Meet Gen Y:

Born between 1975 and 1984 and weaned on Mach-3 media (MTV, fast computers, the Internet), increasingly accessible luxuries (Tommy Hilfiger at Target) and a bull market, Gen Ys, including the higher end of today's teen spectrum, are tough to impress, expect...
April 1, 1999

Born between 1975 and 1984 and weaned on Mach-3 media (MTV, fast computers, the Internet), increasingly accessible luxuries (Tommy Hilfiger at Target) and a bull market, Gen Ys, including the higher end of today’s teen spectrum, are tough to impress, expect to live well and are compulsively image-conscious.

Why should marketers care? Already, the youth market is making its retail power felt. A recent survey by Teenage Research Unlimited estimated that teens spent US$141 billion last year in the U.S. alone. Ys obsess over brands, which are banners of personal style and status.

A recent sample of North American 15- to 30-year-olds Brand Futures Group studied has a thing or two to say that we think teen marketers should hear, but before delving into the specifics of our findings, it’s important to view Gen Y’s attitudes as part of a mindset that’s been shaped-and continues to be shaped-by the life experiences that have surrounded them. Here’s how a couple of the Big Nexts we’re monitoring are being played out in the relationship between youth and their world. . .

Big Next: futurism & nostalgia-

a winning yin and yang

As the new world order demands that we adapt to a broad array of new cultural, political, economic and technological influences, one can’t fail to recognize the truth in the adage, ‘Change is life’s only constant.’ Among today’s youth, anxiety about change is exacerbated by premillennial tension. The result: oscillation between optimism and anxiety-and a desire to cling to reminders of a simpler, more easily understood past.

Big Next: global vs. hyperlocal

As the world gets smaller, teens aren’t just becoming more globally aware-they’re also becoming increasingly focused on hyperlocal places and communities in their lives, which partition the world into manageable chunks. Achieving a balance between global and hyperlocal will be of increasing importance to people and brands in the years ahead.

As we head into the next millennium, young people will seek out beacon brands connected to their local communities (however those are defined). In the case of young Americans, a winning marketer will be one that can provide not just quality, but also the sense of security that comes with being connected to a known and trusted entity at the ‘local’ level.

Generation-in-a-box: Four points of exploration

Here is a brief encapsulation of the primary themes that emerged from our research.

* It’s not easy being green

Although environmental concern is in evidence among most of the respondents, the level of their concern varies from country to country. Canadian respondents tend to be extremely attuned to eco-factors when shopping, while their U.S. counterparts cite the environment as a decisive factor at retail, but are more likely to consider the whole picture when purchasing-including style, price, safety, brand and environmental soundness. Like their politicized boomer parents, Ys are acutely aware of Big Business’s role in environmental destruction, and remain leery of corporate proclamations of eco-friendliness. Unless it’s a company they trust (Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop), Gen Ys demand solid evidence to back up corporate claims.

* Creatures of comfort

Brand loyalty among this group has a lot to do with the comfort derived from familiarity. Among members of Gen Y, logos have become something of a coat of arms-a universally understood ID card for the social tribe to which they belong.

* A hard drive: A mix of technological fascination and fear

Though respondents consider the networking and communications aspects of technology very promising, their optimism is tempered by fear that new technologies will barrel out of control. To some elders’ surprise, today’s youth are acutely aware that even the greatest advances may have severe consequences. Still, being ambivalent about technology doesn’t mean that they’re anti-innovation. Anything that saves time and effort-remote controls, smart gadgets, robotics-will be appreciated.

* Best and worst of Y

Gen Ys describe themselves as original, realistic, high-tech-oriented, smart, fun-loving, curious, courageous, career-minded, creative, athletic, broadminded, hopeful, futuristic, athletic, savvy and social. At their worst, they’re unenthused, impatient, foolhardy, lazy, selfish, materialistic and critical. Having grown up with MTV, video games and trance-inducing techno beats, Gen Ys are less delicate than their elder brothers and sisters.

Bold, in-your-face branding works with them. They are much more inclined toward impulse buys and the ‘wow’ factor, so getting their attention with novelty styling and extras is a good idea.

Marian Salzman is worldwide director of New York-based Brand Futures Group, a division of Young & Rubicam Inc., and co-author with Ira Matathia of Next: Trends for the Future. To learn more about Salzman, visit

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