Youth Culture Series Part 1: The Evolving Mindset of Global Youth

In the last couple of decades, as Gen Y have come into their own in the U.S., youth culture on a global scale has shifted from a very western-focused, self-centric culture to that of a more holistic and globally unified focus on success rooted in the collective

This shift has occurred in tandem with and as a result of evolutions in communication, globalization and the spread of capitalism as well other potent macroforces that have been changing our human, cultural and consumer landscape.

In future conversations those macroforces will be addressed both as stand-alone phenomena and in connection with youth culture. But for now, lets take a look at the global youth culture and mindset shift that has been observed since the years leading in to the new Millennium:

How has culture changed on the ground?

We can see these shifts brought to life in the day to day culture of youth. For example, in the U.S. “bling” is no longer in the youth lexicon as a fashion-forward ideal of showing off financial success (or aspiration) through flashy brands and expensive shiny things.

Rather, a mindset of financial pragmatism favors fast-fashion from lower-cost retail and less focus on standing out from the crowd. Young adults aren’t flocking to expensive badge brand vehicles, either. Instead they look for life-stage appropriate rides that are both affordable and approachable.

Look to brands like Scion (scion.com) who, after a dramatic shift from their original brand messaging when they launched in 2003, focused on a very timely customization, stand-out-individualism and separatist niche-culture mindset to a more inclusivity and empowerment-based strategy. Notably, since about this time last year (when their new “look” hit the ground running) , their sales have just about doubled.

Social networks have taken the place of cliques: rather than seeking to belong to the “it” group at your school or in your neighborhood, young people can connect to like-minded teens from across town or on the other side of the world, enhancing and expanding their sense of belonging without alienating others.

Ask a recent grad in the U.S. or Canada what their career aspirations are. Chances are they will tell you they are looking for a job that allows them to fulfill a greater purpose and gives them the flexibility to pursue interests and priorities outside of work – and that they are willing to get paid less money as a trade-off. You may even find 29 year-olds who’s early onset midlife crises as caused them to shift careers entirely from something high-powered to another more down-to-earth passion based entrepreneurial venture. Take a look at quarterlives.com (http://www.quarterlives.com/) , a virtual resource devoted to helping young adults navigate their new American Reality).

Look to organizations and movements like the Nexus Global Youth Summit (http://www.nexusyouthsummit.org/) or the global Youth Action Network (www.youthlink.org) and see how young people are finding ways to benefit the greater good on a global scale and improve their local communities. More and more philanthropic and entrepreneurial NGOs and even private-sector focused communities are emerging to empower young people to create the change they want to see in the world and create opportunities for others.

How has the Global Brandscape shifted as a reaction to changing youth culture?

Forward thinking brands are beginning to take notice of the new youth dialogue. In examining macroforces as a business priority, the shift in the more and more influential culture of global youth and young adults is one that will affect mainstream culture at large.

Denizen Jeans is a new global brand from Levi Strauss targeting youth. It launched in 2010 in China and is now available in India, Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore and the US.
If you look to their website (http://www.denizen.com/global_home)  you will see how they define themselves from an inclusivity perspective:
“The dENiZEN® name means “inhabitant” – belonging to a community of family and friends. Denim is in the name, the heart of the brand.”

Having worked on the strategy for this brand from a global cultural exploration perspective, it is definitely a near-and-dear-to-my-heart example, but one that rings true to the shifts we are seeing in youth culture on a global scale – especially where the emerging middle class is concerned.

You also see the increased popularity in social media game platforms like Zynga’s “ville” series (e.g. Farmville and CityVille) and Words With Friends that focus more on social interaction, collaboration and the spirit of “play” than on winning.

And you can look to the occupy movement to show how young adults have lead the charge against inequality and mobilized around a global voice for social change. See the geo-tagged Flickr Site courtesy of The Guardian UK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/oct/18/occupy-everywhere-movement-flickr-map)

So what’s next? What should Marketers keep their eyes and ears on?

Platforms for democratization of entrepreneurship that empower socially minded consumers to support upstarts like Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) and Etsy (Etsy.com) are just the beginning. The next generation of young consumers will continue to develop new concepts in social empowerment to help others succeed with the support of their like-minded peers.

Global brands that target youth will require a universal brand positioning who’s marketing messages are both globally synchronized and based on a higher order ideal, but able to execute with local relevance. Brands will be required to be part of the solution from the ground up, tapping into a savvy young consumer who’s loyalty will depend on your ability to empower them to succeed…but not at the expense of alienating others.

So remember to take the time to check in with “kids these days” rather than hanging on to long-held stereotypes about youth and rebellion and self-centered irresponsibility as the dominant motivation of younger generations. This kind of old-school thinking will lead marketers down a slippery slope. It’s important to look forward, knowing that global youth are doing the same and waiting to see what brands will do next.

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3 responses to “Youth Culture Series Part 1: The Evolving Mindset of Global Youth

  1. Pingback: Defining Street Culture? « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

  2. Pingback: Bullies: A Dying Breed « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

  3. Pingback: Macroforces and Changing Consumer Culture: Advancing Human Insights | The Brand Sherpa's Blog

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