The Young Ones
With BlackBerrys now available on fairly cheap monthly tariffs, and the iPhone becoming a default at upgrade time, the mobile internet has never been so widely available and democratised. Data usage is set to rise 42% in Western Europe in the next 5 years and much of this is at the expense of voice revenue and texting as users seek to take advantage of inclusive data bundles.
Come on admit it, as soon as we get any signal on the Tube, out comes the phone as we cannot bear to be without Angry Birds, Facebook, e-mail or even a quick preview of the evening’s TV. Don’t say it’s just me.
Yet with mobile operators giving away vast data allowances to encourage take up of smartphones, they are rapidly realising that they have, to a certain extent, ‘shot themselves in the foot’ – given that huge usage increases are fast placing pressure on network pricing structures. A ‘data crunch’ is now inevitable: the networks are creaking towards capacity and the leading operators need to take steps to remedy this.
A tiered system is already creeping in where data is sold in bundles rather than being endlessly given away. O2 are quick to address concerns and state that even the lowest inclusive bundle of 500MB will be enough for 97% of smartphone customers. Nevertheless, for most of us mortals, what does 500MB even mean? It took us long enough to figure out how many texts we needed a month let alone deciphering how many ‘giga-‘ ‘mega-’ or kilo-bytes there are in an e-mail or a movie clip. Answers on an SMS – after all, who uses postcards?
It is understandable that networks need to address the revenue shortfall but what will this mean for the thousands of youths for whom their smartphone is their main means of communication with the world? Parents have finally managed to get their teens away from their bedroom laptops and from hogging the family computer. Our young ones have been exploiting this new found freedom of social networking and internet access at their fingertips. With this new system, they will perhaps be the ones who suffer the most.
Often avid users of MSN, social networking sites, and video downloads, these are the functions that consume heavy amounts of data making the default 500MB stretch less far than one thinks. Conversely, e-mail, which is arguably less heavy on data allowances, tends not to be such a key medium for teens.
It does feel a bit like they’ve been given the world for it suddenly to be taken away again. It may well involve a step backwards as young people are once again forced to wait their turn for the family computer, or alter completely the ways in which they consume media altogether.
But should we feel sorry for these kids when there is evidence to suggest they are the ones responsible for the network congestion? File sharing is rife amongst teens and it’s precisely this sort of ‘data hungry’ activity that the networks see as an exploitation of their ‘unlimited’ services.
What it means for certain is that nearly all of us will be reverting back to the old days (remember the days before unlimited everything?) where we fear going over our allowance. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll start to use our phones to talk to each other again?
With one third of the Voodoo employees currently engaged to be wed, it’s a surprise when other more important topics of office conversation [football] manage get a look in. So when scraping the barrel for a blogging topic this week, ‘weddings’ jumped out at me like an underfed, cage-fighting trained, piranha.
From small intimate gatherings to grandiose overblown occasions, it’s the one facet of the British economy currently bucking the post-recessionary trend for frugality. With an estimated £5.5 billion spent on the wedding industry in 2009 alone - this pattern shows no signs of stopping.
So why does saying “I do” and the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the moment, go against all the received wisdom of the current economic climate? Let’s explore some of the theories floating ‘round the office…and in cyberspace:
1. Celebrity Influence
The old chestnut of blaming slebs for all the evils of the world could have some weight to it. With Chelsea ($3-5million), Robbie (£20,000 for the flowers & £160,000 for the ring) & Walliams (£80,000) tying the knot already in 2010, surely some of this extravagance must trickle down to us mere mortals. (Though I trust that not every celebrity-endorsed wedding item becomes a must-have.)
One would hope that today’s young couples would have the sense to filter through expenditure only on things they consider vital for making their ‘special day’ truly, errr, special. But when bombarded by THE INDUSTRY [‘Perfect Wedding’, ‘Wedding ideas’, ‘Weddings: How to spend more’ are just a few of the titles available from WH Smith (and all good newsagents)] Could it be that after digesting that quantity of hard sell, some degree of brain washing takes place, akin to watching far too many hours of ‘Crafting with colour step-by-step’ on QVC. All of a sudden [insert generically crap wedding item] becomes what’s been missing all your life. I’ve seen first hand, (normally considered ‘sane’) liberal, eco-conscious couples in their early to mid-twenties turning all bridezilla when there’s decisions to be made on ‘empire cream’ vs. ‘pearlescent ivory’ paper for the invites.
2. Blame the parents
For some unlucky brides and grooms-to-be their ‘big day’ doesn’t, in fact, belong to them. Yes, they may be centre stage for the event- the leading man and lady- but it’s the big-money backers of these Hollywood-style productions who really hold all the cards: ‘Mom & Dad’. Whether it’s for religious, cultural - or in middle-England most likely- social reasons, if the parents are paying for these gatherings - it’s to get their money’s worth or at least to repay old debts. Entire guest lists can be populated by the ‘rents friends whose own children’s weddings your parents have already been invited to in previous years, and therefore need to ‘repay the kindness’. So once extended family is taken into consideration, before bride & groom even consider inviting anyone they actually want to be there - a bloated number of cast and crew has already been assembled thus racking up the costs.
3. A return to traditional values
By virtue of our ‘post crunch’ research, and throughout projects for clients ranging from supermarkets, mobile networks right through to beauty products, we’ve noticed a common vein has flowed: Real signs of a return to the more traditional (conservative, if you will) values of our parents’ parents generation are coming to the fore - from ‘grow your own’ & ‘make do and mend’ through to ‘keeping it local’, the signs are there for all to see. If this is the case, in this context, a return to the ‘traditional white wedding’ makes perfect sense. Regarding the event of the wedding, as opposed to the marriage itself as the focus, is merely a C21st morally bereft update of the convention.
