To see how mainstream 20 – 30 yr old males and females will behave tomorrow, we need to take a fresh approach to understanding how the youth mindset of today operates.We need to look closely at why brands play a key role in young people’s lives.Where do new trends come from and how are young people individually and unanimously inspired?What we know is that every youth movement and trend starts life underground Effectively, today’s underground will shape tomorrow’s mainstream.
We can learn a lot from these emergent brands because they usually operate outside the normal parameters of mainstream brands and create customers like fans among the core youth audience.
Underground youth culture is constantly being referenced and appropriated to provide substance and credibility to mainstream brands and their communications. It’s important to be connected to the energy and originality of underground brands and subcultures in Australia and around the world, in order to create more effective communications, targetting and consumer relationships
The topic of youth culture seems to be everywhere; features appear in weekly newspapers, weekend supplements, books and magazines. Yet the inevitable consequence of such mass exposure more often leads to the dissemination of sweeping assumptions and misinformation, than to informed understanding and intelligent insights. The generalisations are there for all to see: young people take drugs, they go to clubs, they’re media literate and can see through our marketing strategies.
In other words, marketers like to think that they are all the same.
But making the assumption that young people fall into one homogeneous category does not count for all the elements that go towards making youth culture so complex and powerful.
What about creativity? Individuality? Distinctiveness? Rather than looking for common denominators, it’s better to view youth culture as a fluid phenomenon, which has it’s own social codes.
These ‘social codes’ have numerous combinations and are protected from outside interpretation. Much in the same way children invent secret games in the playground, where they can experiment, use their imaginations and explore new ways of behaving, youth culture creates a myriad of private clubs, codes and movements
These ‘codes’ are hard to crack but their building blocks are somewhat easier to identify – the codes are created from fashion, politics, behaviour, communication, rituals, interests, music and expression. Youth operate within a street culture we generally know little about.
Think about renegade media (street media). Certain streets (such as Greville St and Brunswick St in Melbourne) are covered in mysterious signs and symbols and codes. Young people love the appeal of these codes. New signs and codes are often created as a form of resistance to the mainstream. Their appeal is related to their semi-legal and semi-subversive status.
Today’s youth culture is shaped by speed of change, novelty, weight and variety of stimuli and choices. Underground brands adopt an instinctive methodology born out of the need to promote themselves with limited resources – although occasionally they achieve a level of notoriety which is hugely disproportionate to their investment.In a fast moving world where youth consumers are constantly ‘surfing’ for information and ideas, surface information can still be a powerful force.
Increase the feeling of discovery – this may mean limiting availability or producing less visible marketing messages. This encourages ‘youth’ consumers to use their intelligence to discover what you’re saying for themselves. If we look at the evolution of brand identities over the last 20 yrs we can see that today there is a greater importance placed on labels, notably clothing labels, worn as a badge by youth consumers. Brands have become more central to young people’s lives as a way of communicating who they are. Brands convey identity; they have the ability to unite like-minded people.
Labels convey both individuality and belonging. Brand identities and labels transmit covert messages about who ‘youth’ think they are, where they belong, and who they want to be. What shoes, trousers, tattoo or record bag they have displays an allegiance to a music scene, attitude, football club or city. Brands play a key role in young people’s lives so look at influences beyond the mainstream category, and even the country you operate in.
Remember good ideas can come from anywhere. Look outside your normal competition to see where future threats may lie. To really be in touch with youth today, you’ll need to develop entirely different antenna.
YPulse is a marketing site devoted to Gen Y