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From The Archives (2008) – Meet Generation NOW

Our Thinking

Meet Generation NOW
Published Dawn, Aurora Magazine, September 2008

by Umair Mohsin

When Pavlov trained his lab dogs to salivate on the command of a ringing bell, he inadvertently set the world’s stage for over a century worth of conditioning-based consumer messaging. The resiliency of the current model (create associations – link to product – hammer – repeat) especially was cemented in the early decades of the 20th century, when characters such as J. B. Watson and Edward Bernays “proved” that when businesses rang the right bell the right number of times, they could conjure desire and action in their audience. Branding as we know it today was set in place with the same model applied to every region of the world including ours successfully.

One reason for this was that even as close at 20 years ago media outlets globally were inherently limited by geography and scope so consumers lacked broad exposure to alternative experiences and information. Such was even more of a characteristic of our part of the world where communities were even more localized. Thus alternative exposure was limited. Indeed, the responses to the most heavily marketed (which in the old days meant buying advertising on the 9’o clock PTV news) goods and services then seemed to prove that all customers could be conditioned to salivate on command regardless of demographical differences between segments.

Come the 90s and the markets still hadn’t developed to anything remotely like today’s. Political upheavals from General Zia’s era, localized communities and lack of or restricted access to any forms of information or alternative viewpoints than the approved versions ensured people’s knowledge was restricted. Music channels were starting to be beamed into the country but then they were mostly western (MTV / V) channels that were aired through satellite to the privileged few. The preferred jobs were CA, a Doctor or an Engineer. A new breed of technology was just starting to come into the country called the internet launched by a company called Digicom. Yet that too was inaccessible to the common man. Infact up to the year 2000, we still only had 133,900 internet users in totality. Available advertising media choices were still limited and the model still worked successfully.

The era of transformation was finally reached 10 years ago when everything began changing and in some cases all at once – Information, media, educational institutes and even books. New channels including cable were launched in a country which had been to date used to only watching what was aired by a monopoly. Telecom companies started operating. A global IT revolution was underway worldwide so everyone wanted to be in IT business in Pakistan too. A bigger & silent revolution underway however was hidden beneath the calm oceans of the demographic data. On the exterior of things there was still no clear differentiation between the youth audiences and other audiences. From the young consumers’ point of view however, the increasing information from multiple channels and mediums was morphing them from dogs into cats.

The opening of the 21st century became the boiling point for media fragmentation in Pakistan. This blossoming of media placed an unprecedented amount of information in the hands of customers, rendered geographic barriers moot and for the first time set up clear differentiations in the behavioral structures of the sub-population including now what’s being called the youth market. The advent of the Internet and wireless technologies like the mobile phone gave everyone access to information anytime and anywhere whilst the opening up of media markets to competition lead to what’s today’s increasingly fragmented, always-on media landscape. Young customers now had access to an unprecedented amount of information and could communicate any time and place they pleased.

Let’s stop here for a moment to understand the basic difference between cats and dogs. The prime difference is motivation. Let’s stereotype – a dog wants to please you, a cat couldn’t care less. Dogs are devoted, loving and selfless. Cats are aloof, indifferent, and self-indulgent. Dogs are social and act in ways that maintain and support the social order. Cats are solitary and act in ways that benefit themselves. A cat’s engagement with you lasts only as long as she wants it to last. A cat is not out to please you. Cats tend to see the world revolve around them. These describe the characteristics of our youth perfectly.  Young customers now resemble cats – notoriously self-motivated and generally not biddable. The ‘Brand’ is now defined in customers’ minds by their personal experiences with a particular product or service and not the advertising or marketing support and they are attentive only to the information that matters to them.

These emerging sub-markets are now starting to shatter marketer’s assumptions. Businesses have started finding out that they no longer control the strings – neither can they evoke desire nor elicit responses like they used to. These “bell ringers” who had grown accustomed over time, to the fact that their “dog’s” responses could be conditioned and, through certain repetitions influenced, are finding out that the youth is no longer passive. Empowered by knowledge the youth has started taking the steps to being in charge-much like cats. It is this sea change that’s got them them focused on what is relevant to them and start ignoring the rest.

