What’s important to young people?

Young people, what’s on their minds? Often you ask them, and get the reply: ‘nothing?’ As in:  ‘What are you doing?’   ‘Nothing.’ And: ‘Who are you texting?’   ‘No one’.
 Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

As in:  ‘What are you doing?’   ‘Nothing.’

And: ‘Who are you texting?’   ‘No one’.

Marketers, many of whom are not as young as they were, expend some effort in trying to finding out. They employ market researchers, who are often from their own age group, with varying results. See above.

But I do remember a seminal study about 15 years ago, published by McCann. It was about how young people in Africa think, feel and act. And I think the biggest revelation was that young people in rural Africa were very similar to their urban counterparts. This took a long time to accepted. Particularly, by people who have an interest in the rural audience staying poor and needy. Lest they lose their funding.

True, the study said, young people in rural areas have less access to fashion, music, new flavours and mouth feels, innovation and technology. But that doesn’t stop them aspiring.

Fast-forward fifteen years.  Young African’s access to most of these areas of discovery has multiplied exponentially. There’s hardly a trading centre on the Continent that doesn’t host clothing stalls laden with previously worn, or end of line clothing from the West. This began with aid collections, and has developed into real commerce. Perhaps the biggest informal earning sector in Africa. And markets are carefully segmented, so it’s quite possible for a diligent lady shopper in Kumasi to find a pair of Jimmy Choo’s. A Cinderella moment!

GSM mobile coverage is pretty ubiquitous, and the surge to data is well underway. Most studies will now tell you that anyone under 25 accesses the Web via mobile. And there are plenty of people here under 25.

Snack food, carbonated drinks and juices, make-up and hair care brand distribution is on a par with the traditional staples. Music and film piracy is rife.

So today we can say with some confidence that young Africans are more worldly, better informed, and bolder consumers than Mum and Dad ever were. Truer global citizens, in fact.

So, when a copy of McCann Worldgroup’s latest study ‘The Truth about Youth’ fell onto my desktop, I pondered the learnings for African marketers. It’s a global study, sampling 7000 young people in Southern Africa, Brazil, India, Spain, Mexico, China, US and UK. See whether you think some of these insights ring true in your market.

The first insight of interest is that, among young people worldwide, the same three motivations rank highly in every country sampled. Knowing young people as we (older people) think we do, we might be forgiven for predicting these motivations to be selfish. We know, don’t we, that young people are explorers? Trying new things, pleasing themselves and their friends.  Living for themselves; living in the moment.

Which is why these three common motivations brought me up short:-

The need for JUSTICE.  Holy Moley, if there’s one insight that’s relevant to Africa, this has to be it. Social and personal justice. But how interesting that young people espouse it so strongly. For evidence, look back at the blogosphere at the time of Charles Taylor’s indictment. Look at it now when the ICC’s has its fingers on Kenyan collars; and when Boy Assad is laying waste the cities of Syria.

The need for COMMUNITY.  No great surprise here, but a welcome confirmation in this age of devices. Just when we older folk might fear young people are withdrawing from social contact. In fact the opposite is happening. It’s just that we can’t supervise it any more.

The need for AUTHENTICITY.  The need to see things as they are. Less puff, more substance. Less promotion, more engagement. In brand terms, the requirement here is to stop following what everyone else is doing and set your own course. And drop the platitudes.
We’ll explore and illuminate these areas of insight in the coming weeks. And if you are wondering why a Marketing Man has turned amateur sociologist, consider this. If you want to sell ice to Eskimos, you have to know how they mix their ‘mojitos’.

By Chris Harrison is the Chairman Young & Rubicam Group Africa
To comment on this article, visit www.chrisharrison.biz

 

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