So as part of a hungry research agency, aware of the dramatic cross-industry cuts to insight budgets all around us- perhaps we should be going after projects where the real money lies… floral fascinators and sugared almond table favours.
There’s been a well documented shift in the number of young adults staying at home with their parents rather than moving out. And it’s pretty clear what the reasons for this are so I’m not going to waste your time repeating them here. What is interesting, from a marketing point of view, is whether or not this is going to have any direct impact on patterns of consumption or implications for underlying attitudes and behaviours that will need to be taken account of.
So far the default assumption seems to be that not moving out means not moving on, that young adults who stay at home are living in a state of arrested development or an extended adolescence. This is seen as part of a broader trend of people taking longer to grow up.
On the surface of it, this is not a dumb assumption. During the mid 20th Century a set of events became associated with the transition to adulthood: finishing education, getting your first job, living independently, getting married, having kids. What’s more, they tended to happen in the same order. More recently though, the order in which these things have happened has become less uniform and, in many cases, they’ve become more strung out. So it would be fair to think that because these young adults are not really taking on responsibility in the way previous generations did, they’re not really growing up.
That may be true in some sense, but that’s very different from remaining adolescent. Problem behaviours such as crime, binge drinking, drug use, risky behaviour (and violent death) tend to be most evident during adolescence. So, if adolescence was being extended, you might expect to see some of these behaviours shift upwards in age over time. By and large they don’t. (See ‘Delayed Adulthood? Trends in the Age Distribution of Problem Behaviours, a paper by Sarah R. Hayford and Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr.) And if you think about it, it’s not really that surprising. A number of things are going on in adolescence: very specific biological and neurological changes, which explain some of the increased risk taking and sensation seeking. But these drivers of adolescent attitudes and behaviours just burn themselves out naturally over time.
Young adults are still, and always will be, very different from adolescents. They have very different psychological and social outlooks and brands need to talk to them in a completely different way.
A different aspect of this same issue is the increasing evidence that stay-at-home kids are not contributing to the household finances in the way they might have been expected to a few decades ago. In fact the flow of cash is in the other direction, and that continues even after they’ve left home. A lot of parents see their kids unable to get on in the way they could when they started out by themselves and feel the need to give them some financial assistance. There’s a kind of informal redistribution of wealth going on across the generations. So maybe those ‘early greys’ are not going to be quite as cashed up as a lot of marketers are counting on.
And there’s a whole bunch of other implications:
- If parents are supporting their kids for longer what kind of impact is that going to have on the kinds of purchases those young adults feel they can make?
- If the previous rites of passage to adulthood are delayed then what other symbols of growing up and moving on are going to become important (and how can brands cater to this need)?
- Will living with mum and dad mean you accidentally start to absorb their world view when previous generations would have been questioning them?
- If moving out and living with others tends to expose you to different ways of thinking and different ways of living, will staying at home with mum and dad lead to a new conservatism?
- Will this extended living together lead to an even greater narrowing of the generation gap when it comes to the purchasing of fashion and more?
Just something to think about…
I’ll begin by setting the scene dramatically – 5 years ago, pre and post university youngsters had the world as their oyster. It was taken for granted that one day they would have a house, a job, a stable family, and that they’d be able to provide for that family. Because of this so-thought inevitability, settling down and working to a steady rhythm too soon after leaving university became frowned upon. This was the generation of triple gap years; of becoming a Rough Guide employee and travelling the world; of switching between industries every six months; of upping sticks and moving to the big city as soon as possible. Once the credit crunch hit, this foundation was heavily shaken, and what is left is a generation of youngsters with shattered dreams.
Their approach is not, as outlined in a previous post on this blog, to show resistance and anger at baby boomers, but to push at getting the opportunity and privilege which they promised themselves while they began to sketch their path with so-called ‘useless’ degrees in History and English.
This push is exercised in a number of ways. I resisted by being content with English as a degree when I graduated a year ago, and not falling into Law School to gain a profession like some of my peers. Some resisted by moving abroad, by becoming entrepreneurs, by doing a Masters to continue their self enrichment. A particular form of resistance solidifies itself in the gap year – a post uni trend which has increased dramatically over the last 3 years.
Ah, the gap year. Or, as it is now more commonly known the gap yah. Not so long ago, the gap year meant an opportunity for youngsters with few responsibilities to spread their wings, to find themselves, to solidify independence, and to mark a more permanent move away from their childhood home.
But what does travelling mean to young people now? Many of those who manage to travel aren’t really suffering the effects on the youth credit crunch. Those who do commit themselves to the cause can end up mercilessly saving and then spending extended periods away, doubtless having the best experiences of their lives, but also returning to the heavy anticlimax of a resistant job market. Though going through the post uni gap year is a great experience, and it is a way of pushing against one of the darkest sides of the credit crunch, there is a clear space for a rescue base within our own country, for those who fear their dreams of a certain adulthood have eroded away.
