Beyond 2021: The future of Australian youth – a wartime mentality and what it means for brands
10 ViacomCBS’ latest data shows young Australians have been worst hit by Covid, and are struggling to recover. They are stressed, cynical and taking charge of what they can control. Here’s what it means for brands and marketers that must quickly adapt to the new reality.
In 2020, we uncovered some worrying trends. In a global research study, it was revealed that Australian youth, aged 16 to 24, were among the least happy and most stressed in the entire world. After the significant and disproportionate economic impact of COVID-19, they were prioritising stability and security. And sadly, Australian youth were some of the least hopeful for positive change in the future.
Pretty heavy stuff.
So, we had to check back in with them. Partnering again with the cultural insights and strategy consultancy Crowd DNA, we broadened our study, speaking to 2,200 Australians aged 16 to 24, and also those over 25.
So, how are they going? Surely now, with the panic and uncertainty of 2020 behind us, Australian youth are feeling a bit better?
They’re only slightly less stressed (51 per cent are stressed, down from 55 per cent in 2020), slightly less uncertain about their future (72 per cent, down from 76 per cent), and they’re less happy (45 per cent say they’re happy, down from 46 per cent).
Importantly, their thoughts on the future have major implications for brands and advertisers.
Why are they stressed?
Australian youth are stressed because they have a lot going on!
For some of us, our memory of our young adulthood may be fading a bit quicker than we’d like. But 16 to 24 is a huge transitional period of life. You have more life events, more change in your relationships, your schooling, career and home life. You have more beginnings and endings, and your life is less fixed. And now, the pandemic has added an explosive new element to youth’s lives – consistent and significant disruption.
Almost all 16-to-24-year-olds had at least one life event disrupted in the past year. Importantly, they have been impacted more than older age groups.
They were 14 points more likely than over 25s to have had their work impacted and 28 points more likely to have had their education impacted. Disturbingly, 57 per cent of 16 to 24s have had their mental health impacted, 24 points more likely than over 25s.
81 per cent of those who say their mental health has been impacted have also experienced a lot of disruption in their life events, showing the cumulative effects of the last two years.
Irreplaceable life moments are gone
As you get older, years (unfortunately) blend together a bit more. You have the same job, the same house, the same friends. For youth, each year from 16 to 24 contains major and irreplaceable life moments. Milestones such as 16th, 18th and 21st birthdays. School formals. Festivals. Gap years. Leaving home. All of these have been impacted by the pandemic, and some have been skipped forever.
Youth are re-thinking their priorities
With major disruptions, stress and uncertainty, Australian youth continue to re-think their priorities. We saw in our 2020 study that they were focused on security and stability. This year is no different. The #1 priority for youth is their mental health (64 per cent), followed by a stable job (60 per cent).
16- to 24-year-olds are 2.5 times more likely than older age groups to prioritise a stable job and 2.5 per cent times more likely to say they want to earn a lot of money. Since 2020, they’re less likely to say they are prioritising a dream job (down 9 points), or to make a difference in the world (down 5 points).
Youth are more cynical
When asked about their hope for change in the next decade, Australian youth are more cynical than ever. Only 38 per cent expect social class divides to improve, down 9 points from 2020. Only 39 per cent expect improvement in government leadership, down 8 points. 54 per cent think the economy will improve, but this is down 7 points from 2020.
In other words, Australian youth have adopted war-time ethos of realism and hard work. This is a huge departure from what we understood of them pre-pandemic.
What it means for brands
Despite the gloom of the preceding paragraphs, Australian youth remain resilient and feel positive about their own future. 89 per cent want to “make the most of what happens next”.
They just know they’ll have to work harder. 88 per cent say they will have to work hard to achieve their goals, and a majority say they feel this more than in 2020.
Just as youth will work harder, they also have an expectation that brands will work harder. 79 per cent expect brands to stand up for injustice, and 81 per cent expect the media to stand up for injustice.
Every generation thinks they have it tough. But if you’re advertising to today’s youth, you need empathy. They have inherited a world rife with uncertainty, a growing social and economic divide and unprecedented health and environmental challenges. They are not looking for brands to make light of their situation or gloss over these realities.
Brands need to build empathy and talk to youth about the world they live in now, not the world that marketers may have grown up in.