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6 IN 10 MILLENNIALS CONSIDER SOCIAL MEDIA THE NEW POWER OF YOUTH.
The days of the rebel without a cause are gone. In contrast to the “against” status that defined youth in previous decades, today’s young people are hackers rather than revolutionaries, more interested in driving incremental change than in rejecting authority. And that has opened the way for more meaningful relationships between young people and brands. Today, smart brands rely on youth—not just for what’s in their wallets, but also for what’s in their heads and hearts: their creative input, their enthusiastic evangelism, their energy. And young people, in turn, want to be able to rely on brands to make their lives better and to help them stand out from the crowd. It is a relationship built on mutual interests and trust—and it is up to brands not to blow it by being disingenuous or failing to keep their promises.
Teens and young adults have long been a target for marketers, both because of their current purchasing power and because they are in the process of establishing potentially lifelong brand preferences and loyalties. What we sought from our Hashtag Nation study was a deeper understanding of how today’s young people relate to brands. The report draws on findings from an online survey of 10,574 people aged 16 and older in 29 markets.
Key findings include:
Gen Z and millennials are big on brands. Brands aren’t just names on the products that consumers buy; they are tools that help establish young people’s senses of identity and social connections. It is no wonder, then, that 45% of our youngest respondents (aged 16‒34) were significantly more likely than older generations to say that brands are an “essential” part of their lives.
Goodbye, rebels; hello, makers. Since the days of James Dean and Marlon Brando, being young has essentially meant being “against”—against authority; against the status quo; against the music, style, and mores of earlier generations. Pretty much against anything their parents liked. That is no longer the case. Now “youth” values are shared values, and older people are at least as likely as the young to embrace what once were considered youthful pursuits and attitudes. The children and grandchildren of yesterday’s rebels are focused not on destroying the status quo but on driving incremental change and hacking together solutions (oftentimes digital) to the problems that get in their way.
Digital strategic arsenals help adolescents navigate the new social spheres. The social pressures created by social networking and having one’s life online, where it can be picked apart and commented on by strangers near and far, have pushed young people to create individualized sets of digital tools that help them navigate the social waters. Brands have a role to play in helping them to establish their identities and improve their social status.
Brand passion increasingly is digitally based. Whereas their parents may have grown up with Coke vs. Pepsi or McDonald’s vs. Burger King, today’s digital natives are more likely to align themselves with tech brands: Xbox vs. PlayStation, Spotify vs. Pandora, Roku vs. Chromecast, and on and on. Not surprisingly, they are also far more passionate about new-economy brands, for instance, choosing Airbnb over Hilton and Uber over Yellow Cab. Loyalty goes to those brands that aren’t just considered cool but that also make life more fluid and less expensive.