The "Liberteens"
by Nicki Gondell

Forecast to be the largest, most influential group in history, eclipsing even the Boomers by 30%, generation Y has been the subject of numerous studies and much conjecture. We recently looked at this group as an emerging market for a major consumer electronics manufacturer.

As we had the opportunity to observe Gen Y in a series of focus groups, we were struck by the attitudinal differences within the several age tiers. As so many trends are influenced by youth, to fully understand their impact on the marketplace, it was necessary to break Gen Y into two groups: pre-college and college/post-college.

The Liberteens represent the younger half of Gen Y, from 12 to 18 years-of-age. This group of confident, empowered and optimistic teenagers share traditional values, wield plenty of power in the home, and in the marketplace. Surveys show they are deeply involved in family purchases, from groceries to cars.

Thanks to over indulgence and part-time jobs, they have much disposable income. They are encouraged by their parents to be independent and free thinking. This allows them to choose what they want to own, and to buy it themselves. The very nature of youth is change, and therefore their tastes are fickle and frenzied. They often seek the latest, greatest thing, and are more influenced by their peers than by national advertising campaigns. They view technology as background, as taken for granted as air or electricity.

Simple Pleasures Return

This is the most pressured American generation ever. Their sheer size creates a competitive component, as there are so many applicants vying for each spot. Prep courses are now commonplace before standardized tests, and kids often attend after school private learning centers to help them excel.

Extra-curricular activities are now essentials, required to "build the resume" necessary to appeal to college admissions boards. Free time has been all but eliminated. As a backlash to these pressures, we are seeing a return to simple neo-traditional pastimes like bowling, dancing, cooking and knitting, which are re-appearing on Top Ten lists. Likewise, simple, b.s.-free brands appeal to this group: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Spice, etc.

Freedom Time

This over scheduled generation greatly values their free time. Their highest priority is spending time with friends. For teenagers, the most monumental right of passage is the driver's license, which provides mobility and freedom, and creates a need for communication and scheduling tools to keep in touch. Toyota, noting that four million new drivers will come of age each year until 2010, unveiled the low-priced, low-emissions Echo, aimed squarely at Gen Y's buying their first cars.

Fun and Function

Movable workstations enable mobility and portability within the home base. According to Motorola, kids use technology more than their parents to increase mobility and become part of the electronics society. Far from being isolating, Internet usage is a seamlessly integrated component of their social lives. Studies show that boys are more likely to have a computer in their rooms, while girls are more likely to have cell phones. Boys use computers to surf the web for information and to play games; girls use their computers to communicate with friends.

The Real World?

This generation has grown up with computer animation, video games, "reality" TV, virtual reality, shock jocks, TV tell-alls and advanced cinematic special effects, overwhelming the senses and blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Despite this surreal backdrop, Gen Ys have a distinctly practical and pragmatic worldview. According to a study by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, at 18 they already have a five-year plan, and are looking at how to balance their work/family commitments. The concept of "genuine" is very important to them.

Friendship

This group is greatly influenced by peer opinion. They respond better to "hallway buzz" than to marketing campaigns. And hallway buzz can be disseminated very quickly via the Internet. Trying to tap into this grass roots approach, many mass marketers have taken to hiring "street teams" or groups of young people who hang out in clubs, parks and malls talking to teens to try to pick up on trends as soon as they emerge. Following the lead of underground rock bands, some have taken to "wild postings," tacking up ad posters on street corners and constriction sites. Now it's become harder and harder for underground movements to "keep it real" before being appropriated by the mainstream.

Emotional Connections

Liberteens seek close emotional connections with friends, and with family too. A recent study showed that most teenagers rank "Good Friends" and "Relationships with Family" as the top indicators of success, well above money or career. While peer approval is important, studies show that parental approval is also very important.

Trunk Show

Developing an emotional connection to products is facilitated by anthropomorphic design.

Tech Connections

Kids are now using technology to do the same things kids have always done. They are using text messaging in class because it is easier than passing notes. But the conversations they're having: what to wear, who they met, what's on TV, are the same.

Mini Me

Donald Wisniewski, president of youth-focused Cybiko Inc. says that putting colorful faceplates on adult-focused PDAs isn't enough to attract a young consumer. Cybiko's research showed that kids want a hand-held device that allows them to send instant messages, e-mail, play interactive games and organize.

"Born Clicking"

Today's kids are growing up without fear of technology. When presented with a new technology, few stop to read the manual; they simply start punching buttons till they figure it out. One interesting study showed that Indian children who had never before seen a computer were surfing the Internet within eight minutes.

Equality Time

This is an equal opportunity empowerment generation. This can be attributed to the shift in the way that boys and girls are schooled ­sports are encouraged for both sexes, as are math and science­ there's more perceived equality between the sexes from an earlier age. Additionally, most teens are raised in dual-income homes where both parents are actively involved in earning money and raising the family.

A Boy's Life

The all-pervasive "girls rule, boys drool" movement has left boys feeling a little confused, with no real clear gender definition and a sense that they can only get attention by negative conduct. The implications for future generations of boys may revert to more traditional male roles and behavior without more positive reinforcement.

Healthy Outlooks

The popularity of yoga and flavored waters fits the Liberteens' desire to be happy and well adjusted. A recent survey showed 80% are optimistic that "things will be OK" and 89% believe that their generation will be "happy and successful despite recent events."

Cheap and Cheerful

According to Milan based industrial designer Jerszy Seymor,"The future of design is going to be furry, furious and fun. It will be a tool of love, a superhero ready to do battle for good and evil. It will ask why it exists and what its purpose in life is. It will stick its middle finger up, run through the woods naked, and save the world."

Lifestyle Board

Because Liberteens are under an extreme amount of pressure to succeed, they greatly value their freedom and free time. They are being groomed for success from an early age, and have been instilled with the confidence to believe they will be successful if they prepare and work hard. Their great cultural diversity and gender equality has fostered an inclusive, team­oriented perspective.

Sensuality Board

Liberteens are drawn to sporty, androgynous design. Novel and witty design with an element of the unusual or unexpected gets their attention. They are a perfect audience for innovations in synthetic materials and basic materials turned upside down: flexible ceramics, foamed metals and conductive light-emitting plastics.


Trend House (www.trendhouse.com) was founded by Nicki Gondell in 1999 as an international marketing and design consulting firm specializing in the forecasting of trends for the fashion, home interiors and consumer products markets. Trend information is available in published and custom formats. Trend House has partnerships with several of Europe's leading trend forecasting publishers, including Carlin International and Zes Studio, to provide color, design and merchandising direction. Trend House clients include Avon Products, Bath and Body Works, The Coca-Cola Company, Estee Lauder, Fisher-Price, Jockey, Kenneth Cole, Kimberley-Clark, Lancôme, Liz Claiborne, Lowes Home Improvement Centers, MTV/Nickelodeon, Nautica, Nike, Palm Pilot, Sony, Sears, Target, Timberland, Timex and Victoria's Secret.

Contact Visibility Public Relations for additional information.

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