Yoof Influence

Sussing out youth truths

Colette Henry

They are a generation of Irish Celtic Tiger orphans, the 16-25 year olds who had their wings clipped just as they were about to take flight. The consequences of the downfall are playing out at a critical time in their lives; they are forming habits and attitudes that will influence their lives for the long term. Understanding where their heads are at now is necessary because it gives us clues to the long-lasting impact on their spending habits and their attitude to brands.

DDFH&B-JWT ran a study to decipher the reality for our youths. Quantitative research among 750 youths was conducted by Millward Brown Lansdowne. Nine focus groups nationwide were supplemented with filmed interviews and desk research to create Youth Truths. The study delved into their work and social lives and got views on technology, religion, politics, volunteerism, spending, saving money and Irishness. As a 16-year-old and a 25-year-old can be worlds apart, the group divided into 16-18, 19-22 and 23-25 year olds to show the differences as they mature.

As they disconnect more from politics and religion they get closer to technology. One female even called her mobile phone her “second brain”. They are “always switched on” with 77 per cent surfing the net and 63 per cent on email daily. As the chart shows, Facebook is far ahead of all the other social networking sites with 69 per cent logging on at least once a day.


Why is Facebook so popular? Looking at the numbers and talking to youths it is clear that how people use the site evolves: the initial honeymoon period of looking at photos and playing lots of games tends to move to a more functional use of the site where people use it to maintain their network of contacts and stay in the loop. Facebook learned lessons from the likes of Bebo and MySpace and provides the best platform for fun as well as functionality.

While young people are open to adventures in cyberspace, when it comes to the real world they become more risk averse. A sense of their own ‘limited horizons' is another strong theme that emerged across the different life stages. It is “hard in the real world” and we are seeing a pragmatism that could remind you of their parents' generation.

School children maintain the most optimism but even they are reconsidering their college courses by going for “careers that people need” where they feel more assured of jobs, like a Garda or teacher. Those in college are enjoying it while it lasts, hoping that all will be over soon. Emigration is on their agenda. 23-25s is the least optimistic group. They are staying put in jobs that they don't like; their ambitions curbed and they are settling rather than chase their dreams.

Those chasing dreams may find the path leads them off the island: they are the first generation to feel they have to emigrate for work since the 1980s. Indeed, Ireland had the highest overall emigration rate in the EU at nine per cent in 2009 (Eurostat) and ESRI expects that 60,000 people will leave this year and 40,000 people next year.

Irish youths are savvy spenders and have developed a hawk-eye watchfulness of prices. What is interesting is the trend of their willingness to wait and save for what they want. A majority of 72 per cent are concerned about their financial future and an important way to feel in control is to save for the rainy day. Some 54 per cent are saving regularly and we have met 20-year-olds on the dole who are still making sure to put aside €10 a week.

While they are considering the price of each purchase, when it comes to clothes, they have other priorities to consider. They still want to look good, with 76 per cent agreeing it is important to them and 70 per cent of 16 to 25-year-olds believe it is important to choose the right brands. They wait for sales on brands they love and have downgraded to cheaper brands.

In the past, the descriptor ‘cheap' was usually followed by ‘and nasty' but now brands like Penneys are heralded as ‘cheap champions'. A cheap champion is a brand which understands where the customer is at by delivering ‘fair enough' quality at the lowest price, so cheapness is not just an excuse to buy, but also an emotional reason to connect with an empathetic brand.

There is still a youthful idealism evident with 83 per cent saying they would like to make a positive difference in the world. Some 61 per cent have volunteered in the past and 71 per cent are willing to spend extra on environmentally friendly products. When it comes to brands, 69 per cent expect them to be socially responsible and give back to the community.

Brands trying to reach this elusive audience must acknowledge the reality that young people are facing. Aspirations cultivated in the boom have been dented but not erased. Youths want to be involved and connected to other people by making a positive impact and brands can help them to participate. While old horizons may be shrinking, new opportunities are opening up.

Colette Henry (colette.henry@ddfhb.ie) is strategic planner at DDFH&B-JWT.

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