Does when you were born affect the way you feel about brands?
And do recent economic and demographic trends have an impact on communications crises?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but a recent article got me to thinking about how expectations, recessions, social media and spare time can impact business today.
Rebecca Lindland has a thoughtful piece in Forbes this week about the youth of America, and how generational differences are cropping up in the form of American Idol contestants. Lindland cites research from DYG Research and IHS Consumer Markets on Gen Y (born between 1978 and 1987) and those born in 1988 and after, as two distinct groups:
“Generation Y isn’t what conventional wisdom and demographers alike first thought: it isn’t one big giant mass of 80 million kids. Instead, it is two very different, very unique cohorts—Generation Y and what I call Generation Green—both about the same size but growing up in very different environs.
Currently 24-35 years old, [Generation Y contestants] were brash and self-possessed in their youth, and American Idol provided the ultimate stage, inviting these kids to display their talent in the public eye. Social media was still relatively young, and YouTube wasn’t around yet. It appealed to the sharpest expressions of this young cohort – self-absorbed, obsessed with fun, and chock full of self-confidence (DYG). This was their own personal platform – and they could bring their equally fascinating, blindly (deafly?) supportive helicopter parents along for the ride to riches.
Generation Green, born after 1988 and currently 24 or younger, is the first generation to grow up with hybrid AND electric cars from mainstream brands (Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf) as part of their buying options, and they recycle religiously…Long before the Occupy movement, DYG research predicted these kids would take ‘part in a demonstration, rally or protest to promote a social or political cause’.”
Combined, the two generations comprise 80 million Americans, roughly a quarter of the population, are the biggest users of social media, and are hardest hit by the recession.
On the one hand, there are 40 million Americans who were raised in a boom economy, whose self-esteem was valued to the point of absurdity (“everybody gets a ribbon!”), who experienced impressive personal and financial success in their early 20s, and whose expectations are perhaps a bit unrealistic.
On the other, 40 million Americans who’ve seen the darker realities of our economy yet retain a Utopian vision for the world.
Add to this mix a boatload of social media savvy and the popularly held belief that their plight is due to the greed and misbehavior of the fortunate few, and you have a recipe for trouble.
Last week’s #McFail may be an example. For those who missed it, as part of its strategy to promote relationships with family farmers and other “good guy” suppliers, McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. Perhaps predictably, the hashtag elicited all manner of deliciously evil anecdotes, and the Golden Arches quickly killed the campaign.
Domino’s Pizza employees posting YouTube videos of themselves doing yucky things with people’s food could be another. (The two employees charged with crimes were aged 31 and 32, respectively, making them members of Gen Y.)
One could even make a case for the Occupy movement (although these groups count members from all walks of life and age groups) being a natural consequence of these forces. (One could make the same case for the Tea Party movement by viewing the opposite side of this same coin.)
Even if your company’s social justice policies are otherwise beyond reproach, if your corporate commissary dispenses coffee that was picked by child laborers and sold at below-fair-market prices, be prepared to hear about it. The first attack will come via social media, then the MSM, and then social media again as the “news” gets picked up and amplified.
For the record, I’m a member of Generation X, the group that brought you manky flannel, grunge music and Monica Lewinsky…so my peers and I are not without blame. And who knows what we would have done during the 1990-93 recession had we had access to social media.
Crises come from all angles, are perpetrated by all manner of people and recent events could simply be a reflection of the times.
Or, this could be the new normal.