Teenage dreams are hard to beat

9 September 2014

We’ve all read the headlines; this is the worst time ever to be a teenager. This generation of young people faces huge unemployment rates, sky-high prices for education and the possibility of never making it onto the property ladder.

These rebellious, emotional and angry individuals must be taking to the streets to protest and rally against the government - except mostly they aren’t. Today’s teens are the least rebellious generation since the term was first coined in 1945.

Before parents of teenagers jump to dispute this, obviously all kids go through a period of boundary testing with their parents. However for the sake of this article, we are looking at the period of awakening that follows this tumultuous time as the teen finds their feet in the world.

Today’s teenagers are the most misunderstood generation by marketers and advertisers. This is a significant problem given the importance of this audience to marketers, they are tomorrow’s opinion leaders and spenders and they serve as an aspirational generation for all other generations.

So why is there so much confusion and misunderstanding by marketers and advertisers? Why is so much of the marketing that is aimed at this generation so lame?

According to the findings of Lowe Counsel’s global Window On Teen’s research study, this generation of teens is wired differently to the generations that came before them. This generation, Gen Z, is born of the digital age and simply does not conform to the stereotypes held by older generations.

Most significantly they do not conform to strict tribes, such as being a Goth, Punk, Hipster or Rocker, they are more fluid and creative in defining their identities.

Armed with access to a broader world that is full of diverse interests, teens have more opportunities for self-expression than past generations. They don’t need to subscribe to one single tribe, opting instead to create mosaic identities.

That’s not to say you don’t still get teen Goths, or Hipsters, but when you talk to them you’ll quickly find out they aren’t angry and disaffected like previous generations. Instead, they are playing with their identities, changing the definitions of identity and they keen to express themselves as individuals.

Brands that can tap into these ideas of identity and self-expression through marketing activity will be successful at engaging this audience.

Technology brand Intel has managed to achieve this through creative projects like its Emmy-award winning online TV series The Beauty Inside, which examined ideas of identity - particularly the idea that it’s what is on the inside that counts - an important message when your product is the processing chip located inside other products.

Intel created the series and then distributed it online via social channels so that teens found the content in their natural habitats; it even offered teens the chance to appear in the series, thus ensuring a captivated audience.

Another big difference with today’s teenagers is their relationships with their parents. There has been a “dramatic” flattening of authority, with today’s teens viewing their parents more as an ally than an enemy.

This closing of the generation gap has been driven by technology, particularly social media. In the past, the teenagers’ world was closed off from their parents and a parent’s life was of very little interest to the teen.

Social media and other digital environments have enabled access to these worlds and provided both parties with a greater insight and understanding of the others’ lives. This has provided an opportunity for parents to be seen as allies, guides, and even curators, in helping teens to navigate the world.

This blurring of the generation gap presents a huge opportunity for brands to exploit the emotional harmony that teens feel for their parents.

Popular headphone brand Beats By Dre, which was recently purchased by Apple, used this relationship in an immensely powerful way in its World Cup advertising campaign.

The brand created a five-minute online film called ‘The Game Before The Game’, depicting sports players using music to get ready for a big game. The film opens and closes on a very tender conversation between Brazilian soccer player Neymar Jr and his Father as he prepares for a game.

By tapping into this relationship in a seemingly authentic way Beats By Dre demonstrated how to effectively engage with modern teens without coming across as a “try-hard” brand trying to “get down” with the kids.

This brings us to the other major factor in marketing to the modern teen – keeping it real and authentic. This generation is the most advertising and marketing literate generation ever, they are well informed about brands and business and they can see through a fake gesture from a mile away.

This total marketing literacy means marketers need to be true to the brand values and be completely transparent. The more open and authentic a brand appears to be, the more this audience responds to it.

The success of brands such as Toms - which donates a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair sold - has become immensely popular with teens, who are drawn to the honesty and goodness of the brand and view it as an easy way to do good.

There are huge opportunities for marketers and brands to build meaningful connections with this generation, but first they need to forget the outdated stereotypes and embrace this unique generation of teenagers.

Brands need to stop trying to “get down with the kids” and focus on being flexible, authentic and real, because no one - no matter what their age - likes a fake.

Jon McKie

Chief Strategic Officer



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