Americans have this down – partly because they’ve had to deal with the whole money situation longer – and they continue to do what they’re going to do. Though the cost of going to university is extortionate in America, and is one of the clear illustrators of the massive gap between the rich and the poor, there are still multitudes of youngsters in the States who are currently in and applying for university for subjects not considered useful, or professional, or secure. It is also, and has been for some time, an accepted passage in the U.S. that most graduates will have to work for a year or more – unpaid – in work experience placements and internships, many beginning these during their university summer breaks. Many graduates continue to rotate round large cities on the East and West coasts, and chase their dreams as they please. Perhaps this comes from a general life outlook or ethos in the States – it has always been somewhat of a promised land – or perhaps it comes from what will always be the quintessence of youth – enduring hope – something illustrated in the UK by the gap year trend.
So what’s the solution? Should we encourage youngsters to truly embrace a culture of interning, and support each other in this? Or do we need to make this land of ours, and the brands contained within it, a true haven? There’s a clear possibility of this – I suppose it’s not that bad after all, even though David Cameron has time to act both as PM and appear in Gap Yah 2.
Thirteen years ago when I was doing my A-Levels and making decisions about university, my teachers’ advice was unanimous: choose a subject you enjoy. It didn’t occur to me to think beyond the next few years towards what I’d do with my degree, my priorities were simple: find an interesting subject with relatively few lectures and classes, choose a university in London, find the best halls of residence and, most importantly, prepare to have fun. I was encouraged to see this choice as a rite of passage.
If I was filling in my UCAS form today, I’m almost certain my priorities would be totally different. With the job market still in a pitiful condition (the number of finalists getting a job at the end of 2009 was one third fewer than in 2008) and higher education fees on the rise, today’s school leavers are faced with a much more serious set of decisions. To consider university first and foremost a rite of passage is a luxury of the past; nowadays teens must think pragmatically about university as a route to a career. There is evidence to suggest that during the recession, course choices have shifted to ‘harder’ subjects. And it’s not just choices of university course: A-Level choices are also toughening up as younger teens are also starting to plan ahead. Maths, economics and physics, for instance, have become more popular whilst drama, sport and general studies are on the decline.
But one’s degree alone is not enough to cut it at job application stage now. Whilst it’s always been handy to prove yourself as an all-rounder, students today are having to take this part of their ‘self marketing’ task a lot more seriously. Choices of extra-curricular activity at uni and even at school must surely be reflecting this pressure. Clues that point to this trend include the recent rise in applications for voluntary work and internships.
It’s not just course and activity choices that are changing, location is also a big issue. As money is tight and fees are high, many more are choosing to stick to their local uni and stay at home with mum and dad to avoid accommodation costs.
Unsurprisingly, career choices are also changing in response to the economic climate. Teaching has become the most popular career option for the first time, as have public sector, voluntary sector, engineering and IT jobs, as graduates seek safer options. It is hardly a shock that at the same time, finance and property jobs have plummeted in popularity.
However, the dire state of the job market is forcing others in the opposite direction. Why spend time, effort and money on a university degree when it’s unlikely to get you anywhere? With confidence at an all time low, more school leavers are going traveling until things picks up. For graduates, ‘semi-gration’ is an alternative option that involves emigrating to wait out the recession and earn more abroad. A quarter more students are aiming to enter post-graduate education, presumably with a similar intention of riding out the storm.
So it seems today’s young people are having to become more serious and career focused at an earlier are, simply as a matter of survival. But it is not only school leavers who are growing up faster. There are clues that younger teens are also adopting the techniques of self marketing. The way in which young people engage with and make use of social networking seems to go beyond chatting with their friends and having fun. We all know that teens use friend counts, photos and wall posts to project a certain image of themselves online, but it is the way in which they network that points to an even more self-promoting agenda. As usage of social networking evolves, the building of thousands of friends is no longer a simple exercise in proving popularity, but a more calculated mission. Friends are selected carefully with the key priority of: ‘What can this person do for me?’ For instance, can my image benefit from association with this person or can they provide me with a more tangible reward such as gaining access to a guest list or a discount at a shop? So prepare yourselves for a new generation of ultra-networkers who enter the job market with the natural business skills needed to get ahead.
This week, a new BBC3 show On The Money explored the impact of the recession on young people: the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, discussed the impact of the financial crisis with recent graduates and others in the early stages of their careers.
In a feature on the BBC site to plug the programme, Peston echoed the provocative argument made by Conservative MP David Willetts in his recent book The Pinch: namely, that the baby boomer generation screwed over their offspring not once but twice. Firstly, they benefited most from the ‘90s property boom – pricing a lot of younger buyers out of the market in the process. And then they overly inflated their pension pot, leaving the younger generation, almost a fifth of whom are currently unemployed, to pick up the tab.
This isn’t exactly news: columnists in The Guardian and news magazines such as The Economist have been firing regular broadsides at the baby boomers for the past year or so. More surprising was Peston’s discovery that young people weren’t angry about the situation - “Those in our audience…weren’t on their way to the barricades, as far as I could tell” – nor pessimistic in terms of their expectations for the future.
Peston concluded that young people are either unaware, or unprepared, for the severity of the upcoming cuts in public spending, despite the scary language with which they have been outlined by the Con-Lib coalition. The research Voodoo have done with young people in recent years backs this up: they still expect to attain similar levels of affluence as their parents – and that home ownership will remain the norm rather than an exception.
But what will happen when the reality sinks in? Should we expect a wave of civil unrest on a par with the poll tax riots – or have young people lost their desire for demonstration? If recent history is any indicator then the latter appears more likely: apathy has well and truly replaced anarchy.
