Spoiled, selfish, ambitious, connected, immature, tech-savvy, demanding, open-minded, fame-seeking, over-sharing.
These are just some of the words that are commonly used to describe young consumers, (the so-called ‘Gen Y’ or ‘Millennials’). And there is a perception amongst some marketers that this target audience is particularly enigmatic and hard to connect with.
With little understanding, the default marketing approach is often to just ‘do something online’ or ‘create a social media campaign’. Unfortunately it takes more than the inclusion of a hashtag, video, Facebook page or consumer-with-brand-selfie request to drive engagement with young people today.
In 2007, Jigsaw conducted a qualitative study into young Australians aged 18-24.
At the time, the issue of local youth identity was particularly hot, following the aftermath of the Cronulla race riots and the cultural cringe from Lara Bingle’s ‘Where the bloody hell are you’ campaign. The objectives of the study were to expose what young people were really thinking and explore the defining traits of this generation.
Seven years later, we have refocused on this audience; with the challenge of getting beneath current media rhetoric and stereotypes. Having previously conducted a similar study helped us pull apart ‘coming of age’ characteristics vs. traits which are a by-product of 2014’s unique technological, political, cultural and environmental landscape. This time we could also employ fresher methodologies (e.g. online communities, tasks involving Spotify, Tinder etc).
So what’s changed? Here are a few of the shifts we discovered.
Big goals vs big fails
2007: ‘No one wants to do something they don’t enjoy.’
Back then, we found that success for young people was defined by their own goals. The older stereotypes of success (e.g. high paying job, big house, flash car) no longer applied and instead success largely equated to personal happiness i.e. doing what you want and then making a living from this.
2014: ‘The voice in the back of my head says not everyone can be the next Zuckerberg.’
Fast forward and 18-24-year-olds are still rejecting their parents’ definitions of success. However what’s changed is that there is phenomenal pressure to not just do what you want, but to do it in a BIG way.
There are so many high profile young entrepreneurs, bloggers and vloggers who have changed lives, made millions/billions or simply become celebrities. So young people currently find it hard to justify doing things in an ‘average way’. They therefore appreciate anyone who can support them as they strive towards achieving their large-scale dreams.
Tweet, pray, love
2007: ‘I get stressed by how much there is going on.’
Young people told us that they were being buffeted by an accelerated culture in which everything seemed fast paced e.g. trends coming and going, new technologies, news stories constantly breaking. They also felt that their personal (uni, work, social) lives were too hectic. Incidences of depression and anxiety were becoming fairly prevalent amongst friends.
2014: ‘I find the Dalai Llama and his mind so fascinating. He can deal with whatever situation the modern world throws at him.’
Today there are similar gripes, however there seem to be more tools in their toolkit (e.g. yoga and exercise, healthy diet, socialising and sharing) for becoming more resilient to everyday stresses. It was also heartening to hear words like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘mental health’ being more openly discussed.
The e-tox challenge
2007: ‘It’s great being connected, I couldn’t imagine what it was like before the internet.’
Young people were fully embracing of online media for information, shopping, entertaining and connecting e.g. messaging platforms, social media, gaming.
2014: ‘Although it’s easy to Snapchat, nothing beats a drink at the pub.’
This time we noticed a stronger desire to grab opportunities to switch off and have more offline experiences. However the convenience and affordability of online often made it harder for young people to disconnect. For example, music festivals could set them back hundreds of dollars whereas YouTube offered alternative access to free performances. As such, young people told us about seeking out cheap and cheerful reality fixes e.g. hanging out in parks, crafting, dumpster diving.
Just do it, don’t just ‘like’ it
2007: “I don’t like how Australians come across as racist and behind the times. We need to change this.”
Back then, 18-24-year-olds were passionate about driving societal change. Although these are typical traits of young people across the eras (e.g. student protests in the 60s and 70s) 2007’s hot topics were uniquely focused on driving acceptance and tolerance (post race riots, post 9-11).
2014: ‘Occasionally you see friends going to protest marches on Facebook, but most people just ‘like’ stuff and don’t do anything real.’
Youthful passion is still simmering today. However simultaneously there is growing cynicism towards activist behaviour on social media, an environment which fosters ‘support’ but does not necessarily generate tangible real world changes. For example Michelle Obama’s push to get people behind #BringBackOurGirls brought to life the ‘slacktivism’ complained about by young people who were starting to rally against online talk, by walking the walk with physical change actions e.g. using apps to find ethical/enviro products and shopping in stores with socially aligned purposes.
So now what?
The 18-24s of today are clearly a unique product of their environment and their age/life-stage. In order to connect with them, marketers need to look past the stereotypes and into their motivations and tensions.
This can be achieved in a variety of ways.
Firstly there are opportunities to inspire and support young people in achieving their dreams. Red Bull does this via their sporting ambassadors (e.g. Ellyse Perry, Sally Fitzgibbons) who share their journeys towards success, including the wins and fails.
Then there’s providing consumers with tangible ‘real world’ experiences. The inner city precinct Central Park helps young people switch to offline with their physical hangout spaces surrounded by mirrored light wells and tactile green life walls. This shopping destination also strikes a chord with young consumers by supporting up and coming artists in galleries.
The Swisse Colour Run is another experiential example that young people talked positively about. The event which involves runners being pelted by coloured powders, not only addresses the e-tox challenge, but also sparks greater wellbeing as an outlet for fun, release and face-to-face connection. Although social media (including runner selfies snapped and shared) is observed to extend the impact of the campaign, this appears to be just one part of the marketing strategy.
Lastly, there is the opportunity for brands to demonstrate commitment to real social change. American Apparel and Cotton On earn love through their support of social campaigns and charities. In the latter’s case, young people told us that staff can talk knowledgably about the Cotton On Foundation’s efforts in Africa and some have even donated salaries and volunteered, thereby enhancing the clothing label’s social cred.
In sum, requesting #SelfiePhotosWithYourBrand are great but they’re just one marketing tactic and let’s face it, they’re a pretty superficial way of connecting. We need to tap into the insights hidden much deeper beneath the surface to truly engage with 18-24 year olds.
NOTE: This post was originally published in the December 2014 edition of Research News