Teenage rebels leave the market without a cause

For years the youth market has relied on the image of the rebellious teenager. The truth is that the teenager is dead, but no one has told the marketing community.

In the Fifties, your 18th birthday was cause for grim commiseration. Rationing dictated the clothes you wore, the maximum wage capped your earnings, and the only likelihood of a trip abroad was a spell in the armed forces on national service. No wonder you waited until 21 to get the key to the door.

The teenager was born in the Sixties. And that meant a rite of passage that included sex, drugs, clothes, long hair and politics. Hot on the heels of this revolution came new opportunities for marketing people. Categories such as cosmetics, fashion, drinks and confectionery came into their own with a plethora of new products, alongside a raft of media opportunities with magazines, TV shows and radio stations all targeting the booming youth market.

We thought it would never end. But it did and they forgot to tell us. Why? Middle youth, which comprises people in their thirties with money, has suffocated the youth market. Let’s face it: when your mum smokes more dope than you do, when dad reminds you that dance music star Fatboy Slim was in the pop group The Housemartins, and when they fill the bathroom with cruelty-free products, then rebellion looks hopeless. Even your school wants you on the Pill at 14.

Recent research carried out by Roar shows that young people have changed. Youth is on hold. Gap years are being delayed because of the pressure to pay off student debt and to notch up work experience. Careers are replaced by a series of projects. A job is for Christmas not for life. You will wait until middle youth to enjoy the things you missed out on when you were younger.

So what turns young people on instead? Expressing your opinion and being heard is the new cool, but in relation to the things young people can influence. So choosing the video on cable music channel The Box is great but Kosovo is out of bounds.

Young people are motivated by love and being in love – no change there then. But it’s about being sexy rather than carnal sex. The geek has had his revenge. It’s about the personality within rather than the persona without. Tolerance is the new way.

How much of this have marketing people realised? Well, I don’t think that Levi’s could have cast Nick (launderette) Kamen in a Flat Eric ad. And I know that the forthcoming Kiss100 work will be a remarkable departure from where the brand has been before. Our challenge remains not to confuse the middle youth values of our profession with the values our young customers hold.

The Absolutely Fabulous world of marketing needs to remember that for today’s young people, the Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders characters Eddie and Patsy are relics. Rather, it is Eddie’s daughter Saffy who is their icon.

Malcolm Cox is marketing director for EMAP Radio.

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