At times, scrolling through Instagram can seem like viewing a sea of sameness. With photo filters and guides to taking the perfect selfie, it’s easier than ever to present a highly polished image of oneself on social media. While that means the social sphere has gotten more attractive, it also means that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for teens to stand out among all of the photos of people simply looking good. As a result, what’s now grabbing young people’s attention is when someone is daring enough to break the mold of the stereotypical pretty/handsome/cute aesthetic and instead broadcast their weirdness. Among teens, going against the norm and owning one’s quirks can earn more social cred than presenting an overly perfect image.
Unlike past generations of youth who strove to fit in and be like everyone else, today’s teens place high value on individuality, even if it means they need to be “odd” to be different. It’s one way they demonstrate their creativity and express themselves. Growing up online, teens have been exposed to a vast range of opinions, looks, and artistic impressions as they explore the Web and form their personal identity. As TechCrunch recently observed, “There is no such thing as majority mainstream culture any more. We are all weirdos now.” Teens mix and match the disparate styles they want to adopt, picking and choosing based on their whims to craft their own unique aesthetic, or “Brand Me.” This has created a highly fragmented generation of young people, each with their own unusual preferences and proclivities. While this once would have made a teen an outcast, the current generation of youth is particularly open-minded and accepting. Instead of shunning those who are different, teens welcome and praise those who dare to do their own thing.
The excitement teens find in exploring the unusual is highly visible in pop culture. They’re trying bold new looks to shake up their makeup routines (think blue lipstick or bright yellow eyeliner). In the area of music, they’re listening to a proliferation of “weirdo” rappers who are challenging the status quo of what the genre should sound like, as well as what rappers should look like. They’ve given rise to the Tim & Eric Takeover in marketing. The duo that achieved fame on Adult Swim by winning over teens with their unusual brand of humor is now aiding advertisers who are turning to the pair to spice up their commercials.
The latter is a clear lesson for marketers. They need to take risks in their advertising to teens—rather than presenting pristine images of traditional aspirations that fail to resonate with teens, they should celebrate their weirdness. Not only does it help to distinguish their ads in a crowded media environment but it also shows that the brand is authentic and transparent. The caveat, however, is not to be absurd just for the sake of being absurd. Sure, it might catch teens’ attention, but if it doesn’t feel organic or if it fails to mesh with the company’s core position, it will feel disingenuous and lack the desired effect of bringing fans closer to the brand. The challenge is to look to your brand to discover what makes it weird and wonderful and to tout those traits to your teen audience.