So it seems I’ve been doing a lot of talking to young people recently. Let me count the ways:

·      Drunkenly talking to a group of gap year students at a wedding

·      Talking on a panel on a discussion topic “not going to uni”

·      Attended the Youth Marketing Summit conference in London.

What struck me is that we often see these “young people”, “Gen-Z” or “millennials” as some alien breed. Things to be studied and prodded and asked their opinion – hoping that the gem of insight will save our next advertising campaign.

From my experiences above (and talking to interesting people like Alex Parkes – our Future Talent Strategist) it seems that this is not always the best course of action. Mainly because, in hoping that they’re fundamentally different people, it means we feel we can segment them to some “otherness” in an effort to understand them, blindly accepting rubbish statistics that say things like “Millennials have 8-second attention spans”* in order to justify why we’re delivering our messages in a tweet rather than taking the time to think through what it was like to be young, what you thought then and how you behaved.

To get my ideas in order I made a list. Here it is.

Young people are the same as us because:

1.     They aren’t as well informed about their options as you’d hope As people pumping out recruitment marketing collateral, in my world, information-starved young people are lapping it up and wanting more. The reality is that they still mostly form their opinions about what to do with their lives (university, apprenticeship, working) from talking to people they trust – parents, friends and random blokes who bother them at parties or talk to them in schools. Basically, the way people have always formed opinions and sought advice – through interactions with people they trust.

2.     They either can’t be bothered to do stuff...

On the panel discussion, I offered up the opportunity to talk to me about work experience in the creative department. I had some interest and asked people to email me. After a week, no-one had got back to me, causing me to roll my eyes, tut and say “gen zedders eh?” to myself. Then I thought how I was when I was 16. Would I have emailed a strange bloke? No. Because it’s easier to do nothing. That’s what I would have done. Definitely. 

3.     Or they’re crazy driven.

Like the people you know who ran their own businesses from school and knew they wanted to be a doctor when they were four and they helped lash a splint to a squirrel’s leg. Essentially the people who make me want to stab myself in the eye, or get a time machine and tell my 13-year old self to stop playing Sonic and read Forbes.

4.     They get things that older people don’t Remember showing your parents how to use the video? Or an iPad? New technology is confusing. Older generations don’t get it. This is how it will always be. The unfamiliar is scary and existing things “work just fine”. You know what? Now you’re the parent – utterly confused as to why somebody would need a different way to read a novel (chatfiction), or why watching someone else play video games should be a “thing”.

5.     They hate what you hate. They like what you like.

At the conference, I heard many people talk about “millennials hate to be advertised to” “millennials don’t like to be patronised” “they like being asked their opinion”…yeah, because that’s what humans like. Who does like feeling like they’re getting advertising shoved down their throats? Who wouldn’t like the flattery of asking what they think?

I guess the thrust of this whole argument is that the motivations for young people are the same as they always were. An acceleration in innovation doesn’t mean an end to behaviours and biases that have sat in our brains and developed over thousands of years.

Don’t get me wrong, the trappings of youth may change – the technologies they enjoy; the culture they’re part of; the language they use (and trying to understand that is definitely worthwhile) but expanding that to treating them as being intrinsically different probably isn’t that helpful in the long run.

Thanks to Alex Parkes and Henry Oliver (Head of Planning) for helping me get my thoughts together for this. If you want to read something along the same lines – about people being people – try reading Rebecca Weir’s article on gender diversity.

* this article explains in more detail. Highlight quote:  "I don't think that's true at all…simply because I don't think that that's something that psychologists or people interested in attention would try and measure and quantify in that way." Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University.

Creative Director

Will is a writer. Having worked for AIA Worldwide for 11 years, he reckons he knows a thing or two about recruitment advertising, communications and employer branding. Employerbrand.com is where he chooses to spout off about it.