Decoding the Truth about Youth

Guerillascope was in attendance at the Truth About Youth on July 16th – an event commissioned by Thinkbox in partnership with research agency Platypus – to learn about the changing behaviours of media consumers aged 14-24, with many illuminating insights rising to the surface.

Underpinning reports from some of the leading experts in TV and youth culture – including journalist and TV presenter Billy JD Porter, Media Psychologist Adam Galpin, Channel 4’s commissioning editor Emma Cooper and UK marketing manager at Rimmel, Sarah Pirrie – was a shared belief that a viewer’s life stage should take far greater primacy over age in the planning of targeted advertising campaigns aimed at younger audiences.

Life is a stage

Generally, young TV viewers are tech savvy and at peak fluid intelligence; their brains are at the optimal learning stage, where cognitive plasticity is at its highest. This means that, as adolescents, we’re generally more susceptible to the influences of others. Additionally, teenagers and young adults tend to display a penchant for arousing and humorous video content, whilst characters they can identify with also prove crucial.

However, depending on what life stage a media consumer sits within, they will use it for different purposes and interests. The average 14-16 year-old is in the process of developing a self-identity; they use media to meet people of similar ages and interests as a means of self-validation. They’re also vociferous learners, putting into place the skills, hobbies and interests that will accompany them for the rest of their lives. This is the age – or stage – of self-discovery.

16-18 year-olds on the other hand have most likely conjured a fragmented idea of who they are or want to be, yet still require guidance as they approach the precipice of adulthood. Romance, careers and other aspects of social life take up a lot of cognitive energy at this point. However, at this stage of development a media consumer is beginning to gain a level of independence – one that grants less free time and more responsibility. Despite this, such viewers often like to be entertained by their media content, embracing risqué topics in the pursuit of rewarding, ‘pleasurable’ viewing experiences that can be shared for social credibility.

Finally, we have the 18-24 year-olds. Finishing their educations, entering careers and leaving home, young adults become empowered with new opportunities and greater self-autonomy. This life stage typically cultivates more discerning media habits, with less free time, new life stresses and a crystallizing worldview engineering a taste for quality programming. Removing oneself from the grind becomes a pivotal part of the daily routine: it’s where we can relax and/or pursue individual interests, which are regularly shared on social media.

How do the youth consume TV content?

The Truth About Youth report suggests that advertisers should opt against a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy aimed at youth audiences, and instead focus more specifically on the unique character traits and needs of specific life stages – highlighting the importance of strong market research and a more nimble approach.

However, there are unifying viewing behaviours that do endow the UK’s youth with something akin to a group identity. For example, 16-24 year-olds watch on average 37 TV adverts a day and 1 hour 40 minutes of TV a day. In total, TV reaches 87% of 16-24’s every week, whilst 65% of all video content viewed emanates from the TV set. The overarching conclusion here is that TV still retains its hold.

This 'demographic' also likes to multiscreen, often engaging with more than one device simultaneously. Despite this, for the majority of 16-24 year-olds TV is still the most influential medium; it provides the fabled ‘water-cooler moment' where like-minded individuals can talk about TV content – importantly, free from the obstacles of time and space, thanks to social media. Additionally, shared TV viewing in the living room becomes more valuable. Regardless of the hormonal levels playing havoc on mood, our gregarious nature and need to belong sees the UK’s young still gravitating toward family viewing.

It’s not just the TV set where the youth flock to, however. Online platforms provide access to vloggers and other content that young people can both learn from and identify with, with YouTube alone accounting for 7.5% of all video viewed by 16-24s. Interestingly, subscription services such as Netflix only represent 2.2% of overall viewing, just behind broadcaster VOD (3%) and someway behind pornography, which attracts 6.6%.

How can TV advertisers engage our youth?

From the Truth About Youth report we know that young viewers – depending on their life stage – use TV content for relaxation, entertainment and learning. If content is viewed online, often it’s because the consumer is bored and looking to wile away an hour or so with short-form video. Content viewed on the TV set is more of an immersive, shared experience, however. Ultimately, TV advertisers must be aware of the differing attitudes to advertising, which are largely defined by where, why and how the viewer is watching.

According to Jo Cliffe at Platypus, the challenge of engaging a generally more apathetic TV audience than typically seen in older viewers can be extremely rewarding for brands, if they get it right. Humour, she argues, is a vital ingredient in catching the short attention spans of our youth, as is a great music soundtrack, which if used well can elevate a brand to iconic status. Furthermore, high productions values are important, as is the use of celebrity brand ambassadors that young viewers can readily identify with. Granted, this is not an option for many advertisers, but the good news is that young viewers also respond to brands who keep it simple, subtle and real; eschewing the hard sale in favour of a softer, aspirational approach.

Thanks to the easier access to information that the internet has engendered, the UK’s youth is becoming increasingly socially aware – and wants their favourite brands to be likewise. We yearn to be seen as good, respectable people – especially in early adulthood – with the brands we endorse reflecting who we are and what we believe. Our social identities when young are hugely important, which for brands means creating a TV advertising campaign that deeply resonates with such viewers.

TV sponsorship is another potentially effective avenue for TV advertisers; young viewers appear to be more receptive to a brand they see more of, whilst sponsoring a popular show also instils more credibility. Latching onto the connection between a young viewer and their favourite TV show moulds a positive association around the brand, yet crucially, any TV presence must correlate with the brand image seen on other platforms. Ultimately, to really engage the UK’s youth, brands are urged to utilise the unique strengths of individual media channels as part of a cohesive marketing strategy.