Growing up with Google

D avid Cameron received a mixed reaction to his call for us to “hug a hoodie” as he argued that young people are often mistakenly lumped together in one homogeneous group: perceived as shallow and irresponsible, more interested in drink and dr

The tabloid image of youth as idle and dissolute is a myth. The young generation is driven and has embraced new technology to achieve its goals. But it is wrong to see them as a homogeneous group

D avid Cameron received a mixed reaction to his call for us to “hug a hoodie” as he argued that young people are often mistakenly lumped together in one homogeneous group: perceived as shallow and irresponsible, more interested in drink and drugs than studying or working, constantly glued to their computers or celebrity TV.

Marketers are equally culpable of viewing “youth” without regard for the significant differences or understanding of the role technology plays in their world.

The TechTribe 2006 survey, by youth marketing agency Face, shows that stereotypes of 16- to 25-year-olds as a generation that is selfish, introspective and self-obsessed could not be further from the truth.

They care passionately about the wider world so understanding it is a must – 74% agree that it is vital to travel the world. Perhaps surprisingly, 70% want their work to benefit others and as many as 82% have donated to charities. They are interested in politics but have little faith in the current system and have growing concerns for environmental issues. Over half of the UK’s 16 to 25s worry about the planet and 53% believe it’s worth paying extra for ethically sound goods (only 13% don’t).

This trend will have growing implications for businesses: not just on the products they make but the way they behave morally and ethically in a world where consumers demand greater accountability.

Young people want many of the things their parents did; success, marriage, their own home and children. Most want a career not a job. Many want to work for themselves. Yet despite the desire for tradition, they live in a modern world and technology has had the biggest impact on shaping 16- to 25-year-olds.

This generation’s relationship with technology, and the internet particularly, has helped them embrace it and has lead to a much greater degree of self-expression, creativity and independence. It is in part why the appeal of brands like Nike is giving way to technology brands like Google.

This is indeed “the Google generation”. They would rather lose their TV than their computer – 67% say they would be lost without their computer compared with 46% who say they would be lost without their TV.

This dependence on technology is reflected in other areas of life with 70% saying the Net is important in maintaining relationships, and more than half agree that the virtual interface is as important as face-to-face contact. It is not surprising then that 82% think that technology makes their life better, and out of the top 25 brands that appeal to them 11 are technology brands, including Ebay, Microsoft, Nokia and Sony PlayStation.

Although bound together by their love affair with technology, this is not a homogeneous group. There are interesting differences between students and non-students. It is the Government’s intention to increase the proportion of 16- to 25-year-olds in higher education to 50% by 2010. Their growing number, outlook and behaviour will increasingly influence markets and ultimately the UK overall. This has not been properly analysed and is still not fully understood by brands and marketers.

TechTribe 2006 shows students are a more dominant force than they were ten years ago. Last year as many as 44% of 18-year-olds went to university. Students are different from non-students. They are early adopters, driving the rapid increase of MP3 and laptop ownership among 16 to 25s.

A year ago, 35% of this age group owned an MP3 player; now it is 76%, and 33% of undergraduates bought a laptop in the past 12 months. Although many of the other technology markets are mature in terms of overall penetration, they are not stagnating/ 40% of 16 to 25s have bought a DVD player; 80% a new mobile and 33% a digital camera. However, students are much less interested in sedentary technologies such as gaming, but are much bigger users of MSN, photo-sharing and social networking sites.

Students associate themselves closely with a range of technology and media brands: Google, Amazon, Apple and The Guardian stand out in particular. And although universities and colleges may no longer be the hotbed of radicalism and protest, students are more politically active and concerned about global issues than non-students are. At the last general election 67% of them voted and they are more likely to believe that it does make a difference whom runs the country.

Being more mobile, accessing information from many different sources, students compare value and prices, share information and experiences. So much so that 40% of students say they expect to be treated like a customer as they are paying fees. This correlated with their attitudes to the accumulation of debt. A significant number see debt as an investment in their future compared with non-students, and only 22% of them (a smaller number than non-students) are worried about paying it off.

This generation is a different type of consumer; demanding new ways of interaction. Brands like Google help give them what they want when they want it – quickly and simply, and the new generation sites such as Myspace and Bebo offer new avenues for greater self expression and creativity.

For perhaps the first time, brands have relinquished control. The Google Generation is forcing the old command-and-control model to give way to a new “connect and collaborate” zeitgeist – how they use technology will transform the way we all shop, travel, vote, socialise and access information in the future. This generation is changing the global market and we must do our best to understand them.

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