A youth lost in translation

Posted: November 12, 2015

The youth of South Africa command billions of rands in spending power, directly and through their influence over household consumer decisions. Today’s young adults have more disposable income than the generations that have come before them. While marketers want to draw in the under-23s, they need to be aware that this is a heterogeneous group with mercurial tastes. They need to know these youngsters are tech savvy and are hyper-connected, with the ability to make or break a brand overnight. Marketers and employers shouldn’t try to engage with the Millennials and Generation Z consumers without truly understanding them first.

But it’s easy to get this wrong. Sophisticated and with access to information their parents could never have imagined, our research report found that young South Africans are suspicious of marketing especially if they perceive it be condescending. They appreciate good customer service and will turn away from brands that they perceive to lack integrity. Understanding that the one thing they don’t have but do need is experience which helps us develop our propositions and communication to be more helpful, relevant and even enriching of their lives.

In the Yellowwood white paper, we analyse the findings of, the Sunday Times Generation Next study. It delves into what young people are feeling, thinking and worrying about. It looks at what they value and what inspires them.

The ‘youth’, as we deal with them in our report based on the Generation Next study are separated into three groups:

  • the deeply ambitious, over-stimulated ‘kids’ aged 3-12 years old, who were born into the time of touchscreen technology;
  • the mobile generation ‘teens’ aged 13-18 years old, whose lives revolve around gadgets and social media; and
  • the ‘young adults’, aged 19-23 years old who are worried about finding the right jobs and don’t fit into the old mould of the working world.

While the youth of today may be considered to be politically ‘Born-Free’, they certainly don’t feel free on so many levels. They are concerned from a very young age about their prospects in the job market, violent crime, environmental degradation and, more than anything, what they can expect to gain under South Africa’s beleaguered education system. The youngsters surveyed in the Yellowwood report expressed a real thirst for work and life skills.

While the youth believe they will have a brighter future than their parents did, for the most part they are not feeling optimistic about the state of the country. Youth happiness has dipped from 73.2% feeling happy most of the time in 2010, to 67.4% in 2015. Almost a quarter of the youth surveyed in the study were afraid for their safety most of the time.

The pressure is on at home too. Young South Africans see themselves as their “parents’ investment” and that they have to do well to ensure their parents get a good ‘return on their investment’. However this is in tension with the value they place on self-actualisation and their unwillingness to conform with the perceived or traditional notions of success that living up the expectations of parents, teachers and other adults entails.

As one might expect, then, and as the report found, young South Africans highly value family, religion and self-expression through the arts or sport, far more than they do gadgets or other consumer items. That’s not to say, however, that these gadgets, and technology in general, don’t play a huge role in their lives. One significant finding of the research was that the average age of cellphone ownership has dropped. In 2008, the average cellphone owning age was from 11 to 13 and in 2015, it is six to nine-years-old.

Internet is overtaking TV in popularity among youngsters, though generally TV is still providing the best ROI for marketers. The under-23s have grown up never knowing a time when they didn’t have information at their fingertips and influences their parents were never exposed to. They may not however always have the mental or social tools to process this information, and the adults in their lives may not be able to help them either. Brands that can cut through the noise and, even better, help make some sense of the noise, have an advantage. On the other hand, brands that employ intrusive or overt advertising on social media or the internet will succeed only in alienating their intended audience.

Gaming has a massive impact on the social lives of young South Africans. It has been found to enhance people’s brain flexibility and strategic minds as well as enable them to adapt to the context. This has created a workforce with uncanny abilities to multitask, creatively solve problems and lead.

The access to information and technology means that young South Africans are socially aware and feel empowered to demand respect. Sadly; respondents said they feel they are only listened to when someone is trying to sell them something. The research also showed that while they live online to a large extent, this is not necessarily where the youth want to engage with brands. In fact they appreciate face-to-face interactions; these can spark conversations about the brand that may then be taken to and continued on social media. So ultimately, showing that you are listening to them and are genuinely engaging is more important than being perceived as cool.

All this is not to say the youth are not brand and image conscious – far from it! The report lays out what they are watching and listening to, what celebrities are perceived as coolest and the brands they aspire to own. Sneakers and coffee, for example, are asserting new dominance over the tastes and self-expression of young South Africans.

Baby Boomer-generation marketers may sometimes find these tastes and preferences confusing and this market inscrutable. But this is a generation that appreciates being listened to, and this is not perhaps a difficult task. We hope that by providing these insights into the concerns, experiences and tastes of young South Africans will help us marketers devise better strategies to this large and powerful demographic. Time and again it’s been shown that society hasn’t made enough effort to understand young people and continues to make the same mistakes. Lets make sure that marketing as a profession changes this for good.

For more information, or to view the full white paper, visit www.ywood.co.za or call 011 268 5211