“The main difference because of which the youth are now choosier is just the access of information. Everything else is the same. The youth for generations have always been demanding- such is their nature. Now however the range of their demands has increased and this is simply because of the knowledge they possess. Now it’s not what their parents give or can’t give, like it was in the 90s. These days even a kid has information about things which we never knew about when we were their age. Where before information was suppressed or released in chunks, now kids can search for anything. Thus they are more specific about what they want and are not dependent on their parent’s choices.”, said Asif Iqbal, CEO, Post Amazers.

Technology has changed the landscape and emerging media are now subdividing the masses into specialized audiences. The biggest challenge we face as marketers is the customer’s ability to assert control over the entire process. However, while emerging media and technology undermine the effectiveness of traditional mass-marketing models, they also create unprecedented opportunity for us to redefine and profit from how we communicate with customers.

Don’t Back A Cat Into A Corner

It’s a foregone conclusion that as media fragments, so does the “mass” in mass-marketing. Yet many marketers today still seem to think if their message can be broadcasted to the young consumers, they WILL listen to them. Most marketers look upon the new burgeoning media as vehicles for delivering messages to even larger audiences who (in their thinking) are predisposed to devour information at face value, respond accordingly and then constantly clamor for more. The current marketing philosophy seems to be to ring better& bigger bells for increasingly more dogs and because of it bells are ringing everywhere. Few marketers understand the full effect of blossoming media options on the current marketing models, however, and even fewer understand that the young customers don’t pant and whine anymore. Even worse, most of them find all that bell ringing annoying.

If defined than marketers will realize that there have been four major trends currently underway which will impact further & has been transforming this generation because of the transitional changes of the last 10 years. 1. Their lives have become almost completely digital. 2. They are taking a lot more stress AND are a lot more optimistic. 3. Everything’s about ‘US’ now and 4. They’re more socially aware & conscious.

1. Increased Connectivity

The youth have been turning away from old media channels and even most methods of advertising to embrace new media at a growing pace. A research undertaken by Google Pakistan estimates that 70% of the 14 Million online users spend now between 1 & 6 hours online DAILY. Yahoo! Pakistan cites that there are 2.64 million i-generation (under 25 years) Users on their networks whilst MSN cites that there are 1.8 million i-generation users on their networks. These numbers are expected to grow rapidly over the next 5 years. Despite repeated attempts an equivalency in telecom numbers couldn’t be determined, however estimates range from 14 Million to over 25 million mobile phone users.

These technologies are changing our youth into a generation of multi-tasking users, not used to missing a beat and always connected with the world around them. They have been freed from their traditionally passive role as receivers of marketing communications. Whilst in the past, marketers presented the view they wanted customers to see; today the customer chooses the angle from which they want to view the product. These angles of engagement reflect different motivations and different buying modes, and occur at different stages in the buying decision process. This growing abundance of alternative information resources give the young much greater control over the information search and acquisition process, and allows them to literally become active participants of the marketing process.

“The Web is a democratizing force as the world’s largest global brain. It educates everyone on the pros and cons of every product, service, and even person. An educated person doesn’t react well to the traditional ‘art of manipulation’ that most marketers attempt to employ in their campaigns. As a matter of fact, it makes them angry and defensive”, said Faisal Tamana, GM, The Musik.

What marketers need to understand is that for teens, it’s all about how technology is meeting their needs — to stay connected, express themselves, etc. Teenagers are subject to need for social validation. Despite technology advancements, the motivation to socialize hasn’t changed since time immemorial. Instead, it’s been dramatically enhanced and enriched with the explosion of digital communication platforms and social networks online.

