Marketers, ad firm's survey shows that Gen Y is no Gen X

PHOTO/FAA Web site
nuciforaLR.jpg There seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between our prodigious knowledge of the baby boomer sector and our appalling ignorance of the Generation Y teen-ager set. Yet the teen market represents enormous, untapped potential even for those companies that market products not traditionally associated with the category.

A recent report, "Youth Truths," published by Detroit-based ad firm Campbell-Ewald, sheds revealing insight into the motivation and behavior of this easily misunderstood group.

Who are they?

Born during between 1976 and 1994, Gen Y, at 78,000,000 strong, now comprises 30 percent of the U.S. population, a group larger than the boomers and twice the size of Generation X.

According to the industry trade publication, Advertising Age, "marketers traditionally defined kids as ages 6 to 12. ... Today, there are at least six recognized youth segments: ages 0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, 13-15 and 16-18."

Most marketers carry a distinct bias with respect to kids’ buying habits and motivations. Some project Gen X behavior to the Ys, an obvious mistake because the personality of either group could not be more distinctive or different from the other.

Worse still, many marketers tend to project back or interpret current teen behavior based on the filter of their own experiences when they were that age along with all of the forgetfulness and revisionism that accompanies the aging process.

In reality, "the interests of each (teen) age group are now in flux," noted Advertising Age. "A tween, a youngster between ages 9 and 12, will have markedly different interests today, than a tween had just a few years ago." A number of factors are at the root of this acceleration process including "access to influences and information, working mothers and the speed with which trends move across the country."

The Unifying Elements

They’re being called the "next greatest generation" primarily because they share many of the attributes of the World War II generation. As Youth Truths pointed out, they’re idealistic. Ninety-five percent indicate that spending time volunteering or helping people is very or somewhat important . Fifty percent actively participate in volunteer work in their communities.

They’re also patriotic. Seventy-nine percent consider themselves to be such, according to Campbell-Ewald’s Youth Research. In fact, 68 percent say they would be willing to make a personal sacrifice for their country. Their patriotism, however, is not the flag-waving type of their parents and grandparents.

As Arthur Mitchell, Director of Strategic Planning for Campbell-Ewald noted, "theirs comes from a nuanced appreciation of the United States for the unique freedoms it offers ... freedom to be who and what you want to be ... a place where even a Dennis Rodman can live happily ever after."

They take their education seriously, which makes sense given their intuitive understanding that their futures will be tied to an education-dependent information society and not an industrial economy. As such, 87 percent want to go to university or college. They also possess a stronger moral compass than their parents.

"Trustworthiness," "determination" and "honor" are of great importance to this group. That’s understandable, given their constant exposure to the frailties and ills of today’s society with its 60-plus percent divorce rate and a political ruling system that rewards and encourages hypocrisy and deceit.

Optimism also prevails. Although they fear being left behind, 87 percent are still optimistic about their future, according to Campbell-Ewald Youth Research. In the 9-17 age group, 69 percent view owning their own business as a sign of success, vs. 34 percent for adults. This is a generation that firmly believes that it can have it all from personal happiness to career advancement to material success.

These are marketing-savvy folk. Don’t forget they’ve been exposed to media saturation. They know the marketer’s tricks. Therefore, they don’t have the patience to waste time with a product or message that claims to be something that it’s not. And if in doubt, they can easily go to the Web to validate the claim and verify the truth.

But even though they know marketers target them, they’re accepting of the fact as long as the marketer tells them the truth. What they value more than anything else is authenticity. While they view advertising as fake, that’s OK as long as it’s fun. What’s more, 71 percent agree that advertising is still the best way to learn about new products.

Yet when it’s all said and done, we cannot forget that they’re still kids ... irrational, passionate and hormonal to boot. They know it too. Seventy-six percent of the 9-17 age group tell us that "they are in no hurry to grow up."

The problem is that teens are being given more adult responsibility, particularly in households where both parents work. This can encompass buying the groceries as well as voicing an influential opinion on the next auto purchase for the family. For parents and for marketers, there must be a realization that teens’ opinions must be taken seriously.

The marketing lesson to be gleaned from the data and trend information is a simple one: Get to know this generation now and not when it’s too late, particularly if you don’t market "of the moment" products such as music, cosmetics and fashion. Gen Y will have long memories. Loyalty to person or product will therefore be one of the defining elements of their personality and ultimately their buying behavior.

Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be contacted via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Updated: 
11/25/2001 - 8:00pm