Keep your cool

A sur­vey of Amer­i­can youths found YouTube and Net­flix are con­sid­ered the coolest brands – but there were a few sur­pris­ing re­sults. Matt Pom­roy takes a closer look and con­sid­ers whether a UAE poll would gen­er­ate sim­i­lar re­sults

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Google re­cently pub­lished the re­sults of a sur­vey ti­tled It’s Lit – a Guide to What Teenagers Think is Cool.

While that sounds a bit like some­thing dreamed up by em­bar­rass­ing par­ents who re­ally do not un­der­stand their chil­dren at all, it is ac­tu­ally a big deal for mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing – and the re­sults con­tained a few nasty sur­prises for some brands.

Re­searchers spoke to Amer­i­can teenagers in the so- called gen­er­a­tion Z (13 to 17 years) and mil­len­nial ( 18 to 24 years) age groups to find out what en­gages and drives them, and what brands they most recog­nise and iden­tify with.

It was no great sur­prise to find YouTube and Net­flix scored the high­est in terms of brand recog­ni­tion and cool.

After all, the idea of sit­ting in front of a tele­vi­sion at a set time on a par­tic­u­lar day to watch a TV show in­ter­rupted by ad­verts is an in­creas­ingly out­dated idea, even to peo­ple in their 30s and 40s – so for a gen­er­a­tion that has grown up with the in­ter­net – tra­di­tional broad­cast TV sched­ules are be­wil­der­ingly ar­chaic.

This is not good news for peo­ple in charge of busi­nesses that have tra­di­tion­ally re­lied on ad­verts on tra­di­tional tele­vi­sion chan­nels to reach young peo­ple.

YouTube is con­sid­ered cool, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, be­cause of its va­ri­ety and breadth of videos: “From DIY to make-up tu­to­ri­als to news, YouTube keeps Gen Z con­nected and in the know. The price is right, too.” YouTube has more than a bil­lion users, and reaches more users in the 18 to 24 de­mo­graphic than any cable TV net­work.

One of the sur­prises was how poorly the Vice brand fared. For Gen Z, few were even aware of its ex­is­tence, and among those who were, only the Wall Street Jour­nal was con­sid­ered less cool among the 122 brands rated.

This will raise con­cerns for Vice, which is about to launch in the Mid­dle East with an of­fice in Dubai, and pro­motes it­self as the voice of the same young peo­ple who re­jected it in this sur­vey.

Joe Akkawi, a man­ag­ing part­ner at Paz Mar­ket­ing in Dubai, be­lieves this is not as sur­pris­ing as it might ap­pear.

“Re­cent re­ports show a ma­jor shift in the newer gen­er­a­tion to­wards more con­ser­va­tive val­ues,” he says. “Vice’s con­tent is tar­geted more to so­cial-jus­tice think­ing and lib­eral- fo­cused news.” Other stud­ies back this up and while it is not quite a case of “the kids are alt-right”, there is a shift. Ac­cord­ing to re­search by global con­sul­tancy firm The Guild, al­most 60 per cent of Gen Z re­spon­dents in the United King­dom de­scribed their views on “same-sex mar­riage, trans­gen­der rights and mar­i­juana le­gal­i­sa­tion” as “con­ser­va­tive” or “mod­er­ate”. In com­par­i­son, 83 per cent of mil­len­ni­als called them­selves “quite” or “very lib­eral” on these is­sues.

Other re­sults that raised eye­brows, and might make brands ner­vous, in­clude the fact that de­spite most teenagers be­ing aware of Red Bull, they do not con­sider it cool. For a brand that works so hard to pro­mote it­self as youth- fo­cused and trendy, this will not go down well. Like­wise, cloth­ing brand Supreme is now con­sid­ered less cool.

Mean­while, the sim­ple plea­sures of Dori­tos and Oreos were among the most pop­u­lar.

Closer to home, teenagers have higher as­pi­ra­tions. Dubai res­i­dents Cody, 14, and Tala, 16, who grew up in the UAE, largely agreed with the find­ings, but pointed out some cru­cial dif­fer­ences for Gen Z teenagers here.

“In­stead of Oreos and chips, teenagers here would rather have an Açaí bowl that is cool to post on their In­sta­gram feed,” says Tala. “When go­ing out, we are more likely to eat at a new restau­rant such as Black Tap, in­stead of a fast-food joint, be­cause then we can tell our friends all about ‘that new restau­rant that serves those crazy look­ing drinks’. “And when it comes to fash­ion, teenagers here care about the brand. So you could find a 16- year- old rock­ing the new white Gucci shoes and an Her­mès belt, rather than plain-old Con­verse, while girls take pride in the branded bags they carry – not bor­rowed from their moth­ers, but some­thing they pur­chased re­cently.”

The more overtly con­sumerist at­ti­tude of young peo­ple in the UAE is at­trib­uted to the ma­te­ri­al­is­tic cul­ture they are ex­posed to while grow­ing up here.

“We are so used to see­ing lux­ury wher­ever we go that the small things don’t mat­ter any­more,” Tala says. “It’s be­come more of a com­pe­ti­tion within our groups of friends: who has the big­gest collection of Yeezys or who has the lat­est iPhone?” Face­book Mes­sen­ger and What­sApp rated badly in the sur­vey, while Snapchat scored ex­tremely highly on both brand recog­ni­tion and cool­ness. Both age groups were aware of the celebrity gos­sip brands Peo­ple magazine and TMZ, but nei­ther was con­sid­ered to be par­tic­u­larly cool, with the lat­ter ranked as least cool by mil­len­ni­als out of the brands they were asked to rate. For the younger gen­er­a­tion, ob­sess­ing over the Kar­dashi­ans and their ilk is passé. Celebrity por­tals might be bet­ter off cov­er­ing Chance the Rap­per and Ari­ana Grande if they want to at­tract and re­tain younger readers.

Strug­gling brand Ya­hoo! also re­ceived a poor rat­ing. This is per­haps not sur­pris­ing, given the only peo­ple who have a Ya­hoo email ad­dress are those who have been us­ing it for many years and haven’t switched to Gmail.

It was not all doom and gloom for older brands, though. The re­cently re­branded Old Spice is now con­sid­ered cooler than Axe (Lynx), so it is pos­si­ble for strug­gling com­pa­nies to make a come­back and ap­peal to younger con­sumers. But teenagers have strong opin­ions about what they ex­pect from busi­nesses.

A 17-year-old fe­male who took part in the Google sur­vey said: “When I think ‘cool’, I imagine com­pa­nies that do great things for cus­tomers/em­ploy­ees.”

Com­pa­nies with poor cus­tomer ser­vice or those who do not pay their in­terns should be­ware as they risk alien­at­ing your fu­ture cus­tomer base.

Even Google it­self – con­sid­ered cool by nearly all re­spon­dents – some­times gets it wrong. The name of its sur­vey, “It’s Lit”, for ex­am­ple, caused on­line ob­servers to com­plain that us­ing the term was tan­ta­mount to cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion from the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

But per­haps the one thing that the sur­vey shows above all is the eter­nal truth that the one sure way to alien­ate teenagers is by try­ing too hard to be cool.

art­slife@then­ational.ae

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