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Five Recommendations to Align Brand Marketing with Shifts in Youth Culture

Matt Hay
January 2018

Five Recommendations to Align Brand Marketing with Shifts in Youth Culture

The start of the new year brings with it the opportunity to create and activate the most relevant brand experiences for teens and young adults. Whether those experiences are social or experiential, influencer or content, here are five recommendations to align your marketing to some of the most recent youth culture shifts.

Choose Genuine Over Perfect

Marketing that emphasizes genuine over perfect has been growing in importance to young people over the last decade. And now that sentiment has reached new heights in its significance to current teens.

This quick read in Forbes about Unilever achieving success by connecting with youth culture’s desire to see reality in advertising campaigns is a best-in-class example. The article details the evolution of Axe Body Spray from the superficial (“The Axe Effect”) to the meaningful (“Find Your Magic”).

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Political

For teens, consumerism and idealism can go hand-in-hand. They see no contradiction between raging against the machine and following their favorite celebrities.

One of the best example of this shift is Teen Vogue. Most often linked to fashion ads, make-up tips, and relationship articles, in the past year Teen Vogue has gone political. They kicked things off with an op-ed piece in late 2016 titled “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America” written by Lauren Duca, which was immediately shared more than one million times. Despite the predictable backlash, Teen Vogue has never been hotter and shows no sign of stepping away from controversial issues.

Accept Gender Fluidity as Teens Have

Brands are embracing gender fluidity as the traditional ideas of femininity and masculinity fall by the wayside among teens.

According to Forbes, younger consumers are identifying with companies that focus on lifestyle elements rather than traditional gender norms. Examples include the popular beauty retailer Sephora including both males and females in their holiday campaign and Banana Republic making their baby clothing line unisex and free of traditional pink and blue hues.

Use Powerful Female Imagery

Today’s teens and young adults expect to see powerful images of women in consumer advertising. Youth culture met the news with optimism that 2017’s top-selling Getty image for the search term “woman” was a woman hiking a rocky trail, alone on the edge of a cliff high above a turquoise lake. In contrast, in 2007 the top-selling Getty image for the same search term depicted a naked woman lying on a bed, gazing at the camera with a towel draped over her.

The New York Times outlines the evolution driven in part by the Lean In collection, which Getty developed with Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit to seed media with more modern, diverse and empowering images of women.

Don’t Overestimate the “Youth Culture Economy”

With the Dow hitting 25,000, combined with other positive financial news, it’s easy for marketers to be lulled into a false sense that the economics for teens and young adults are improving rapidly too.

And while an article by Fast Company cites unemployment rates for high school and college graduates closing in on pre-recession levels, the cohort remains riddled with debt and stuck with wages at 1990’s levels.

Taking Action

To create and activate the most relevant experiences for teens and young adults in 2018, brands must make the cultural shifts that young people have already made related to authenticity in marketing, politics, gender, and their economy. Evolving your brand’s communication in these areas results in a deeper and more genuine consumer relationship.

Contact us to learn more about teens and young adults, or visit our Thought Leadership blog.