Tuned: Smells like teen spirit
by Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) If you thought Millennials had challenged the status quo, brace yourself for a new generation of youth who are changing the world as I write — and they haven’t even grown out of their teens. These teenagers are a force to be reckoned with, and marketers better start listening and speaking up.
A ‘phase’ stigmatised with raging hormones, risky and rebellious behaviour, and social awkwardness, adolescence has been managed by strict rules and boundaries in an attempt to stop adolescents from becoming delinquent or otherwise disappointing their families. The focus is always upon passing school, ensuring that you become a proper adult who can function in society. It’s a time when no one takes you seriously, leaving you feeling misunderstood and further enraged because society holds you back from openly and freely expressing and experiencing your natural transformation into adulthood.
Gone are the days
But gone are the days where science expos and debating or public-speaking forums were the only platforms for teens to voice their opinions about the world. With access to Twitter, YouTube and the like, the current generation of teens is informed, empowered and unafraid to speak its mind.
Taking a stand for what is right, even if it means being provocative, is the new cool. They are less attached to fitting in; it’s more about standing out within a crowd. Self-expression is an essential part of their coming of age, and they will not allow anyone to stand in the way of them being ‘fully self-expressed’.
And, more than any other generation of teenagers before them, these teens have the power to influence the world.
Take the 15-year-old youth director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Roske Martinez, as an example: an accomplished writer, hip-hop artist and climate warrior, he recently gave world leaders of the United Nations a real, good, old-fashioned talking to about the future of his generation. Together with 20 other youths, he sued the US government for fossil-fuel exploitation.
Then at age 14, teen feminist Willow Smith freely expresses and celebrates her individuality. She’s rocked an “ain’t no wifey” t-shirt and joined the #freethenipple discussion after a torso-printed crop-top caused a media frenzy. Smith passionately advocates for black women worldwide and never shies away from debate, brushing aside ageism as she goes.
Sixteen-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg (best known for her role in the Hunger Games) made headlines earlier this year when she gave the world a crash course on cultural appropriation, privilege and racism in the media and music industries.
Malala Yousafzai, 18, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2011 for championing the cause of girls’ education, is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
Another 18-year-old, Lorde (born Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor), is a two-time Grammy award winning singer and song writer. Unlike previous generations of pop teen artists whose music fed teenage girls a naïve sense of life, Lordes’ very real, generation-defining lyrics have made her an authentic voice speaking to a new generation who see through the world’s ills and embrace self-expression.
Seek out vocal brands
Given how vocal teens are about a number of issues, they will seek brands that are similarly unafraid to speak for what they truly believe in:
Recently, Burger King demonstrated its support for same-sex marriages with a rainbow coloured wrapper for its “Proud Whopper” burger. Facebook, too, created a tool that allowed you to change your profile picture in support of marriage equality. Although it did receive some criticism for ‘manipulating’ its users, the social media network had, in all fairness, been supporting gay rights for over a month before the American bill was passed.
Does this mean that brands must now join in on political conversations?
It is not a matter of what the subject is, but rather having a strong point of view and a cultural mission that supports a belief that goes beyond a simple brand purpose. It will be brands that show genuine concern for the future — those that listen and make contributions to culture and society — who will be respected by this teen generation.
How to do it
So how does your brand win with this new generation of outspoken youth?
- Be focused: have a strong point of view about the world and stand firm for what you believe in as a brand.
- Be real and authentic: don’t try too hard, and stay true to who you are and what you value most as a brand.
- Be an enabler: help them to do new things, change the world and create a life that they want to lead.
Thabang Leshilo (@Thabang_Leshilo) is a project manager at strategic marketing consultancy Added Value. As a ‘next-generation’ marketer with fresh and curious eyes looking into the industry, she has a keen interest for brands that are culturally in tune with and able to integrate and immerse themselves into the everyday realities of the consumer. She contributes the monthly “Tuned” column, sharing marketing insight and analysis, to MarkLives.
— MarkLives’ round-up of top ad and media industry news and opinion in your mailbox every Monday and Thursday. Sign up here!