Youth in Flux is a global study of youth today, their individual and collective goals and the life strategies they use to survive and thrive in this difficult world.

Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches we spoke to more than 7,000 16-24 year olds across 14 countries, including 505 South African youth (43% black, 35% white, 11% coloured, 8% Indian). Through ethnographic interviews, video diaries and online surveys we set out to find that something special that makes youth tic

Key insights from Youth in Flux

Youth today are growing up constantly connected and hyperaware of everything that is happening, both locally and at a global level. Most of what is happening isn’t good. Things like insecure financial times, political corruption and never-ending comparisons with others on social media all affect and shape the youth. 93% of youth aged 16-24 globally told us that they feel it’s hard being young today, in SA this figure is slightly higher at 96%.

Being ‘always on’ makes it almost impossible for the youth to avoid what’s happening in the world and 21% globally and 20% in South Africa stated they have no trouble blocking out bad news.  They have taken to using technology and especially social media as a driver for social change.

Right now, on every imaginable platform, youth are promoting inclusiveness. 98% of youth in SA find it important to collaborate with other people to make the world a better place (96% globally). A recent example in SA was the use of social media during the fees must fall campaign. Global youth clearly have a collective goal to create a more non-judgmental society and 82% in SA (vs. 63% globally) are inspired by people who break free from outdated perceptions of gender, race and religion.

While they’ve been born into tech and grown up in a fully digital world, technology has become a ‘Frenemy’ for youth. 56% of youth in SA believe they have a love/hate relationship with social media (vs. 53% globally). This is because of the insecurity that comes from unavoidable social comparison online – seeing others accomplish great things at a young age can be inspiring, but at the same time create massive insecurity and create pressure for most youth to succeed – and fast. In addition,  FOMO (fear of missing out) increases their frustration – checking updates all day and seeing what others are up to makes them feel they’re missing out on all the fun and cool stuff.

Things have built to a tipping point for youth today. They are experiencing tensions in a number of areas, where they have started to notice the downsides of their own behaviours. They live in a state of flux, interchanging between their Unapologetic, Sensitive and Restless sides. They fluidly combine and move between these life strategies to strive and survive, but at the same time they always stay true to their core and authentic selves.

They’re unapologetic about who they are and are done with presenting an overly polished version of themselves. 90% of youth in SA who identify primarily with the unapologetic life strategy embrace genuineness and don’t want to pretend to be something they’re not (vs. 84% global average).

They are sensitive and yearn for more intimacy. Youth are getting weary of maintaining shallow friendships and sick of collecting likes from strangers. Instead they are re-focusing on building meaningful relationships with their inner circle and yearn for true intimacy with their parents, family and close friends. 89% in SA who identify primarily with the sensitive life strategy long for those days when people had more time to care for each other (vs. 80% globally).

In a world filled with endless possibilities and social comparisons, many youngsters feel the pressure to make the most of it, so they’re more Restless.  For youth who identify with the Restless life strategy 87% in SA (and 82% globally) feel that they don’t want to waste any time because of the endless possibilities the world offers. They are inspired by ambitious people and appreciating people who chase their dreams resonates with 91% of SA youth (vs. 88% globally).

What are the lessons for brands who want to connect with the youth?

  • Make it matter. Promote inclusiveness, just like youth do. Provide youth with a platform to amplify their voices. Instinctively inclusive youth want brands to help them steer towards a non-judgmental society. In fact, youth expect just as much from brands as they do from the government and politicians when it comes to making the world a better place.
  • Encourage brand bandits, not only because youth expect this, but also because they are wise beyond their years and really brand savvy. Remember, these youngsters grew up playing with Barbie – not just with dolls. They played with Lego – not just with building blocks. This is to say they’re a brand savvy lot who feel like stakeholders of the brands they’re grown up with. Let them inspire and surprise you. Create a two way relationship with young consumers, let them be in the driver’s seat and let them take control of your brand once in a while.
  • Be elastic and find the sweet spot between different sides of your personality, just like them. Youth have adapted to the world around them by developing elastic hearts that are simultaneously Unapologetic, Sensitive and Restless. Don’t be afraid to express different sides of your brand’s personality, as long as it’s authentic.
  • Understand that niche is normal. Globally connected youth have a new view of the world, with new rules and new aesthetics – what defines “pretty” has changed! Break with routine & challenge the status quo.
  • Revisit authenticity: be aware that stories about how long your brand has been doing something and even your brand’s origins might not impress this young crowd as much these days. Youth are breaking with traditional narratives.

Curate! There’s so much out there that youth need brands and peers to cut through the clutter. Remember, too much choice is actually a bad thing! There’s a role for us to play here – particularly in a world of ubiquitous content.