Meet the Recession Generation | Director


“Teenagers. We know what they’re all about. Like we were at their age, they’re carefree, hedonistic, impetuous, cutting-edge idlers. Like a cooler version of Harry Enfield’s character Kevin The Teenager, right? Well no, not most of today’s teenagers,” says Will Higham. “They’ve strayed far from our picture of the ‘traditional’ teen.

A range of major polls show that today’s young people are much more likely to worry about the future. They are typically risk averse: with many focused on saving and even pensions. They’re surprisingly traditional. Frequently hard working (though sometimes a little directionless). And new NHS figures from last month show that – despite lurid tabloid headlines – levels of teen drinking, smoking, drug taking and pregnancy have all fallen dramatically. Today’s teens are less Kevin, and more Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous.

I dislike terms like Gen Y or Gen Z. We should define a generation by their character or influences: like the Boomers (born in the Baby Boom, so have the confidence of a large group), Gen X (X stands for nothing – or everything) and the Millennials (coming of age around the Millennium, a time of change and possibilities).

So I prefer to call today’s youngest people the Recession Generation. Although the previous generation showed some signs of this new, serious attitude, it was the impact of the Recession on young minds that created today’s teen mindset. Unlike the Millennials – who grew up at a time of young Dotcom billionaires and overnight celebrities – today’s teens do not expect something for nothing. They are doing more for themselves – and their peers. They’re expressing some traditional social attitudes, like civic responsibility. There are signs they’re not as payment-averse as their elder siblings. Though they appear more wary of the risks of – personal and governmental – big ticket spending.

We are witnessing probably the biggest change in teenage attitudes since the 1960s. It’s going to have a huge impact on business. On strategy, marketing, sales and product design. Some positive, some disruptive. All significant. I’ll explore some of the most important implications in next month’s column.

(Part 2)

Last month I described how today’s young consumers – the Recession Generation – are proving very different to yesterday’s. Like Ab Fab’s Saffy, they’re typically less hedonistic, more earnest and risk averse, have more realistic expectations of others and are becoming more – individually and communally – self-reliant.

They are more concerned with providing for the future: good news for financial institutions. According to a study I ran with researchers One Poll, under-30s are more likely to be savers than previous generations, and one in ten thinks it’s important to have a pension. But they’ll expect such institutions to adapt to their changing needs and lifestyles.

Unlike their pre-Recession elder siblings, they’re taking a more realistic approach to value. Less likely to expect ‘something for nothing’, they’re starting to realise they may have to pay to get quality, or convenience. Even for those things they could recently find for free: in-game purchases to music streaming services. This has positive implications for products and services that recently lost out to ‘free’: from media to music.

According to ONS, over a quarter of 20-34 year olds in the UK today live with one or more parents. Of course this has a lot to do with the economy. But study after study shows they actually have a more positive attitude to parents and home: happier to go on family holidays, contributing to the home rather than relying on ‘bank of mum and dad’. Longer home-stays means larger households: with implications for home and car ownership, retail, insurance and other sectors.

They’re trusting friends and family more too – at the expense of institutions and brands – and supporting peer-to-peer industries.

Meanwhile those many brands whose ads target young people’s hedonism may have to change their marketing approach. To focus instead on young people’s serious or practical sides and offer sympathy, and assistance, to teens feeling stressed.

This new generation brings opportunities and threats. Understanding – and embracing – their attitudes will make it easier for brands to take up the former – and avoid the latter.

Both articles by William Higham, The Director
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