The Con-Lib coalition is a case in point: in May, as Clegg and Cameron ironed out the finer details, there were rumours that those who had voted Lib Dem – which, typically, includes a high proportion of young voters – would take to the streets in their thousands to protest at what they saw as a gross betrayal. But this didn’t amount to much: in London, protesters were almost outnumbered by a troupe of Morris dancers. How’s that for democracy inaction?
The irony is that young people probably ‘protest’ now more than ever. Earlier this year, the BBC strategy review determined that the corporation was producing a surplus of content for middle class 20- and 30-somethings, and that axing their station of choice, 6 Music, would free up funds for chasing more illusive audiences. How did listeners respond? In the most middle class manner they could muster: by setting up a ‘Save 6 Music’ Facebook group.
Similarly, I can ‘boycott’ BP, wave a virtual fist at the Burmese junta and voice my displeasure at Israel’s storming of the Gaza flotilla with a few clicks of a mouse. But what will this achieve? And how bad do things need to get in order for me to actually leave the house? The revolution will be televised. And you can watch it again on the iPlayer. If you can be arsed.
Here at Voodoo we’re pretty much down with the kids on most things. We hang out at festivals, mooch around Shoreditch and write blogs on the subject. However, up until recently there’s been a bit of a gap in my knowledge: gaming. Not having dabbled since the simplistic, line-graphic, days of my BBC Micro, my mind was blown after getting my hands on a games console… Fingers and thumbs cramping like an ageing footballer’s legs, I couldn’t believe such transcendence was possible (especially in the guise of a 16th Century Florentine Assassin).
Up until now I’d tended to side with the dominant view, perpetuated by most of the mainstream media, that video games are at best time-eating mind fluff and at worst a threat to the future of mankind. (Who are we to question such moralistically weighty figures as Supernanny?) It’s easy to go along with all this; to get caught up in the fear. Young folk are evolving into a new species akin to the Mighty Boosh’s Hitcher: sleep-deprived Polos for eyes and super-sized thumbs. They’re losing the ability to talk to each other and putting on weight as they favour FIFA over footie in the park, menacing innocent older folk with the violent tricks they’ve perfected in their lawless virtual worlds. Even their teeth are falling out as a result of this terrifying new addiction…
But if you look hard you’ll see more balanced arguments are starting to seep through. Sleep, for instance, is not significantly reduced by playing video games (even ‘violent’ ones) - unless of course poor parental control allows kids to play late into the night. There’s increasing evidence to show that playing video games can make you smarter or (to make me sound smarter), lead to ‘superior cognitive flexibility’. It seems skills acquired in the virtual world can actually have a positive effect on the player’s brain in the ‘real world’. So perhaps we need to think more creatively about how games might effect long lasting and positive changes in young people.
Given the concern surrounding the engagement in education of young (especially male) school students it seems there’s a real opportunity to harness the compelling power of video games. Some games already incorporate an element of stealth learning – gamers pick up gems of knowledge and other skills whilst immersed in the super objectives of the game so maybe its time for progressive educationalists to push things on to the ‘next level’ (see my use of gaming lingo there..?). The canniest creators realise the key to a game’s success is empathy – creating a connection between the player and the character(s) they control as well as between their fellow players. The atmosphere, the concept and the mechanics all work to draw you into another reality – to see through other’s eyes. And one thing I remember from my school GCSE history days is that this empathetic approach to learning is most definitely considered a ‘good thing’. Film, TV and theatre are all felt to be ‘legitimate’ methods of tapping into this – they can be proper ‘Art’ – but there’s a strong argument for the use of video games too, given their potency.
The ‘next big things’ in games – like Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption – point to exhilarating new possibilities in this respect. They play more like DIY cult-TV shows – moody camera angles and establishing shots help to create a world where players immerse themselves in characters to solve mystery and plot developments rather than simply blow or beat things up. (Interestingly, cinema’s quid pro quo – the film spin-offs from games like the Prince of Persia – tend to be less critically acclaimed). OK, so these games are currently more adult in nature but there’s plenty of scope for more educational (without being worthy) variants.
So maybe it’s not such a leap to suggest that video games can make the world a better place – even without an overt educational directive… Empathy increases emotional intelligence and the ability to get along with others. The world of online gaming continues to evolve and thrive as teenagers link up with other like-minded, but culturally diverse, aficionados around the globe. And as they join up for a common purpose (OK so that purpose might occasionally involve slaying all manner of living creatures indiscriminately) at least they’re all fighting for the same thing and no-one actually gets hurt!
(Although do check out the Arj Barker stand up that is a possible counter argument to all this – very amusing).
In the past life was simple. You could tell the type of music a person was into just by the way they looked. Liking a certain kind of music generally meant that you dressed a certain way, you identified with a musical style, its culture, its background and everything that that entailed. In the ‘good old days’ bi-polarity was the norm – Mods and Rockers, Skinheads and Hairies, to name a few from cultural pre-history.
More recently the world of youth identity became a more fractured lens. Our work in 2006 with Channel 4, and the ‘Find Your Tribe’ game we initiated, operated, ostensibly, in a world of 22 tribes. (“Nathan Barleys”, where are you now?) Tribe-spotting was a more subtle art and eclecticism was on the rise.
Now, we find ourselves a fresh space. People still do get into music: it is still the same universal language it always has been. And yes, certain musical styles still bring with them defined codes of conduct, language and modes of dress. Yet eclecticism has grown rather than abated: it would not be uncommon for a young person today to be into say, grime, electro, nu-folk and Indie. Perhaps more critically, the evolving (mostly online) means and channels of connection have changed and loosened the bonds of commitment. In a very real sense it is easier to “get connected”. But the nature of that commitment has changed: and with lower costs comes lower commitment. Now you can readily buy into the music without feeling the need to buy the badge, the T-shirt or even the music.
