The truth about youth? They’ve not had it this tough for a very long time

The truth about youth? They’ve not had it this tough for a very long time
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

As society seems to prize the young, brands should not ignore their struggles and need to adjust their messaging and media accordingly in the long-term.


As we inch our way out of January and shuffle towards Spring, much of the UK population will be eyeing up the lighter, longer days with mounting anticipation for a chink in their energy bills and a recouping of Christmas outlay.

Through in-depth research amongst 11- to 21-year-olds, the second volume in OMD UK’s The Real Britain Series, The Truth About Youth, in collaboration with News UK, it became clear that money troubles are never far from our children’s minds either. An OMD radar study of 2,000 people found 72% of adults agreed that money is tight, and 69% are worried about their financial status.

Even before the cost-of-living crisis hit last year 20% of this country’s children were living in poverty. The stark reality of life for many, and the resulting anxiety we carry as adults and caregivers, means it’s very difficult to shield these stresses from kids, and they inevitably become their worries too.

There has been a 14% rise in financial anxiety year-on-year amongst young people.

The cost of living is shaping culture, expression, and freedom

There are increasing limitations on free-to-access community programmes; cost of utilities, travel and day-to-day life came up repeatedly and the inaccessibility to many of further education all stack up to create huge limitations for today’s youth.

“For people my age there isn’t much to go to in the holidays and no free events. We should have more things to do in our community.” Female, Birmingham, aged 12.

Our culture fetishes the young: we position teens as tastemakers; the expert voices on what is cool, new, and fun.

The reality is that emerging into the world and experiencing it joyously and relatively light-heartedly is simply out of reach for large swathe of this country’s young.

What’s more, once they get to an age where they have more financial responsibility, they are struggling to know how to deal with it.

Young people desperately want to handle their finances responsibly: 72% want to learn more about money in school, but there is a “lack of real-world skills provided by the education system.” Female, 20, Watford.

Despite this, young people feel like their concerns about financial literacy, and the myriad other issues they face daily, aren’t being heard: “they… don’t value our opinions, they don’t think we’ve lived enough or know enough about life.” Male, 16, Salford.

Why is this important for brands, and what can they do about it?

Younger consumers expect brands to consider their overall impact on the world, and value companies who allow their voices to be heard more clearly.

This group of people are likely to live into their nineties: securing loyalty from this cohort can allow brands to really win big, and if your brand sees the younger end of the population as their future consumer, the resulting brand strategy needs to root itself in authenticity and action:

Truly understand what it means to be young in this social and economic climate.

Articulate your brand purpose.

Enrich their experiences and add value, don’t just try to take their cash.

Consider whether your brand can step into the education gap and support financial literacy — don’t underestimate their desire to learn.


What does this mean for media planning?

If a brand starts to consciously move towards inclusion and altruism for young people, this has implications for media activity too;

Depth is important; going beyond simple spots and space unlocks opportunity and creates meaningful space for your brand.

Placements and partnerships in environments that support community and connection (online and “IRL”).

Presence where this group gather their information (think TikTok), as well as where they ratify some of that information (more traditional media environments, such as newsbrands).

Partnerships with influential role models in social and gaming environments: use them to support your messages, and drive engagement with the education you’re providing. Leverage the trust they’ve already built with the youth community.

Young people, whilst seen as the ‘cool’ target audience, are, at the same time, living their lives in a scary, unstable world about which they have very little say.

Their planet is burning and much of the infrastructure around them is being deliberately collapsed by adults in power.

Our brands can help them, raise them up and work with them. Let’s get going.

Laura Rowe is head of research at OMD UK

Strategy Leaders features on the Thursday edition of The Media Leader‘s daily bulletin with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated to excellence in commercial media strategy.
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