They may not have the mass to drive their MFactor score above 1, but their Velocity has moved from 1 to 20 since June.

It is time to understand what makes them tick and why.


  • DISRUPTION: “Counter culture” is core to the C.A.R.L.Y niche. In contrast to “picture perfect” millennials, C.A.R.L.Y’s prefer living an “unfiltered” lifestyle: embracing their imperfections by wearing Starface pimple patches to call out their flaws; flipping fashion on its head with “anti-fashion” — favoring “ugly” brands like Crocs and baggy brands like MadHappy over conventionally aesthetically pleasing designs. “Counter culture” helps this cohort feel in control of their self expression.
  • INNOVATION: C.A.R.L.Y’s don’t have the attention span to just scroll through social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Active and constantly evolving by nature, C.A.R.L.Y’s are creators who like to push the boundaries with the content they create. And even as older generations expressed doubt in the legitimacy of TikTok, C.A.R.L.Ys continue to evolve the way they use the platform. They’ve proved it is more than just an app for viral dances; it is an effective medium for political and social activism.
  • POLARIZATION: If there’s a provocative, taboo or unspoken topic, that’s exactly what the C.A.R.L.Ys want to bring to the forefront. Guided by role models of their generation like Billie Eilish who openly talk about depression, body shaming and sexuality among other teen insecurities and tensions, C.A.R.L.Ys are empowered by extreme introspection and an ability to talk openly about it.
  • STICKY: It is easy to overgeneralize generations like Millennials and Gen Z. It is hard for a brand, product or personality to actually understand and appeal based on generalizations. That’s why we identify niche groups within them. We all remember HENRYs, YUPPIES and VSCO Girls. Deep understanding of niche groups within generations helps to better reach and engage them. And an understanding of C.A.R.L.Ys specifically helps connect the dots to make sense of why current trends, people, brands and movements have momentum right now.
  • SOCIAL IMPACT: C.A.R.L.Ys understand they are better together as a united force than they are as a disparate group. They come together to create change for movements they are passionate about like politics and fighting climate change.


Traditional way of thinking goes that if it appeals to young millennials, it will be aspirational to Gen Z. Not for C.A.R.L.Ys. This cohort embraces their youth and isn’t in a rush to grow up any faster than they have to. C.A.R.L.Ys enjoy the transient, quick-hit joys of a youth-driven consumer culture that’s not for adults to participate in or even understand.

This cohort votes with their values. And unlike their older cohorts, they want that stuff to actually mean something in their lives. Crocs, TikTok and Memes might matter to C.A.R.L.Ys right now, but with this fast moving and evolving generation, we must always be looking around the corner at what will matter most next.

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About MFactor Scores: Decode_M’s proprietary tool.

The MFactor is a single score that quantifies Cultural Momentum and is based on the Newtonian definition of Mass times Velocity.

We use data science, inputs from thousands of sources and proprietary AI to compute new metrics that reflect how polarizing, innovative or sticky any subject of interest is.

The MFactor score can be tracked over time to compare anything you Google:

  • Brand / Product (e.g. across any industry or subcategory)
  • People of interest (any political candidates/politicians, celebrities, artists, etc.)
  • Political issues / movements / trends

Link HERE for more information on the MFactor score.



Mike Berland

Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M