Belonging to a music scene used to require a lot of effort. You had to buy albums, read the magazine articles and go to the gigs. All of which meant you were a lot more connected to a scene on a personal level. Now, anyone with internet access can generate what can seem like a greater immersion: instantly listening to the music, getting the latest insider views and communicating with any scene’s exponents.
Yet as you “richly” engage, so you are detached. You feel this detachment. You know listening in to music on your computer isn’t quite the same as being there… but it is so much easier. To access the most obscure music now requires a few clicks of the mouse, not the nerve and nous to follow mysterious trails to obscure clubs. And you can be in three places or more all at the same time.
The evaporating financial commitment is well documented. Over the past 40 years the price of an album has fallen from being a major investment decision to something most almost expect to get for free.
But I would argue that it is sheer ease that is truly undermining music’s ability to fashion tribal identities. Consider…
Then: you listened to the radio with a blank cassette at the ready to tape a new unreleased track by a favourite artist. On the day of release, you traipsed down to the shop to buy it for the exclusive B sides.
Now: you type an artist’s name into a search engine and download the song.
It was effort that spawned music driven tribes: it was behaviour that shaped and reinforced attitudes. In 2010 tribal identities driven by contemporary music are on the wane. While scenes and styles of the past are aped these are largely unrelated to what is currently happening in music.
So, as we flick from half-listened track to track on our mp3s, we can reflect on the fact that today fashion is more likely to infuse music than the other way around. Hmm. Let’s quickly click on a few links. The glut of bands recently emerged from the East End of London do not sound the same or reflect any kind of musical genre. But hold on a minute. Look at them: S.C.U.M; O. CHILDREN; RED DRAPES; Islington Boys Club. They all dress a certain way, go to the same venues, and speak the same language. But it is not the music that is the tribal anchor.
We know that nostalgia sells: adverts harking back to the ‘good old days’ are part of the fabric of many brand strategies. This vague notion of ‘the past’ is mined over and over in order to establish a connection with the consumer. What’s more, the revival of entire ad campaigns – Smash, Mars and Tango in recent years – has taken nostalgia into the realm of meta-use.
Taking things a step further, the more recent trend for the resurrection of ‘retired’ products – Wispa, Original Monster Munch – feels much more ‘now’. The use of social networking and guerrilla advertising has injected a freshness that continual replays of tired (though classic) ads could not achieve. Consumers feel they have taken an active role in reinstating these childhood classics - they have a voice. And it has been listened to.
It’s not only the realm of junk food that is capitalising on this extreme nostalgia for the last decades of the 20th century. ‘Retro gaming’ and the re-release of consoles and games from 20 years ago is also growing in popularity. With the vast improvements in technology and playability, this form of nostalgia cannot be explained away with claims that products were ‘better back then’.
This nostalgia for product-revival appears to be driven by the 20-somethings generation – to which I belong. In times like these, just as we’re granted the freedom to take on the world by ourselves, things are starting to look less rosy and suddenly our childhood is starting to look pretty ace once more. Nostalgia appears to be the perfect antidote to dealing with the here and now just as we’re getting old enough to properly remember ‘the past’. By reliving our childhood memories, we are able to revel in nostalgia’s strongest attribute - the ability to rouse the feeling of belonging and the power to unite through the past.
Current teens can appreciate these product-revivals as ‘retro’ in the same way that we can embrace shoulder pads and leggings – we genuinely were too young to remember the first time round. But time marches on and before we know it, the 14 year olds of today will be looking back fondly at the ‘good old days’. Or will they? If nostalgia is a coping mechanism which looks back to better times, then will today’s teens really want to be going forwards looking backwards?
I believe they will. Although the ongoing trend for sci-fi and alternate realities could hint at a future where it is preferable to look forwards, or sideways. Nostalgia as a human condition is certainly nothing new, though now at least we recognise it as a power for good rather than a debilitating medical condition. And human nature is something that is hard to ignore, for the consumer and ad planner alike. What’s more, who knows what’s ahead – the Noughties could well turn out to be the best decade of the century!
In any case, whether the future is rosy or not, I don’t think it would be fair to rob the current youth generation of their human right to nostalgia in the future. And for that reason I believe it would now be useful to utilise my metaphorical crystal ball to give ad planners a helping hand at predicting the nostalgia trends in the years to come:
Topping the list are those future dinosaurs of technology: ‘books’ and ‘computers’ are already making way for e-readers and tablets so I’m looking forward to the ‘book revival’ circa 2025.
Next, the obsessions that at present seem oh so ‘on trend’ – ‘sleb culture’ and the idolisation of cultural icons – should be due a revival in 2032. So start stockpiling those soon to be iconic copies of Heat and OK! now.
Finally (hopefully) going green will be so ingrained in our psyche that we’ll see an ironic, but short lived, re-visit to the times when recycling solely meant separating out your paper and plastics.
Kidulthood is a 2006 film telling the story of a number of West London schoolchildren forced to grow up fast as they deal with gang culture and the suicide of a classmate. However, I’d like to use the phrase slightly differently – to refer to the growing trend of girls as young as eight emulating their teen icons; encouraging them to dress beyond their years and enter a world they cannot make sense of.
