Thursday, November 4, 2010

Of older marketers, young consumers

How should the former overcome the age gap and speak convincingly to the latter?.

India's Gen Y is a complex kind that believes in self-advancement as much through education as through Indian Idol, is unashamedly self-absorbed, highly networked and lives life in a melting pot - how can marketers, usually much older, connect?

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak at the WAN IFRA conference at Jaipur on Gen Y in India, their hopes, fears, aspirations and on how marketers could reach out better to them. When my family heard of this opportunity to go to Jaipur, they asked me in their usual polite manner: “Do you do anything other than give speeches?” The Ramanujam family can never be accused of tact! Whenever I hear statements like this and it is quite often, I gently remind them that I am in the communications business and if delivering speeches and presentations isn't communication then what is! Personally, I learn a lot more from preparations for assignments like this.

Like in this case, I was able to look at several studies such as the Nielsen-India Today study on youth which was extremely illuminating and which has been used in this piece. Be that as it may, let us return to Gen Y and see if we can crack the code. I must, however, confess that I am perhaps not the best person qualified to understand this generation. Fifty-seven-year-olds are hardly the best judges of twenty-somethings, are they? My only qualification, perhaps, is that I have two sons aged 26 and 23 and my endeavour to understand them over the years has probably resulted in my only true sign of wisdom, a balding head!

But on a more serious note, is there a simple way to classify today's youth? In the mid-Nineties, Bajaj had done its second Hamara Bajaj ad which some of you might recall. Let me attempt to jog your memory. It has images of guys in motorcycles who drive around a rangoli so as not to disturb the pattern, guys in grungy T-shirts carrying sitars, a girl removing her hand from the boy's leg as she sees an older person on the road … The whole commercial, in my view at least, represented Indian youth of that time - traditional and yet modern, conservative and yet contemporary. In one word, the youth of the Nineties was being modern within the constraints of Indian culture and tradition. They would neither go completely overboard, nor would they rock the boat. Brilliant, I thought, and a nice depiction of young India.

In 2010, however, I feel that such a depiction might be an oversimplification of a complex breed of people. So what makes young India tick, what are their beliefs and what should India do to reach out to this generation?

The marketing challenge of India

At the risk of carrying coal to Newcastle we need to remind ourselves that we have the youngest population in the world and one-fourth of the world's youth population lives here. The good news is that 50 per cent of the Indian population will be under 30 even in 2015. But then what's the bad news? The people who are marketing to these people are much older. Vice-presidents of marketing are in their forties, managing directors are in their fifties and the customers who are buying products and services are in their twenties! And how old are editors of newspapers and magazines? I would much rather not answer that! Given this reality, what should companies do? I think they should start by marshalling their knowledge on Generation Y. What does today's youth brigade believe in?

The power of education

“A person who is better educated has more power.” The youth of today strongly believes in the power of education, even if on occasion, parents have to reinforce this belief! The success rates in IITs and IIMs are as low as 2 per cent! But clearly statistics like these do not prevent four lakh students from appearing for the IIT and a few days ago two lakh students appeared for the CAT (incidentally, a smaller number than last year). This desire to improve themselves through education is as old as the hills, but it is heartening to note that the vast Indian middle-class seems to have passed down this value to the next generation as well.

There is another new dimension to this desire for advancement, though. People believe that talent hunts like Indian Idol are the way to self-advancement. Indian Idol, for instance, had two lakh applicants and over 20,000 people were called for auditions. It is not uncommon for people to drop out of college for a year to participate in the talent hunt that will push to them to a completely new level of recognition and rewards. Young India does not believe that education is the only way.

The other important point of view is that today's Indian youth can no longer afford to “live with what he/ she has been born with”. The desire to look better is perhaps more in evidence today than ever before. An insight that brands such as Fair and Lovely have used for years and continue to do even today. Remember the controversial air-hostess commercial? Witness too, the number of fairness cream brands and cosmetic brands in the marketplace today compared to a decade ago, and the share of shelf, wallet and mind that these brands seem to enjoy. Today's youth too seems to be far more conscious of their physical well-being (if not their mental). On the rare occasions that I have gone to the gym I have been surrounded by twenty-year-olds building their bodies and toning their muscles. That's admirable but what is not is the fact that they keep referring to me as ‘uncle' despite all my attempts to look young and “with it”. Even as we speak of the younger generation we need to mention that older people are trying their hardest to appear younger. Mothers wish to appear like younger sisters of their daughters and brands such as Santoor appeal to this desire.

