Debbie Ellison

The Gen Z Paradox


Chief Global Digital Officer, VMLY&R Commerce

This session was presented at RE/IMAGINE What's Next, the third of a multi-part series. Learn more at

Gen Z’ers claim to seek out brands whose purpose represents their values, but there is a real difference between what they say and how they buy. This talk confirms the gaps left wide open for brands to fill as future shoppers try to reconcile their beliefs and buying behaviors.

Debbie Ellison

As one of a handful of female Global Chief Digital Officers in industry, Debbie is inspirational leader with extensive experience of digital innovation in business.  As Global CDO, Debbie sits on VMLY&R Commerce global growth committee as well as the UK EXCO, leveraging her 20 years’ experience in technology and digital commerce, to pioneer transformational business change and growth through people-first, technology solutions.  As a business leader, Debbie has been integral in developing new commercial business models to help future-proof the business and its growth.

Debbie has focused the business to deliver across four key digital pillars; Innovation at Retail, eCommerce (non-owned, owned and marketplaces), Social Commerce+ and Commerce eLearning & Gamification. 
This year, Debbie launched The Home of Connected Brands, combining six experience spaces to help brands and retailers test and trial connected experiences across hybrid environments to enhance value and engagement at every single touchpoint of life.  Located in London at WPP’s Sea Containers campus, The Home of Connected Brands houses six experience spaces as well as The Flagship 2.0, a full 3D floor to ceiling sensory experience taking brands inside the store, at the forecourt, in home and more, re-creating over 150 physical and virtual retail environments where brands can prototype and test creative commerce ideas prior to production. Integrated with the agency’s Connected Commerce Platform, brands and agency can collaborate in real-time with data and proprietary tools to build strategies which drive engagement and purchase.
In 2020, Debbie launched Social Commerce+, an innovative new practice designed to help brands accelerate purchase and business growth by connecting commerce to social.  Key clients are TCL, Diageo and Microsoft Store.

Most recently, Debbie has been identifying and activating new routes to market through ecommerce and new brand creation. She is currently developing social commerce and direct-to-consumer solutions for luxury brands such as Diageo, WBA and Coco de Mer.

This year she also launched Global Gen Z research across 5 cities in markets that have some of the fastest growing economies and highest Gen Z populations, giving clients an insight into how this powerful demographic places such importance on the purpose and values of brands and its influence on their buying behavior.

Debbie’s innovation and professional leadership has landed the following recognition: 

  • EMpower /Yahoo Finance Ethnic Minority Role Model List 2022
  • Top 100 Chief Digital Officers 2022, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
  • EMpower /Yahoo Finance Ethnic Minority Role Model List 2021: Named in Top 5
  • 2020 Ethnicity Awards: Debbie was shortlisted in the Inspirational Leader Category
  • EMpower /Yahoo Finance Ethnic Minority Role Model List 2020
  • Women in Marketing Global Awards 2019: Named Industry Shaper
  • Campaign/IPA Woman of the Tomorrow: 2016. Technology & Innovation 

A champion of women, Debbie sits on WPP’s Roots Steering Committee, Inclusion Council and VMLY&R’s global IE&D Council; She regularly speaks at schools through her connection with Inspiring the Future, and launched The Incubator, a 2-week programme, aimed at giving 16-18 year olds from diverse and low-socioeconomic backgrounds, work experience in the industry. 

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