With the accessibility of high fashion, you don’t need to go far to witness 40-year-olds and 14-year-olds clad similarly in leggings or skinny jeans. From the back, it’s often difficult to tell age apart. Is this a sign that fashion democracy has gone too far? Will it become the norm that children as young as eight are dressed up in adult finery, often bordering on the provocative?
Katie Price and Katie Holmes have both been publicly chastised for dressing their young daughters in designer outfits and heels with accessories inappropriate for their years. We may find it easy to coo over their ‘cuteness’, but we should not underestimate the darker side of this phenomenon. As a society so concerned about online grooming, are we not encouraging at even legitimising adults to ogle these ‘Mini Mes.’ You only have to take a look at the news headlines to see the potential ramifications of this sinister trend; a case in which a 10-year-old girl was raped by a 20-year-old man. The short prison sentence provoked an angry response after the judge ruled that the victim had dressed ‘provocatively’.
Miley Cyrus aka Hannah Montana has now reached the ripe old age of 19. Her real life ‘sexy’ persona has been vilified for being very much at odds with her goody two shoes screen character. As she approaches adulthood it is now her nine-year-old sister Noah (yes I really did say nine) cashing in on the act, launching a tween ‘couture’ fashion range entitled ‘Ooh! La La!’ - with clothing more suited for a night on the town than for a young girl’s social life, which can’t stretch to more than a day out at the local shopping centre or a trip to the cinema.
As the boundaries between childhood and adulthood become increasingly blurred, we have simultaneously witnessed the youth ‘tribe’ diminish in recent years – due partly to the rise of pop music and associated fashion eclecticism. There is no longer a need to pigeonhole yourself and be defined by a particular genre of music or fashion as mainstream pop and characters like La Roux and Lady Gaga pave the way for a melting pot of different looks and styles. There is nothing new in young children wanting to emulate their heroes but with the accessibility of throwaway fashion, kids as young as eight can get in on the act. What will this mean for young adults? Will they get fed up of ‘children’ getting in on the act – and what might this rebellion consist of?
More importantly, what does all this mean for fashion brands? It is becoming harder and harder for high street stores to understand their target audiences. The boundary between kids, teenage and adult clothing is becoming increasingly blurred with traditional ‘youth brands’ such as Miss Selfridge and Topshop attracting three generations within the same family. While this is no doubt good for revenue, it makes it harder for brands to accurately segment their audiences. Furthermore, there is ever-present anxiety around becoming a leader of so-called ‘Kidulthood’ and in so doing, abandoning more traditional values of social responsibility.
For now, it seems that Kidulthood is here to stay, but only time will tell if this is merely a celeb-led fad or the new normal.
It is taken for granted these days that teenagers sling information around on the internet with complete abandon and disregard. “Look at me!” they cry. “I have 517 Facebook friends!” I contend David Aaronovitch’s most recent view that: “As a teenager I told my parents absolutely nothing and the world little more.” Today’s generation, he claims, “seem unworried by their mother’s capacity to track them and their social lives through Facebook… until, of course, it goes wrong.”
This, to some extent, is true: teenagers have been unworried about the limitless of social networking till their sins have been exploited. But though Aaronovitch may have been a quiet youth, the truths he chose to keep to himself were part of what youths today (and in the past) have strived to protect, which is their flawless image.
Pretty much everything teens use the internet for is to create a particular self-image. Downloading illegal music and films: partly to preserve an image that follows trends, and partly a cost saver to invest in more hip pastimes such as going to gigs or the cinema. Creating profiles on social networking sites: to create and maintain an image which essentially becomes a kind of personal advertisement.
While this image malarkey is in no way hot news, something which has recently added to it is the desire to make this image genuine. More teens than ever are aware of the implications of illegal downloading. 14% of youths who downloaded illegal music in the past have now made the active decision not to do so because they feel artists and record labels should be compensated. This is a significant increase from 2002 when only 5% of downloaders felt this way. Teens are now aware of some of the responsibility that comes with letting your information transmit freely across the internet.
Obviously social networking has taken over from the Chinese whispers of the classroom – being caught out by your parents, or an angry girlfriend or boyfriend who monitors wall posts in the everyday melodrama of teen life is not unheard of, and youngsters know how to control their privacy in much more subtle ways than expected. It’s not only about whittling down to perfection the “About me” section: it is about becoming a fan of only so many pages; allowing only certain people to post on your wall; or exposing more photos of a sort to divert away from others – the photo count on a Facebook profile is more valuable than one can imagine.
The online world is no less a social space than a playground or classroom. All of the potential messiness of social interaction that exists offline emerges online as well, with the addition of new and distinct ethical challenges. This is the reason why something like Google Buzz will potentially never catch on with youth audiences, for several of the same reasons Matthew Robson announced Twitter never would.
While the model of Google works incredibly well as a search engine – because it starts from a blank base and builds up according to user engagement – this is not something teens want to see. Google Buzz lays out for them clearly what they like, and what they want to see according to the regularity of their usage. Even though it’s a private medium, it’s representative of the power youths still want, in having the option to change what they want to be their “favourites” without any form of dictation. They want mediums which they can cleverly and easily manipulate.
These mediums have always been there, and there is a yearning for them to remain, with their evolution from the front cover of school diaries and lunchboxes. Keeping the door open for manipulation, then, is a key way to engage young people: the nonchalance that has marked teenage online disclosure in the past appears to be nearing an end.
The recession’s over (apparently) and now life can get ‘back on track’? This belies a certain amount of infinite opportunity and potential. We can learn from the folly of those irresponsible bankers and start being uber-responsible citizens, wresting control back over our own destinies.
