A couple of weeks ago I was asked by branding agency Mash to be on the expert panel for a discussion about ‘targeting youth’, which led to me realise just how much has changed since I was in the younger age bracket of ‘yoofs’, otherwise known as Generation Y (born in the 80s and 90s).
I met representatives from BBC Radio 1, Public Health England, SCA (which looks after Body Form and other feminine hygiene products) and McDonald’s, as we started the task of trying to decide what’s really important to this particular group, which brands they are drawn to, and why.
Having spent quite a large chunk of my career writing for an audience of 16 to 24 year-olds, it soon became apparent that if I don’t keep up with youth trends I will become one of these editors that thinks they understand young people just because it doesn’t feel that long ago that I was one (I’m 33 by the way, so not exactly old!).
At the same time, I always feel a bit awkward labelling people into groups, so when I was asked if I agreed with certain terms describing young people, I almost felt quite protective over anything that sounded overly negative. One such term was ‘fickle’, yet this is exactly what has got brands in a bit of a pickle – they’ve started to learn that young people don’t necessary stay faithful to one brand and that they are a hard bunch to keep loyal.
I’m sure many young people would agree with this, yet one thing that has always stayed in my mind from my days as a journalist at YouthNet was that young people don’t want to be patronised – they may not know as much as the older generation, but we shouldn’t assume that in the way we talk to them.
Is it possible to target young audiences?
In reality, you can’t put all young people into one model, so we talked about how young people consist of more niche, specialist groups and that brands perhaps need to look towards sub-brands to meet specific interests for high engagement.
It’s a big age range to cater for when you come to differentiating between a 16 year-old and a 24-year-old, but one thing that seems to spread across this group is the strong influence that celebrities are having on their aspirations, whether or not they are deemed to be positive role models – especially those who appear on reality TV shows. Another example being how one person on the panel had recently seen a Tweet from a girl who was talking about Rihanna’s on-off-boyfriend Chris Brown, which said ‘He can beat me up any day’.
By attempting to be ‘too young’, brands were criticised by being unsuccessful in terms of fitting in with their goals and the way young people see themselves. Relationships between parents and teenagers have also changed a lot in recent years – young people now describe their parents as ‘friends’ and have very open conversations with them about their relationships, sexuality, and so on.
Original and unique ideas
We talked about how young people want to be the first to know something that others don’t know and to share this with their friends. Fans of Twitter and Facebook want to see and share original ideas when it comes to the way they buy products or tap into entertainment, therefore it’s becoming more important to surprise young people and be innovative.
Having worked across youth discussion boards in the past as a moderator I can definitely relate to this and the fact that young people see through cheap marketing tricks and get bored by advertising that is trying to be too clever.
Young people want to know the facts – for example, is something natural and what are the actual ingredients? They try to mix style and health, yet with beauty products it could literally be a case of whatever happens to be on promotion – they will try new things and move on.
How are young people responding to the economic climate?
The late Generation Y are coming into the workplace in tough economic times, which means that they are not necessarily optimistic about finding a job and neither are they angry – it’s more an acceptance that they will have to work that bit harder than their parents did to get a good job.
However, they are spending more money and debt is the norm. It will be interesting to see how brands will tap into the changing relationships that young people have with their parents, the media and their massive interest and understanding of social media, without forgetting to be passionate and authentic when it comes to getting young people to respond to them.