Researchers of the youth market have long been shackled by the perception that it is a particularly tough sector to crack. Now, however, there are some with the view that 16- to 24-year-olds are no more difficult to research than their parents, and that the excuses of rapidly changing trends and a mistrust of brands are generated through a reluctance to get under the skin of young people and the way they live.
"Marketing's traditional angle is that young people are hard to talk to and can see through advertising strategies, but they are much more accepting of brands than has otherwise been shown," claims Toby New all, associate director of research company RDSi's ongoing youth project Youth2.
Simon Scholl, planning and development director at design agency Siebert Head, which researches the youth market for clients, agrees that young people are not the problematic sector they are made out to be. "Modern companies are not set up to understand them. Yes, they're acutely aware of peer opinion, but so are 30-year-old men with sports cars," he says.
But the fact that young people are interested in trends and brands is undeniable. Youth2's latest research, published last September following 200 telephone interviews and friendship groups, reveals 17- to 25-year-olds' taste in brands. Their spontaneous choices were Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Sony and Top Shop for the most popular names, but when prompted, these came out as Nokia, Levi's, Nike, Calvin Klein and McDonald's.
The research also showed that 88% said they like to try out new brands, 79% are interested in what is trendy and 72% say they try out new places rather than go where everybody goes all the time. Seventy-five per cent of the age group want to work in a job they really enjoy, 73% never want to be unemployed, 70% want to go out and really have fun, while only 38% said they want to help improve society.
The key to understanding how best to target this trend-conscious group is in understanding how their lifestyles have changed, and how they communicate among their peers.
The boundaries between generations have blurred. "There has been a shift from a youth culture that's opposed to everything, to having one with values embraced by everyone," says Ian Pierporant, head of research agency Vegas.
And in homes, the way families interact has altered over the past ten years. "Now that most children have a TV, video and games console in their bedrooms, families are living together separately. Marketers have to understand that youths now lead much more isolated lives," says Scholl.
"Young people are not a generation of protesters, as frequently portrayed by the media," says Newall. "But they are a generation of shoppers -- and they're shopping harder than ever."
And, as their purchase power increases, their awareness of their relationship with brands is heightened. "Young people understand they're in control, and appreciate that brands exist to meet their needs. As a result, they find it hilarious when they're asked to sit in groups with a marketer hiding behind a mirror. They respond much better to being treated as brand experts," says Pierporant.
Paul McGowan, global managing partner of brand consultancy Added Value, argues that the secret to researching the market is in picking the right young people to talk to. "We've spent a lot of time and money finding art, photography, media and product design students from some of the most challenging schools and colleges in key European cities. Since gaining access to them we've learned so much more," he says.
Another way of tapping into the market is to conduct research amongst peer groups in a realistic environment, rather than putting them in a sterile room with strangers. …