The kids are not okay. How COVID-19 is impacting Australia’s youth.

Ross Berthinussen
By Ross Berthinussen | 25 May 2020

Ross Berthinussen is head of strategy at 72andSunny Sydney.

“Kinda feel like the earth has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done” (Meme)

Every generation is shaped by their formative years. COVID-19 will be the defining event for this generation of Aussie youth. Whilst less likely to die from the virus, the crisis is driving rapid and significant changes to their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

By analysing youth culture since the start of the crisis, along with our experience working with youth brands around the world, we’ve identified the key cultural shifts for this generation. In the spirit of openness we thought worth sharing. You can read the full report here.

The Great Depression
Already suffering higher levels of anxiety and depression than other cohorts, the crisis is having a huge impact on this generation’s mental health. Loneliness, fear, stress from social distancing, uncertain futures, disruption to life and, of course, the virus itself. The perfect symbol of their anxiety: a menacing hum in the background, a threat from within that stokes fear and paranoia.

Companies employing this generation should be focused on protecting their mental health. Brands seeking to engage them should be aware of this context and helping in any way they can.

Pills For The Pain
When things feel like they’re out of our control, we switch to distractions and pain relief. This is a generation used to self medication in different ways. COVID-19 has removed some tactics, like travel and brunch, but there are many other small escapes – Tiger King, sourdough bread, or indulging in nostalgia.

Companies can connect by dialing up the nostalgia cues associated with their brand, product or category. Or creating experiences, content or product rituals to provide moments of calm or distraction.

The warm glow of a secure future has been dimmed by bushfires, snuffed out by the virus, stomped on by the coming recession. But this isn’t a generation to sit on their hands. They’re resilient and they’ve been navigating upheaval for a long time.

They know old rules don’t apply and old categories are meaningless. This knack for testing boundaries is vital post-COVID where everything is up for grabs. Whilst we mourn the old world, they’re busy making a new one.

Companies looking to connect should provide content, tools and services that facilitate reinvention and inspire positive action. Employees will need to provide opportunities for this generation to reinvent themselves at work - or they’ll find it elsewhere.

Next Level Authentic
Authenticity – the millennial cliché we must reassess post-COVID. Our domestic lives are now on display, yet accessible only through screens. We’re seeing a lifting of the veil, where celebs can’t play the everyman in their spacious mansions and lifestyle influencers can’t hawk the high life from tiny bedrooms. Witness your professor in pyjamas; your colleague’s cat. What’s rapidly declining is the Authentic Aesthetic - “we’re so real” repeated ad nauseum through Instagram and the startup brand universe. Authenticity is instead moving in two directions: on one end it’s completely stripped back, almost raw. The other into irony, pure artifice - think Paris Hilton. Fake in a fake world but honest about it.

Companies must commit even more to authenticity to resonate. That goes for employees and leadership styles as well as consumer facing brands. Brands need to choose which direction they go, ironically fake or total transparency.

Hype Immunity
For a while it felt like new = cool. Fresh kicks, new celeb lines, hot collabs, and websites with “hype” in their name documenting them all. Maybe the constant novelty would have worn off eventually, our collective dopamine receptors burnt out. Maybe conscious consumerism would’ve truly taken hold. But hype was disrupted by the biggest game-changer of all – COVID.

Overnight, this generation has been forced to reevaluate their priorities. Now it’s gauche to chase logos; ignorant to buy fast fashion. Celebrities are frivolous and science is cool. Moving forward, this generation will be looking for markers of quality when purchasing. And they will be looking to work for, and buy from, companies that embody values like thoughtfulness, respect, and timelessness.

Pre-COVID, this generation already lived massive swathes of their lives online. But the perception that online and real life were two separate dimensions lingers (with one superior to the other). Many people don’t consider gamers real athletes or see online friendships as real connection.

COVID-19 has forced us to reconsider. Online and real life are in fact the same. It’s driven by this generation of digital natives who understand this new blended reality and are best equipped to “hack” it or shape it to their needs.

The companies that connect with this audience will move as seamlessly between these two dimensions as they do and create meaningful experiences where they are. Think Travis Scott playing Fortnite.

In conclusion
COVID-19 is impacting all of us but this generation will be hardest hit, not by the virus itself, but the fall out. Already a hard group to connect with, the companies that understand how culture is shifting for this generation will be the ones that gain most relevance in this new normal.

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