Revenge of Disco Dad

Andy Davidson, managing director of The Sound Research Europe explains how sociocultural shifts combined with the trend of authenticity mean that parents, more than celebrities, have become the unlikely heroes of Generation Y.

Andy Davidson

“Damn right your Dad drank it” runs the tag line of Beam Global’s campaign for Canadian Club whisky. Most brands targeting the young adult market go to enormous lengths to distance themselves from parents, traditionally the highly uncool people youth culture has typically defined itself in opposition against.

But all that seems to be changing. Recently we asked millennials (also known as generation Y) across Europe whom they most admired, nine times out of ten they would say my mum or dad. Not a sports star, not a movie icon, and certainly not a reality TV ‘sleb’. Even more interestingly when you ask why, they say they admire their work ethic, the way they keep their commitments, the support they have given them. All good ‘old fashioned’ values.

What’s going on?

Changes on a deep sociocultural level it seems. For the first time ever, social scientists at the World Values Survey have begun to see change in personal values within generations. This is significant. Traditionally values only changed because a new younger generation came along with a bunch of new-fangled ideas that challenged the status quo. But today parents are changing too, adjusting their values as they go through life. Take for example the 51-year-old boomer father-of-two we spoke to recently. He began his teenage years uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, eschewing a soft drink at the bar for fear of looking unmanly was normal behaviour. These days he downloads songs by androgynous popster Mika, slathers on his Nivea moisturiser each morning, and finds homophobia pretty abhorrent.

In many ways the values of youth (i.e fun, creativity, individuality, etc) have become the values of wider adult culture. Unlike their parents Boomers, the world’s first teenagers, never wanted to be old fashioned and out of touch with youth.

So where does that leave teens? Raised in a marketing-fueled, glossy, largely computer generated world of spin and slogans, millennials are drawn moth-like towards brands and products that have a strong sense of ‘realness’ or authenticity. This can mean old things, original things, or things that just have a very well defined sense of self. In many ways authenticity has become the new cool and parents are proving to be about as authentic as it gets.

What we have then is no more generation gap and a respectful meeting in the middle. An older generation that value youth and a younger generation that value old established things.

So what does all this stuff mean for brands? Well, a couple of things.

Firstly parents are becoming a legitimate way to confer authenticity on to products. As with the Canadian Club example, what parents think is no longer the worst idea teenagers have ever heard, indeed they can help them navigate the authentic past. In a recent study we found that the fourth most popular way teenagers discovered new music behind friends, TV, and radio was not the internet but in fact parents… Like the 14 year-old-boy (born in 1995) whose mum grew up listening to Gangsta Rap. He finds it extremely cool that she knows all about NWA and Dr Dre, and was able to find her CD of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ for him to rip and share with his mates.

Secondly, parents and teens actually quite like spending time together, but they rarely have the chance. As media technology atomises the household, giving each individual the means to watch their own screen, there is a yearning on both sides to spend more shared time. Something the likes of shows such as XFactor and products like the Nintendo Wii have tapped into nicely as a device and which software companies are now building into gameplay. The new Wii F1 2009 game by Codemasters will enable players to set a range of handicaps to ensure that dad can have a ‘fair’ race with son who has hours more practice.

Want to add instant yoof credibility to your campaign? Erm, you’ll have to talk to my dad.

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