Hashtag Nation: Marketing to the Selfie Generation

New Research from Havas Worldwide Reveals a Powerful Partnership Between Young People and Brands

Photo by Paško Tomić.


“Hashtag Nation: Marketing to the Selfie Generation”

A great deal has changed in youth culture since the baby boomers came of age in the ’60s and ’70s. New technologies and media formats have transformed how we interact, learn, and are entertained. Family dynamics have changed markedly. And the world is now far more global and interconnected. What impact have these shifts had on youth marketing? How have young people’s expectations of brands evolved? And what should brands be doing to establish themselves as trusted, dynamic partners in the lives of young people in this markedly different era? To find out, Havas Worldwide fielded an online survey among 10,574 people aged 16 and older in 29 markets.

Highlights of the study include:

Gen Z and millennials are big on brands.

Brands aren’t just names on the products consumers buy; they’re tools that help establish young people’s senses of identity and social connections. It’s no wonder, then, that 45 percent of our youngest respondents (aged 16‒34) say brands are an “essential” part of their lives; this compares with just 25 percent of people aged 55+ who said the same. Sixty-three percent of young people actively encourage their friends to use certain brands, and almost as many (60 percent) said it makes them feel good to see the brands they own being used by people they admire. That’s nearly double the agreement levels we saw among respondents aged 55+.

Implications: Today’s newest generations have a more intimate and interactive relationship with brands. They are far more marketing savvy than their parents were at their age, and they’re keenly aware of their value as consumers. This means they expect to be treated as equals, to have their opinions matter, and even to be involved in brand building. A majority of our youngest respondents (54 percent) said they like it when brands invite them to get involved through crowdsourcing, content creation, and so forth.

Goodbye, rebels; hello, makers.

Since the days of James Dean and Marlon Brando, being young has essentially meant being “against”—against authority, against the status quo, against the music, style, and mores of earlier generations. Pretty much against anything parents liked. That’s no longer the case. Now “youth” values are shared values, and older people are at least as likely as the young to embrace what once were considered youthful pursuits and attitudes. For the most part, “revolution” and “rebellion” strike a sharper chord among adults who grew up in the tumultuous ’60s. Their children and grandchildren focus not on destroying the status quo, but on driving incremental change and hacking together solutions (oftentimes digital) to the problems that get in their way.

Implications: In previous decades, advertisers and their agencies had a surefire way to appeal to youth: Play up the generation gaps and create a universe in which youth values ruled. From Levi’s to Pepsi and Mars, great campaigns called up symbols of rebellion, fun, and an anti-establishment ethos to signify they were the province of kids. Now that youth values are virtually identical to those of their parents, brands need to focus not on a distinct set of values but on young people’s need for utility and engagement. Making life easier, quicker, more seamless, and more meaningful are the new routes to loyalty.

Digital strategic arsenals help adolescents navigate the new social spheres.

It was tough enough growing up before the Internet. Imagine the social pressures created by social networking and having one’s life online, where it can be picked apart and commented on by strangers near and far. In response, young people have become adept at creating individualized sets of digital tools that help them navigate the social waters. They may use Snapchat to increase their level of intimacy with a member of their social circle. Or Instagram to create an idealized version of their home lives. They may create Vines to establish their artistic bent or sense of humor. The arsenal changes as new tools are created and old ones, outgrown.

Implications: Brands have a role to play in making it easier for young people to navigate the potentially treacherous social waters in which they swim—including helping them to establish their identities and improve their social status. Brand offerings can range from shareable content and conversational currency to more direct assistance, especially in areas that cause stress. Social shopping site The Hunt lets its young customers request to be “styled” by other members of the community, who suggest specific outfits and looks based on the information the member supplies. Just what every would-be fashionista needs!

Brand passion increasingly is digitally based.

Whereas their parents may have grown up with Coke vs. Pepsi or McDonald’s vs. Burger King, today’s digital natives are more likely to align themselves with tech brands: Xbox vs. PlayStation, Spotify vs. Pandora, Roku vs. Chromecast, and on and on. Not surprisingly, they’re also far more passionate about new-economy brands, choosing Airbnb over Hilton or Uber over Yellow Cab, for instance. Loyalty goes to those brands that aren’t just considered cool but that make life more fluid and less expensive.

Implications: Every brand can be a tech brand, regardless of industry. Consider how Adidas immerses its fans in digital experiences, whether it’s by allowing customers to use 3-D printing to customize their Stan Smiths in a pop-up store in London or with its interactive digital windows that let people shop at storefronts after hours. Or how Oscar Mayer managed to make a meat product high-tech by creating an alarm clock device and app that lets users awaken to the sound and scent of sizzling bacon. What matters is not so much what elements make up the product itself, but what elements make up the brand experience. If you want to awaken the passions of today’s youth, consider adding a digital twist.

To learn more about the study and to download the full report, please visit www.havasworldwide.com/prosumer-report.