No longer chilled out

Our generation had its fair share of youngsters inspired by Woodstock. We talked of ‘discovering ourselves' and admired the backpack generation, though none of us owned backpacks unlike every second youngster of today. Yet some of us were chilled out, aloof and distant. Not so the current generation. Theirs is an inclusive life and unlike our generation that stayed exclusively and was friends with people who spoke the same language and belonged to the same socio-economic classification, this generation is networked. It is an inclusive group and has friends who speak different languages, come from different cultures and accepts all quite easily. It is perhaps in this context that the Idea Cellular commercial should be viewed. Have you seen the commercial where a Malayali goes to Mumbai and a Malayali lands up in Punjab … A brilliant execution of a powerful insight which must appeal to youth, certainly.

Are 24 hours enough?

How does Generation Y spend its time? Research from the Omnicom MediaGroup suggests that youth need more than 24 hours to a day. This generation has given a new dimension to multitasking. It wakes up (usually late) and reads supplements with the TV on. Continues to chat and blog with the TV on. Reality shows seem to fascinate them. Spend time at multiplexes (usually in class time), hang out in pubs and in Bangalore, at least, make their way to CafĂ© Coffee Day after the pub closes down at 11 p.m., organises and attends college fests and contests. They are plugged in all the time – either on the mobile or on their computer. If they have a quota of free SMSes that mobile service providers offer, that is usually run through by 9 a.m.!

Of course, as a parent, I wonder when they study or attend class. But this is not about how older people spend their time worrying, but about how younger people spend their time living! There is an interesting statistic about the younger generation that will have some relevance to marketers. Almost 50 per cent of the younger population goes to sleep post midnight as compared to older people who are between 30 and 45 years, where the percentage is just about 19 per cent.

Clearly (and sadly) the older generation seems to have things to do during the day like work! But this has interesting implications for marketers. Should the definition of ‘prime time' for youth be redefined to, say, 11p.m.? Newspaper owners have been keen to get their newspapers to their readers before the crack of dawn (never mind the fact that sleepy towns like Bangalore do not have such good fortune) as that was the time that the average Indian was at his brightest and most alert. What about Generation Y? When has it been up at the crack of dawn unless they are winding up after a party! So should newspapers come up with a late night edition only for this generation?

Interesting and yet incomplete … Read more in the next issue.

Ramanujam Sridhar


C said...

When I read this article in Business Line this week. I was itching to comment.

I think the Indian Youth is caught in a peculiar situation. Take the case of the I-Pod, I-Touch - these products were tailored for the American youth - self absorbing,and as a culture puts the individual first. When these products are launched in India with so much fanfare and the "cool"tag attached to it what happens? Our youth is more confused!!! At a drop of a hat the entire family is there either to see/send off/ receive at the hospital, airports, railway stations, festivals, college admission etc etc., but still our Youth want to own it, flaunt it and perhaps gets to use it for a short time. I would think the need of the hour is the balance the wisdom of the old with the brazenness of the new. Most trends be it fashion, products, are all aped from the western cultures. Be it a soap brand like Santor, a car like the Santro, or a bike - all the products are advertised by stars in their late 30s or early 40s!!!

The ads like AXE, Nescafe, Clinic (Dandruf) shampoo are an exception.

Older marketers should spend some time mulling over the pressures and problems of the younger generation with an open mind. Just because I walked 50 kms to study does not mean that my son has to study at least 4 hours a day!!! We do not need late night editions for the youth, they re clued in 24/7!! What we need is a reference group of different segments in the youth category itself.

Ram said...

For starters i think this is a very interesting topic. But I somehow tend to feel todays older generation have kind of hyped up the younger generation and almost give the feeling that they are envious of them.
My personal take is this a vicious circle. The so called youth of today will also grow old and at that time technolgy would have improved even further. And the youth then would be calling the current youth 'uncles' too. and they would be envying the youth as well like most of us today are.
But I beg to disagree on one thing that to be a good marketeer to the youth of today you have to be young too.
That way chocholate companies will have to be run by kids, and sanitary napkin companies will have only women working in it.
And I feel this youth power is slightly over hyped in India.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

You are probably right that youth is a bit overhyped here. But the fact remains that they have the numbers to threaten us if you will. But the smart companies engage with youth. Nike has streettalks, so that it understands and appreciates the language of youth. Bakemans once used to have children on its board!

Gerry said...

agree to a great extend to what you have to say about the youth of today. I carry out marketing promotions at Cafe Coffee Day targeted to the Youth and the future of all brand communcation is using latest technology ie. Mobile, wifi, Blue Fi, etc

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Thanks, will be in touch.