Kids, a bunch of know it alls
Young people today are a media-literate bunch. Reared on a diet of advertising, magazines, computer games and satellite television, they are masters of the sub-text and can see through marketing strategies with almost alarming nonchalance.
Gone are the days of teenagers phoning up Saturday morning shows to ask Robbie Williams what his favourite colour is. Young people today are more likely to be asking him how he feels about the over reliance on post production and its affect on the originality of his video work. They know about marketing and are genuinely interested in the media that delivers it. It wouldn't surprise me if they discuss the pros and cons of a mixed methodology as they put their Tamagachi to bed at night.
As a generation of 'screenagers' and sophisticated consumers, there is no wonder then that they prefer their advertising ironic and original rather than slick and over sincere. Harry Enfield's PopTarts ads and the self referential Tango campaigns are clear winners when it comes to ads, and consequently brands, which they respect. Nike's 'Just Do It' has become a part of the culture they live in, an empowering mantra for a generation dispossessed and disillusioned by the Establishment.
The flip-side of these 'IT' brands are those which have fallen foul of their audience's sophistication. An ad that looks like MTV or sounds like a rave with a product tagged on that has no link to either will inevitably be dismissed as 'obvious' or 'trying too hard'. Phrases sure to bring a wince of pain to even the hardiest creative.
Get closer to your quarry
This all makes marketing to and researching young people a task fraught with potential danger. It's not that they aren't willing to play the game, it's just that in many ways, they know too much about it. This makes it all the more important to meet young people outside of traditional research environments and in places where they operate and feel most comfortable. By accompanying them to clubs, bars and shops it becomes possible to witness first hand how they interact with the world they live in.
While a focus group about clubs might throw up issues surrounding the music and bar prices, a trip to a club with them can be a stark reminder of the problems of unfriendly doormen and dirty toilets. Even sophisticated consumers can get turned away for wearing jeans.
The other key issue when considering media literate young consumers is stimulus material. Young people are hyper sensitive when it comes to attempts to communicate with them about their world, and stimulus material that looks like it's trying to jump on the latest bandwagon, be it breakdancing or bungee jumping, will be quickly dismissed as 'trying to be one of us'.
Stimulus that doesn't patronise, but rather challenges the intelligence and integrity of its young audience will in turn be treated with respect and judged more fairly.
So young people aren't so bad after all. Researching them isn't about chasing the latest fashion in an ever changing and accelerated culture, but about getting under the skin, and understanding their values and attitudes, and the context of the world in which they live.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, December 1999
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 1999