Marketers Take Heed: Gen Y Impacted Election and Can Impact Brand Sales
By Joe Kessler, president, The Intelligence Group -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/9/2012 1:56:02 PM
Lately, we heard about an "enthusiasm gap" in which young-voter apathy would give way to a decline in participation. But, through the last election cycle, the Arab Spring, the Kony initiative and the Occupy movement, it seems that our young fellow citizens learned something about influence beyond the kind they engender among their friends on Facebook.
Indeed, there may have been an enthusiasm gap but, for young voters this week, there was certainly no action gap.
I had the unique opportunity to experience Election Night as the only boomer among a group of eight college undergrads, all women, in their apartment on the campus of the University of Michigan. Little did they know that I was observing and prodding them like a focus group moderator.
What struck me was their intense emotional attachment to what was unfolding before them, and their ability to absorb and disseminate information seamlessly and quickly. They took every moment dead seriously, couching their comments for maximum effect on their peers, all the while buzzing and bleeping with updates emanating from their laptops, mobile devices and the television (bouncing in warp speed between CNN, Fox News and, of course, Jon Stewart). Tweets were shouted. Facebook updates were praised and ridiculed. It was a boiler room of hyper-connectedness, a powerful experience being played out in the quick-chat sliver of real-time reality that now constitutes the integration of their physical and digital lives.
Two-screen viewing? This was super-charged three, four and five-screen media consumption at work.
And every one of them voted.
Now we know that initial estimates place the 18-29 vote at nearly one in five of all those who went to the polls, about 10% higher than in 2008. Young-voter participation appears to have been particularly strong on college campuses in key swing states. Overall, seeing as those young voters went by about a 2-1 margin for the president, one can posit with reasonable assurance that they played a key role in the outcome.
Brand marketers would do well to take heed, since only some of them knew before Tuesday that Gen Ys are just as likely to use their social power to decide which movie to attend or which airline to fly as they are to express their political ideals.
For a large segment of young America, social beliefs resonate in how they express their aspirations and how they buy. They are doing it through new forms of activism, which, like most everything they do, is powered by an innate attachment to technology. In our recent Cassandra Report, "The Good Guide" study, two out of three Gen Ys said they believe that "a person on a computer, being aware and spreading the word" can create more change than "a person on the street, rallying and protesting." Many struggling retailers can tell you how that translates to their consumption habits.
In fact, we found that Gen Ys remain extremely passionate about changing the world in positive ways. Moreover, social media has given them the platform to live their lives on display in ways that draw little distinction between airing their support for a candidate, a cause, a team, a pair of shoes or a birthday.
For Gen Ys, knowledge, in itself, is power, so having greater awareness of the issues that affect them means that they are increasingly likely to act on those issues. It's little surprise, then, that more than half say they would take a pay cut to work somewhere that is positively changing the world, 59% say that a company's ethics and practices are important in deciding what brands to buy, and nearly one-third make it a point to buy from brands whose values are similar to their own.
Gen Y has made it clear that they are a force to be reckoned with, and brands as well as candidates need to continue to examine and invest in finding ways to engage and connect with this socially conscious tech-driven generation. Why? Because by 2020, today's Gen Ys will represent 40% of the electorate, twice that of today, not to mention more than $400 billion in purchasing power.
As Gen Y's social consciousness grows along with its spending power, their commitment to social change will be felt on the critical issues that shape our world. They have proven that they are not the "slacktivists" many have thought them to be, but rather a generation that stands committed to changing the world around them for the better.
The Intelligence Group, a division of Creative Artists Agency, is a youth-focused, research-based consumer insights company. It publishers the quarterly Cassandra Report on youth trends, and the Cassandra Daily email newsletter and website that reports on social and cultural trends.
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