When I was a teenager in the 90s, bullying was mostly restricted to lunchtime harassment and pre-arranged after-school brawls in the park behind the church. There’s no doubt
that back then, those who experienced bullying went through a painful time. However, today’s highly visual and socially connected world has ratcheted up the opportunities, visibility and
permanence of teen intimidation to an extent that is probably unimaginable to those of us who grew up pre-Web 2.0. This has helped spur the current cultural movement to end teen bullying.
There are many manifestations of this movement. The heart-wrenching documentary "Bully" is one recent example. The movie tells the emotional stories of five teen bullying victims, and had
its R rating lowered to PG-13 after social pressure and some minor edits. Lady Gaga has also been a prominent anti-bullying champion, as have projects like It Gets Better.
What has been the impact of "Bully" and the anti-bullying movement?
Along with other factors, it has helped shape a new teen mindset -- one that is distinctly
different from that of Millennials, with implications for how brands connect with tomorrow’s consumers.
Millennials vs. teens
Sobered by the Great Recession’s impact on their families and communities, growing up in a highly social online world, and responding to the
anti-bullying movement, for today’s youth it’s cool to be smart, tolerant, inclusive and beyond all, responsible. This new generation is more focused and grounded than their older
Millennial kin. This is Generation Nice.
Too school for cool
Nine in ten teens say the
recession affected them and led to major perspective shifts, including a greater appreciation for what they have and more awareness of hardship, according to the ‘Teens and Money’ study by
Serious times beget a serious focus on the future. Gfk MRI data reveals that 88% of 13- to-18-year-olds agree that “getting good grades is important to
me,” while between 2006 and 2011 there was an increase from 56% to 63% in teens who agreed with the statement: “I enjoy school for the educational aspect.” Who’d have thought
kids would want to go to school to actually learn?
In the same period we saw corresponding shifts in teens’ future goals. “Buy a house” increased from 78% to 85%, “have
a successful career” increased from 78% to 83%, and “have children” rose from 69% to 77%, according to MRI. There are parallels between the current teen response to the downturn and
how the Silent Generation exited the Great Depression and World War II more responsible and focused than previous generations.
Teens’ behaviors are shifting too. Teen drinking, smoking
and sex have all been declining, along with the pregnancy rate -- falling 44% since 1991, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics’ 2010 report.
Teens’ role models embody this new ‘sensicool’ mindset. "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence was recently quoted in Seventeen magazine talking about body
image: “I remember when I was 13 and it was cool to pretend to have an eating disorder because there were rumors that Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie were anorexic. I thought it was
And the anti-bullying campaigns are also having an impact. Seventy-five percent of teens agree with the statement “I hate stereotypes, everyone
is their own person,” a 6-percentage-point rise from 2009 -- an inclusiveness reflected in shows like "Glee."
Where does this leave us?
For youth brands this means a shift in positioning. No longer will it be cool to be aggressive or highly sexualized. Whereas Millennial marketing is sometimes
about being quick and shiny, marketing to new teens will be about being important and meaningful. Marketing also becomes less about how you help ‘me,’ and more about how you help
‘us.’ Be responsible. Be helpful. Be inclusive. And for a more connected and inquisitive generation, be engaging and informative.
brands, these themes will be equally important as they prepare for their future customers.
For everyone else, be thankful for this generation. We can all relax knowing the kids will
have everything covered.