Think Piece One

Why cool and hedonism alone will no longer cut it for brands trying to connect with youth.

Unemployment levels for under 25s in the Eurozone have just hit 24.4%. In the US joblessness among youth is double the overall rate at 16%. Stripe Partners has been out talking to young people to find out how they are responding.

The situation is impacting attitudes and behaviour in a number of ways. In a reverse of the long-running ‘Peter Pan’ trend of staying youthful longer, people are becoming more focused and more serious younger. As school leavers and students they are seeking out opportunities to acquire the hands-on skills development they need to get into work. This cultural shift is borne out by data from a recent global McKinsey report where half of the young people surveyed claim not to be relying on their postsecondary education to improve their chances of finding a job.

Under-25’s are also engaging with entrepreneurship and start-up culture. For many having your own side project and being entrepreneurial are seen as the only way to get work. The days of Fast Company’s ‘Generation Flux’ are very much upon us. Young people are aware that they need to keep learning and building skills to give themselves a chance of finding work and the best way to do that is to start their own thing.

The need to focus and make the most of opportunities also means EU under-25s are doing less partying than people their age did in the past. Looking close to home UK department of health data show levels of alcohol consumption in steady decline amongst 16-24 year olds since 2002. There are also signs that use of leisure time is changing with more focus on experiences that can be talked about in job interviews versus activities people want to sweep under the digital carpet.

So what does this mean for brands and businesses? The tried and tested youth marketing tropes of hedonism, rebelliousness and cool detachment feel increasingly out of step. The young people we spoke with talked of their interest in brands that show they understand their situation by building opportunities for skills development and networking into their communication and activities.

Red Bull’s music academy is cited as an example of a brand getting it right in terms of delivering useful stuff in an engaging way. The academy works because it is focused on providing people who are trying to break into music with access to expertise and networking opportunities that they cannot find anywhere else. Intel’s ‘creators project’ collaboration with Vice is another example given of a brand using its financial muscle to create a platform for young people to network and hone their creative skills.

Unilever is approaching the same challenge at a global level through its Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards. The scheme, which has gathered over 510 entries from around the world, is backing young entrepreneurs seeking to develop businesses that tackle environmental, social and health issues.

These are niche, leading edge examples, but our view is that these are shifts more mainstream focused brands cannot ignore. So what should brands be doing to tap into these shifts in youth culture? Here are five perspectives on developing youth brand engagement and experiences that are fit for the new seriousness:

1. Develop activity and communication that challenges young people – the new seriousness means young people are gravitating to messages with more depth and meaning.

2. Build in usefulness to brand experiences by providing opportunities for skills development, collaboration and networking – think beyond standard parties and gigs to creating a platform for experiences that are engaging and that offer learning opportunities.

3. Think inside out on activity – what do you do behind the scenes that you can open up to engage young people?

4. Commit for a proper chunk of time.

5. Don’t do it for content. Do it because you mean it.

We’re planning a series of workshop with leading edge youth to chart these shifting attitudes and concerns. Let us know if you’re interested in getting involved.