What’s important to young people

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Young people. What’s on their mind? Often you ask them, and get the reply: ‘Nothing?’ As in: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Nothing.’ And: ‘Whom are you texting?’ ‘No one.’ Marketers, many of whom are not as young as they were, expand some effort in trying to fi nd out. They employ market researchers, who are often from their own age group, with varying results. See above. But I do remember a seminal study about 15 years ago, published by McCann. It was about how young people in Africa think, feel and act. And I think the biggest revelation was that young people in rural Africa were very similar to their urban counterparts. This took a long time to accept, particularly by people who have an interest in the rural audience staying poor and needy,lest they lose their funding.

True, the study said, young people in rural areas have less access to fashion, music, new flavours, innovation and technology. But that doesn’t stop them aspiring. Fast-forward fi fteen years. Young African’s access to most of these areas of discovery has multiplied exponentially. There’s hardly a trading centre on the Continent that doesn’t host clothing stalls laden with previously worn, or end of line clothing from the West. This began with aid collections, and has developed into real commerce. This is perhaps the biggest informal earning sector in Africa. And markets are carefully segmented, so it’s quite possible for a diligent lady shopper in Mogoditshane to fi nd a pair of Manolo Blahniks. A Cinderella moment if there ever was one!

GSM mobile coverage is pretty ubiquitous, and the surge to data is well underway. Most studies will now tell you that anyone under 25 accesses the Web via mobile. And there are plenty of people here under 25. Snack food, carbonated drinks and juices, make-up and hair care brand distribution is on par with the traditional staples. Music and fi lm piracy is rife. So today we can say with some confi dence that young Africans are worldlier, better informed, and bolder consumers than Mum and Dad ever were. In fact, they are truer global citizens. It’s these very insights that bring to mind McCann World Group’s study, The Truth About Youth, which prompts one to truly wonder about the learning for African marketers. The Truth About Youth is a global study, sampling 7000 young people in Southern Africa, Brazil, India, Spain, Mexico, China, US and UK. How relevant are these insights in our market? Let’s investigate.

The first insight of interest is that, among young people worldwide, the same three motivations rank highly in every country sampled. Knowing young people as we (older people) think we do, we might be forgiven for predicting these motivations to be selfish. We know, don’t we, that young people are explorers, trying new things, pleasing themselves and their friends. They live for themselves and the moment. Which is why these three common motivations brought me up short:The need for JUSTICE. Surely if there’s one insight that’s relevant to Africa, this has to be it; social and personal justice. But how interesting that young people espouse it so strongly. For evidence, look back at the blogosphere at the time of the Kalafatis incident. Then look at it in relation to the recently dubbed ‘Guptagate.’ The need for COMMUNITY. No great surprise here, but a welcome confirmation in this age of devices, just when we older folk might fear young people are withdrawing from social contact. In fact the opposite is happening. It’s just that we can’t supervise it any more.

The need for AUTHENTICITY. The need to see things as they are. Less puff, more substance. Less promotion, more engagement. In brand terms, the requirement here is to stop following what everyone else is doing and set your own course and drop the platitudes. Wondering why a marketing man has turned amateur sociologist? Consider this if you want to sell ice to Eskimos, you have to know how they mix their ‘mojitos.’
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