As a member of Generation X, feeling misunderstood was part of being a teenager. Many of us prided ourselves on being rebellious, cranking up the Sex Pistols, piercing our noses and climbing out of windows. However, most studies suggest that Saffy Syndrome -- so named after the sensible "Saffy" character from the TV show Absolutely Fabulous -- is becoming widespread when it comes to Generation Z and younger members of the Millennial group. It seems Generation X’s comparatively liberal approach to parenting has left our children finding little need for rebellion -- which gives more seasoned marketers a bit of a headache when it comes to figuring them out.
If we look at the stats first, all signs point to a well-rounded, healthy generation. An ONS Study, shows young people are driving the rise of teetotal living, with only 1 in 50 young adults (16-24) admitting to drinking alcohol frequently in 2013, whereas the proportion of young adults who reported that they do not drink alcohol at all has increased by over 40% between 2005 and 2013. In terms of smoking, a further study from 2013 also revealed that among 11- to-15-year-olds, less than a quarter of pupils reported that they had tried smoking at least once -- down from 42% in 2003 and the lowest level recorded since the data were first collected in 1982.
So if they aren’t hanging out in the local park sharing cigarettes and cheap booze, where have young people gone and where are they likely to go? The most obvious answer is online. Smartphones and social media are probably the biggest changes if we compare the youth nowadays to Generation X -- and to the older Millennials -- and this actually makes life a lot easier for brands. We can all but guarantee that young people are spending much more time online in some form and potentially interacting with brands at most points in the day -- whether they are glued to their phone or tablet, watching their connected TV or playing on their connect Xbox.
Some brands have jumped at this opportunity and seen the benefits of using Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, often in conjunction with TV events like the X Factor or the Superbowl, to make the most of both their online and TV ad spend. If you still need convincing to go social, look at brands that would never even exist without social media, like Kim Kardashian –- it’s powerful stuff and it’s not going away. And when it comes to how to get it right? Take your lead from how young people use social -- don’t try too hard to be cool but always stay available. If they tweet you, tweet back, but don’t try and mimic their language and behaviour or they will find it patronising.
We know that what young people value nowadays is honesty from brands. The Internet has empowered consumers -- and due to this phenomenon, businesses are increasingly being called out on bad behaviour. Towards the end of last year Oreo used YouTubers in an "Oreo Lick Race" that promptly got banned following complaints that it wasn’t clear enough that the stars were being paid by Mondelez. It’s a great lesson in using online platforms and new stars of the Internet world -- which clearly works when the aim is to reach a young audience -- but the lesson is clear that brands should be up front and honest about what’s branded content and what’s not, because people will find out.
They’ll also be able to find out whether you’re the type of business that does good, which is something that’s increasingly important to young people. It’s not enough to entice Gen Z-ers and Millennials to buy products anymore, as they are increasingly likely to give you their support if you can prove that you’re giving something back to the environment and community you work in -- and businesses are taking notice of this. A great recent example comes from Ben & Jerry's, which recently unveiled its "Join Our Core: competition, using its brand to help the increasingly aspirational 18-34 age bracket to get the cash required to start their own social enterprises.
So what does all this mean? Young people have changed, and have fundamentally different needs and reactions compared to those in previous generations. They’ve got their heads screwed on and have the world at their fingertips, so it’s up to brands to seek to understand how they think and what they want -- especially if they want them to be online advocates for their brand. And you never know, Saffy Syndrome may reverse itself and our level headed children may have a rebellious bunch on their hands in 20 years or so. Either way, it pays to understand your audience and make sure your brand meets their ever-changing expectations.