“Kids and young people don’t love the technology itself — they just love how it enables them to communicate all the time, express themselves and be entertained. Under the age of 14, kids generally use the phone as a toy. After 14, the mobile phone quickly becomes a means of self-expression and communication,”, said Ehmer Kirmani, CEO, Media Idee. “Even if we look at the power of online communication tools, like instant messengers [8.6 million users] or social networking sites, which enables young people to communicate both privately and with multiple friends, we’ll find that they mostly use the features like winks, emoticons, etc. to add to the fun of chatting and allow them to express themselves more deeply,”, he continued.

“You can get your own e-identity now at 8. That possession is for life and you’re famous because of that ID. This is what makes them an individual at such an early stage.  Twinkle is the personality not Ayesha. [Marketers have to learn to] talk to that Twinkle and not Ayesha. She logs in from a CyberCafe in Lalo-khet. Online she is a different personality which is not the same personality as she is at home where she might not even be allowed to talk to her cousin or neighbors. Once on the net, however, she can talk to anyone she wants anywhere in the world and she’ll do it in ways that Ayesha will never.” said Iqbal.

2. Lots More Stress & Lots More Optimistic

The current youth says that their stress levels are “high” or “very high”.  They feel the world is now a more complicated place to live in today. However, they are optimistic about their future believing they can personally achieve anything they set their minds to.

“What’s happening in Pakistan. .. the interpretation of religion and way we enforce that on our youth, is putting them in very difficult situations. On one hand they have access to all this information about the world. When they look outside their window, however, the world is a different place. They don’t find that lifestyle around them. This is one of the reasons why there’s so much brain drainage. The youth especially from the Middle class has the tendency to make choices and wants to get somewhere. There is increasing frustration as they see less opportunities here than elsewhere in the world. That is why they involve less in group activities and go deeper into their own personal worlds.”, said Asif Iqbal.

3. Socially Conscious

Unlike previous generations, ethnic divisions are no longer a concern to the youth, especially for the middle class. Those ethnic divisions were fostered because to become a govt. employee there were quota systems. This is not present anymore since there are so many professions to choose from now. Thus the validity of the reasons that propped up the ethnic boundaries has reduced. Govt. bodies themselves are becoming privatized and the politics are slowly changing. So these people are changing along with themselves. They’re opening up to ideas and the world and want to make a difference. The new global campaign for the Greening of the Earth is already having a positive effect in the upper echelons of society and over time it is spreading to the masses as well.

It’s all about Us

The youth are driving a shift from a “me” culture to a “we” culture where the opinions of the group drive consumer trends, preferences and behaviors. Even though they want to stand out and express their individuality, young people strive to feel connected with each other.  They are looking for shared experiences and constant communication with a diverse group of people. The youth constantly seeks ways to put their stamp on products and have their voice heard.  It is a way of showing the outside world who they are and what they value.

“This is the most versatile generation has never been born in Pakistan.  Youth is more about themselves now”, said Iqbal.

“We have to learn to talk in their language and that is not what we are advertising with right now. There are few cheering moment in their life. The cricket team and hockey team has failed them, music has failed them, squash is almost finished. They don’t’ have heroes like Miandad, Imran Khan, Jehangir or Jansher Khan anymore. You have to create those idols again. The biggest problem in our advertising is role models.  They can’t relate to Shoaib Akhtar. They can’t relate to Qadir Khan and because of our lack of understanding of talent management we’re literally creating and destroying personalities. This is a problem for our youth. Who do they identify with then.” said Iqbal.

Times have changed—and so must we. Nobody could have foreseen the challenges today’s marketers would face. Twenty years ago, getting through to customers was only a little tougher than filling a thimble with a fire hose. Then multi-tasking, instant-messaging, e-mailing, cell phoning, emoticoning ;-), always on, web-searching, blogging, gaming, customers we now need to reach did not exist. Clearly we are moving through a time of irrevocable change that has profound implications for businesses large and small. We need to reinvent the way we market to consumers. Within it we’ll need to remember that cats don’t bark.