OPINION: Gen Y: The fickle pickle generation

Kristen Le
By Kristen Le | 8 November 2013

It’s no secret that Gen Y love to consume media. Our mobiles, TVs, our iPods, our laptops, our tablets – these objects have become an important part of the way we construct our identities and reflect these to the world. So we naturally invest more time, more meaning, and more about ourselves into our media consumption than we ever have before.

We all know what this results in. It's that annoying media buzzword that just won't quit. ‘Big Data’. A ludicrous amount of data. “Look at all that data!”, the marketing Big Wigs say, rubbing their hands together, with dollar signs in their eyes.

There’s no denying that the plethora of personal data we willingly hand over (particularly in the digital realm) is unprecedented, and some argue that as a result, this makes us sitting ducks for advertisers to target and wield profit. The more we give away about ourselves in the media channels we interact with, the easier it becomes for marketers to find, tweak, re-package, and feed this information back to us. We're measurable, and traceable – but does this truly equate to us being predictable?

I'd bet 'no'. Generation Y are switched on, smart, and more critical thinkers than we’re given credit for. We're well-aware that media channels have become transactional portals whereby to get what we want, we must give something in return: information. But what I feel advertisers continue to underestimate is how diverse the functions and depth of our media consumption are.

We use social media for self-expression. We use the TV as background noise so it’s not awkward at a house party. We might use that same TV 20 minutes later to immerse ourselves in a virtual gaming world. We educate ourselves with reviews from magazines, then maybe validate these further with peer-reviews on blogs. Contrary to popular belief – we appreciate print media. Sometimes we log online with no particular intention in mind at all. The reasons we access the media are endless.

By contrast, older generations are a lot more loyal to the (largely analogue) mediums they grew up with. This is because the Baby Boomers care greatly about the sources of news and information, and rely on personalised and trusted portals for the delivery of this content. Even though research has shown that Baby Boomers now spend more time online than Gen Y, which widens their habits, the principle is still the same. Boomers see media channels as vehicles of functional purpose, and this cultivates predictability. Though I’m painting with a broad brush, Boomers are more inclined to go back to the same source to see what they expect to see, and hear what they expect to hear (25 years of Alan Jones, anyone?).

Gen Y simply don’t interact with the media in this manner. Since the boom of the online world, there is now so much media clutter to wade through that we’ve grown accustomed to approaching media only at surface levels in order to stay afloat. With multi-screening behaviours more prevalent than ever, we might be consuming through two or more media channels at the same time, which not only make us more passive consumers, but facilitates in shortening the already-short attention span that’s embedded itself in our habits over the years. We’ll be invested and vocal one minute, then blasé the next. Our curious nature drives us to consume, so we’ll happily continue to put that data in front of you – but given our volatility, what’s this data even saying?

In Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier’s Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, it’s said that ‘Big Data’ is about “applying math to huge quantities of data in order to infer probabilities”, and that “at its core, big data is about predictions”. Well guys, if you’re banking on the data of an immensely trigger-happy generation to predict our media behaviours – you’re doing it wrong.

That’s why advertisers are continually chasing the Millennial audience – because we are more fragmented and unpredictable than ever before. We don’t care to be loyal to one media channel as our forebears might have been, because we don’t want to be told who we are. We use media to create our own brands, instead of embed ourselves within an existing one. While it’s true that we do hand over a frightening amount of information to the media, we also know that when an app, a channel, a show, doesn’t fit into who we picture ourselves to be anymore, we will ditch them at the drop of a hat.

So when the marketing Big Wigs say “Look at all that data?”, scratching their heads, with puzzlement on their faces – to you, I say this: It’s time we bring some common sense back into the way we approach Generation Y. Don’t mistake data correlation for causation, because the very moment you make that assumption, is the same moment we’ll be saying “the joke’s on you”.

Kristen Le
Media assistantMaxus

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