And, if you’re young, the chances are you didn’t have much to lose anyway. Few investments and a fat chance of getting onto the property ladder meant that all most of us had to worry about during the recession was fleecing 2 for 1 deals courtesy of the ever generous Martin Lewis.
At Voodoo, we’ve spent a lot of time speaking with those who have proverbially (and somewhat forebodingly) been dubbed ‘The Lost Generation’. But what now for those pre-family and pre-mortgage in the post recession landscape? What are the implications (both positive and negative) for their outlook, lifestyle and spending?
For starters, I contend that it’s not really a ‘whole new world’ but a world we’re looking at in a whole new way. In spite of the continuing smugness to be gleaned from ‘voucher-coding’, life isn’t looking that rosy for the post-school, pre-career crowd. A generation has had to start actively thinking and evaluating the future.
The record 952,000 16-24 year olds out of work in the third quarter of 2009 would indicate that pursuing higher education is a smart (and necessary) way to see out the aftermath of the recession. However, given the record number of cuts in higher education funding, university is looking a less secure prospect. In fact, gaining any sense of ‘control’ in the current climate is becoming increasingly out of reach.
But it’s not all gloomy. This challenge in shaping our destinies on a macro level (no job, no uni course, no ‘certain’ future) could well have a positive impact, perhaps even sparking a more profound reorientation of life priorities. Before, life’s trajectory was pretty much ‘deserved’ and ‘expected’ for a majority of middle-class young people; instant gratification ruled. Facing the prospect of short term insecurity means the concept of longer-term wins (and investments) is suddenly not only more relevant but increasingly necessary.
Anecdotally, I know a number of ‘early career-switchers’; each one of them spurning the ‘get rich quick culture’ of the post-university careerists in favour of more tangible, fulfilling and ‘human’ pursuits with less attractive salary packages. An estimated 51% increase in graduate applications to the public sector in 2009 may merely be the sign of a greater desire for job security. But, wearing my optimistic hat, I’d like to think it’s less of a symptom and more of a cure to the previous conspicuous consumption that dominated the pre-recession landscape for the majority of credit card wielding young adults.
Considered purchasing and the value of a debt-free lifestyle may yet become aspirational in a way never anticipated before. The poor performance of the high street stores earlier in the year was largely attributed to the snow but VAT’s return to 17.5% is bound to have contributed, too. Price comparison sites and cost-saving apps are likely to become more and more popular as ‘savvy spending’ becomes the new micro route to ‘control’ for a generation of young people.
It’s not only spending and career choices that have been impacted by viewing life through this new lens. The decline of ‘I deserve, I expect’ culture means we have found a renewed sense of self-reliance and creativity. Growing our own food, crafting our own clothes and making our own entertainment are just some of the notable examples (you don’t have to look too far to witness the ironic re-embrace of the cheese and wine/fondue evening/dinner party dating amongst this audience).
Well in short, no. In fact, on balance, it’s a really good thing. Of course there’s hand wringing from the usual quarters about the death of grammar, the loss of standards and the inevitable slide towards anarchy and the end of civilisation as we know it. But this is the first generation ever that needs to be able to write in order to have a proper social life. And for disposable, conversational writing, speed is just way more important than accuracy, end of story.
A great by-product of this seeming ‘sloppiness’ is that it makes socialising via, Facebook, MSN, texting, etc, very democratic. It doesn’t matter if you can’t spell or if your grammar is rubbish, you can still take part. And that in itself is a great reason to celebrate it; the less literate aren’t being excluded by technology when they so easily could have been.
But when you look closer, it’s not just sloppiness. There’s a lot more that’s interesting going on. First of all, it’s no good being fast if you’re not ‘got’ – and there’s often a quite sophisticated understanding of what other people will get. Including a widespread (though probably subconscious) recognition that if the first and last letter of a word are correct, the eye quickly understands, even if the rest of the word is in the wrong order or has bits missing. So wehn i wirte tihs snetnece yu cn stll esialy udenrtasnd waht’s on teh pgae. And the interesting thing about that is you actually have to be reasonably literate to make it work properly.
Then there are the learnt shortcuts and other bits of creativity, many of which are a joy. ‘m@r’ for matter and ‘l%k’ for look are two of my current favourites. Of course, l%k doesn’t save you any keystrokes but it looks cool and that, too, is part of the point.
There are satiric misspellings, too, like the use of £ for L to indicate the perceived immoral or unethical accumulation of money. As in, just for example, Tony B£air.
And there are the words that always go wrong when you try to type them fast. ‘The’ comes out as ‘teh’ and ‘own’ as ‘pwn’. So, instead of struggling against the tide, people started deliberately writing them that way – which, you have to admit, is a neat solution. It’s a trend that really took off when the gaming community started using them in online games and they became part of Leet (short for elite speak).
Of course, it’s not all about clarity. Some of what is going on is a deliberate creation of language and spellings that are impenetrable to adults, other outsiders and profanity filters. So, nothing new there, then; just the usual teenage bonding. If you don’t understand it, you’re probably not meant to.
Will this all lead to broader and more permanent changes in the way we write though? I’d predict that it almost certainly will. So get used to it. Resistance is futile. Anyway I bloody well hopw so, its a reel shag gtting it rite all the time. And if you’re really having problems, there are a number of places you can get English translated into lingo or backagain.
We stick with the prediction theme this week: here are three more youth movements to monitor.
