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ARE YOU HELPING YOUTH REBEL INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS

 

Dave McCaughan
Co-Founder, Marketing Futures

LESSON 8 :

BEING YOUNG IS ALL ABOUT TRYING TO FIT IN. SOMETIMES THAT INVOLVES STANDING OUT AND SEEMING TO BE DIFFERENT. AND PARENTS OFTEN DON’T REALLY MIND FUNDING THAT SHOW OF REBELLION.

Yes, you read that correctly. Any sort of practical marketer who is interested in getting young people to consume their brand is actually a revolutionary. Or rather the trick is to remember you are helping them revolt INTO the middle class.

Go all the way back to 1950’s America, and the decades since the idea of teen rebellion has taken off – movies like “Rebel without a cause”. The boom in wearing what had been blue-collar working clothes like jeans and t-shirts as fashion was because businesses took advantage of the idea of “youth as special and rebellious” and needing their own special brands. Pepsi understood that when they switched the Cola wars around by declaring they were there for “ the Pepsi generation” – young people who would make an exclusive, unique group. Those who got “it”. But Coke of course also recognized it was important to be “it” ( “Coke is it” was maybe there greatest ever tagline).

The point though was that what made so many of these brands and trends and ideas work was because they were really targeting generations of young people who wanted to be cool, to be different, to rebel. What is interesting is that for most rebellion was only possible because their parents were able to afford it. Parents were able to send them to school/university, pay for their new lifestyles, fund their desire to get the right fashion, drink the right drinks, buy the right technology.

When I first started working in Thailand in the late 90s our research very quickly noticed that the youth of the fast developing market wanted to be different, to be recognized as different from their parents. They wanted to be seen as modern and at the same time they aspired to break boundaries. So how did they express that? They wore Calvin Klein knock-off jeans, they owned tamogochi electronic pets, they were seen buying drinks and snacks from the then-new hangout – 7-Eleven stores. Brands that represented things that their parents might not understand, might think extravagant, or ill-disciplined.

But they paid for these things. As parents do when they can. It is a truism that the broad definition of a middle class is not about education, job status, home ownership. One of the most common definitions is that it means having expendable income. And it is also a habit that when parents have a bit more cash they tend to want to spoil their kids. Or at the very least to make sure the world thinks they can afford to spoil their kids.

In Bangkok during 1998-9 an awful lot of parents were allowing their teenage kids to buys brands and services they might not really understand or approve of fully, but if they were persuaded that having them meant their child was “cool” and part of “just being a teenager, a bit rebellious” it was all ok.

And there you have the lesson for today’s marketers in Bangladesh. Are you part of the trend where young people “need to have you” because you make them fit in by being different? Because both that generation of youth and their parents want some help in making sure they are rebelling into middle-classness.