Teens and Young Adults: What Marketers Need to Know

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A conversation with Viacom’s SVP of Global Consumer Insights, Christian Kurz, and SVP of Insights & Strategy for MTV/VH1/Logo, Ramon Jimenez.

Generation Z is the newest generation, so new, that its cut-off has yet to be determined. (A newborn baby is considered a part of Gen Z by some.) But most marketers and advertisers are focused on the older Gen Zers—the teenagers and young adults—whose attention they want to attract.

That’s why Viacom continues to research the behaviors and opinions of people age 16 to 24, discovering what worries and inspires them, how they consume content, and how often they check social media. Several global studies published in 2017 through our Global Consumer Insights group uncovered some informative and eye-opening insights.

Christian Kurz, senior vice president of Global Consumer Insights, and Ramon Jimenez, MTV/VH1/Logo’s senior vice president of Insights and Strategy—who will be speaking on the panel “Taking A Stand: Hard Questions About Purpose In Polarized Times” at Advertising Week on Oct. 3—have both sifted through the data to uncover the most pertinent trends.

“[Gen Z] is incredibly resilient given the world that they have to live within,” Kurz explains. The average teenager may still be worried about homework, but unlike previous generations, they’re also feeling enormous pressures about their digital presence, so much so, that they actively take a “social media detox.”

Jimenez says the most interesting aspect of Gen Z teens is how realistic they are. “Their aspirations are more grounded in reality than teens before and that doesn’t mean they’re pessimistic, it’s quite the opposite,” he says.

Viacom: What were the most surprising results of your studies on teens and young adults?

Christian Kurz: It continues to be hard to be young. There are lots of things that are universally true [from previous generations]. You’re still worrying about zits on your face. What is different is the world that they have to navigate, which includes things like social and digital pressures. What is really interesting is the fact that a lot is the same: 60% of teens still worry about their appearance, 6 in 10 worry about being left out by peers, two-thirds worry about not having a boyfriend/girlfriend. But there’s also more energy going into finding their own identity in a different way than it would have been 20 years ago.

Ramon Jimenez: Technology is a conduit to everything—finding your identity, developing your social circles, dating. Their human needs are not changing, but technology is definitely shifting the way that those things are happening and where they are being developed.

V: What did you learn about the relationship between teens and technology?

RJ: To them it’s native. It’s love and hate, but they’re not considering quitting because to them quitting is not an option. It’s about managing technology and putting boundaries. They’re more conscious of the impact technology can have and they self-regulate. An example is how they’re doing a lot of social media detox.

V: One of the studies revealed that 96% of teens age 16 to 24 “find it important to collaborate with other young people to make the world a better place.” How does this exemplify teens’ desire to change the world?

CK: Young people have always wanted to change the world. How young people go about doing it is very interesting and that’s certainly something Viacom is exploring. What we’re seeing is that teens specifically are a bit lost as to where to start. They know the causes that they’re passionate about, they know they want to do something, but they don’t necessarily know what to do and how to do it. Coupled with their distrust of institutions, that’s going to be an interesting area to explore.

RJ: You have a generation that’s very disenchanted. There is a distrust, but at the same time there’s a feeling of empowerment. They feel they are capable of provoking change and that has to do with the tools at their disposal. I think one example of that is the approach we’ve taken to the midterm election. MTV’s “+ 1 the vote” is a campaign that encourages them to bring a friend to vote. We are not patronizing and we are not telling people it’s important to vote, they know it’s important. They know that by taking action, they can provoke that change.

V: How are teens and young adults perceived by marketers and advertisers?

RJ: The Gen Z conversation is pervasive, it’s almost as big as the millennial conversation and what we’re seeing is brands react to that. They’re reaching voting age, they now drink spirits legally in the U.S., so as a market group, they’re way more attractive. Change happens slowly, but when brands need to react to new mindsets, that’s when it accelerates. And now Gen Z is reaching that sweet spot. They are very mature in terms of seeing through marketing fanfare, their B.S. detectors are as fine as any generation has ever had and I think as a result they understand value differently.

V: What about teens escapes analysis?

RJ: We’re working really hard to uncover what’s happening with dating and sex. We know that technology is enabling and is also an obstruction to them. It’s hard; it’s one of those topics that’s not easy to research for obvious reasons. There are two key things. One, a lot of people feel the way they are being forced to connect with people through dating apps is letting them down and as a result they’re having less sex. And two, porn has become sex education in some instances and it’s creating problems in terms of expectations and frustrating sexual experiences.

Visit V by Viacom for more insights.

1. Youth in Flux, 2017, P16-24
Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, UK, USA
2. My Teen Life, 2017, P12-17
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, US
3. TV Matters, 2017, P6-44
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sweden, UK, US. Deprivation with 150 people in 6 countries: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Spain, UK, US
4. The Next Normal: Rise of Resilience, 2017, P6-54
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, US

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