Empowered youth: Following on from last week’s ‘Rise of the Teens’, it seems it’s not just teenagers who are becoming more empowered. As the National Curriculum introduces more topics and children have almost limitless access to technology, school kids now know more than grown-ups about certain topics. They are teaching their parents how to cut their carbon footprint, set up Facebook profiles and send picture messages. Whilst this more reciprocal exchange of information between parents and children is not exactly new, it’s only recently that publishers have recognised the opportunity to tap into this knowledge and consult kids for content. How to Turn Your Parents Green and Teach Your Granny to Text are recently published books that kids have contributed to. Beyond this, green initiatives in schools are being fronted by pupils themselves: via the Eco Schools initiative, school children are responsible for setting up and implementing green policies and running eco-committees. Expect youth empowerment to evolve in 2010 as increasingly confident kids and teens take the lead.
Going out is the new staying in: Social networking and mobile phones have enabled and encouraged a shift towards remote social interaction over the past few years. The popular image is of teens barricading themselves in their bedrooms, spending hours chatting to friends on Facebook, MySpace and MSN. However, there is evidence to suggest that as this lifestyle proliferates, there is growing unease among youth participants. A recent study suggests that depression levels are higher amongst those who spend more time online and qualitatively, we have heard teens admit that they are less enthusiastic about aspects of online interaction than we may have assumed. Whilst we’re by no means predicting an end to online social interaction, we are seeing a shift towards technology that enables the face-to-face. Google Latitude, Foursquare and Loopt are examples of online services that allow users to physically locate other people, thus encouraging spontaneous meetings – not just with friends but with other likeminded souls. It’s not just specifically developed location services that enable this kind of real world impromptu meet-ups. The growing accessibility of Twitter and Facebook via mobile phones also points in this direction. It’s not just technology platforms that could reap the benefits: local services, venues and events are also well placed to capitalise.
From bloodsuckers to moon howlers? 2009 was the year of the vampire. But what can we expect for 2010? With Twilight, True Blood, Daybreakers and a glut of other bloodsucking movies and TV series hitting our screens and bookshelves in 2009, our taste for blood has never been thirstier. But fickle audiences will doubtless tire of fangs and brooding teenage angst, so what next to satisfy our bloodlust? Well, we seem to be returning once again to the world of ancient folklore, this time the werewolf. Wolf Man will be released in the UK in a couple of weeks and the 1973 film The Boy Who Cried Werewolf has been re-made and will be released later this year. Surely the ‘80s classic Teenwolf is due another TV outing? But it doesn’t stop there. On a less menacing note, some are tipping angels as the new vampires. Whilst, at the moment, this is largely a literary rather than screen phenomenon, with Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush and Elizabeth Chandler’s Kissed by an Angel recently hitting the bookshops, January’s release of Legion indicates that the celestial theme is likely to escalate.
You can’t move for trend predictions at this time of year. In January 2009 journalists and other cultural commentators almost came to blows in an effort to be first to tell us we would all be using Twitter. So, while not an original concept, we at least make an effort to distinguish ourselves below with predictions for the year ahead that have a specific youth focus.
Ok, here goes:
Rise of the teens: Messrs Page, Brin and Zuckerberg may have founded Google and Facebook while still at university, but they look positively ancient compared to the new kids on the block. Fourteen year-old fashion blogger Tari Gevinson is perhaps the foremost example of the increasingly influential teen critic movement. And 15-year-old Matthew Robson caused shockwaves during a work experience placement at Morgan Stanley when he casually explained that “teens don’t Twitter” and “video game consoles… [are] a more attractive vehicle for chatting with friends than the phone” as part of his teen media usage report for the financial services provider. Increasingly, it seems, the go-to guys for youth expertise are youths themselves. And they’re getting younger. As Facebook and other social networks ease off on privacy settings to allow for ‘real-time search’ researchers may be able to learn just as much about young consumers by poring over the material they publish themselves (online, and for free) as from more traditional research settings.
It’s what’s close by that counts: It appears contradictory at first, but as we spend more of our lives online - on an internet that, as it continues to grow, supposedly brings us all closer together – ‘local’ is a commodity that’s increasingly valued by young people. The wider world may be an exciting place. But it’s also where the ‘bad stuff’ happens. As in 2004/2005, the new year has begun with a devastating natural disaster that puts the man-made monetary mess of the last few years firmly in perspective. As a result, what ‘local’ may lack in terms of excitement it compensates for in terms of comfort and reassurance. The programmers behind TwitterLocal were quick to capitalise on this trend and both Google and The Guardian are rumoured to be working on technology with similar capabilities. But with pubs closing at a rate of 52 a week where is there left to hang out? Perhaps in “stealth Starbucks”: after years of rolling out identikit stores, the American company is developing bespoke businesses with a “community personality”. If one of the world’s most successful consumer brands recognises the importance of ‘local’, others are sure to follow.
Vote with your Tweet: We expect that, as they have been hit hardest by the recession, and due to the perceived rise in prominence of the BNP, the turnout of young voters will be higher than in 2005. In order to engage with them, all three main political parties are apparently seeking to ape the new media strategy that was credited as a significant factor in Barack Obama’s election success. But which of them is best placed to succeed? Given Gordon Brown’s disastrous flirtation with YouTube and David “too many twits might make a twat” Cameron unwittingly sparking a viral craze, the Liberal Democrats look a shoo-in. But not as a result of any real innovation: they are the only major party that haven’t cocked it up already.