Colombian Congress of Advertising, October 1996,
Samms, Managing Director of Through the Loop spoke
about the First Digital Generation.
morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for
giving me an opportunity to talk to you about the
First Digital Generation. This was an
international research programme to look at the
way in which the 18-29 years group were changing
mostly in the more developed industrial countries.
company, called Through the Loop, of which I am
Managing Director, specialises in the integration
of consumer, market-place and brand research. We
believe that this is a very unusual group of 18-29
years which it will pay to understand as we move
towards the millennium. Quite simply, unless we
understand how our consumers think and feel and
what motivates them, we cannot expect to
communicate with them effectively. Nor will we
understand what lies ahead because this generation
represent and hold the shape of the future.
are now some fascinating changes ahead, very
different from what we have seen in the past. Let
me describe some of these to you........
to this group is very different with new
opportunities, ways to experiment and with a
unique set of challenges. They have grown up in a
digital world, very different from you and I. This
is creating a structural change in their values,
attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles. They have a
closer relationship with technology and they are
early adopters of new forms and new products
because of the freedom, flexibility and
personalisation offered. This early adoption will
impact on their current and future relationships
with the market-place and on developing marketing
channels. These are the reasons why they are so
important to you. As Nicholas Negroponte from MIT
wrote " computing is not about computers
anymore, it is about living." This sets the
scale of the change we are about to see.
presentation will cover the following six topics:
briefly, the research framework, secondly the
composition of The Digital Generation and the key
factors which have helped to shape this group,
thirdly what values do they hold. We will then
compare our research conducted in Colombia by
McCann-Erickson to see what might be the pattern
for emerging markets. Next we look at the leading
edge themes for establishing a dialogue with this
group and finally marketing implications. In this
last section, we will look at brands which are
successfully communicating with this audience and
what lessons can be learnt about how to talk to
research framework that we used had four separate
phases. Firstly, we analysed international social
commentary on this group from the US, Australia,
Western Europe and Japan. We could then create a
series of concepts or hypotheses to understand the
nature of these similarities and differences
between countries. Secondly, we were able to draw
from a number of quantitative research sources
such as Yankelovich to measure how important some
of these changes were. Thirdly, we examined in
great depth the media community of The Digital
Generation which is such an important barometer.
We used both traditional and non-traditional media
channels to do this. Finally, qualitative research
was undertaken in the US, Finland, France,
Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, UK, Australia,
Japan and most recently in Colombia. This enables
us to show you the language and the tone of this
group, which quantitative research cannot possibly
part of the presentation looks at the composition
of the Digital Generation and the driving forces
which have helped to shape this group. It is
important to note that in emerging markets, we
find early signals of the Digital Generation- you
should remember that this group will jump stages
of technology, they will not experience
evolutionary, but revolutionary stages.
who are the Digital Generation?
this slide shows, they are not one single group,
but many. The age range of 18-29 encompasses
several life-stages including students in further
education as well as those forming their own
families. The core linkage between them from
country to country are shared attitudes and
motivations rather than demographics. On the
whole, they are elusive and they do not like being
labeled or put in a box by marketers. They are not
a neat target audience which can be precisely and
most fundamental defining force for this group is
their relationship with technology. For them,
technology is neither special or unique. Indeed,
this group is the first to have grown up in an
information society which makes them knowledgeable
and sophisticated consumers. Just let me set a
timeline for you. It is important to do this
because many of us have experienced the timeframe
year old today was born at the beginning of the
1970s. They missed the 1960s, but think for how
many of us that was a formative decade. They were
two when Nixon resigned, five when video recorders
were introduced. They were six when Stallone
starred in Rocky and fourteen when Rambo 2 came
out. They were ten when Lennon was shot. They were
eleven when the first IBM PC was marketed. They
were fourteen at the height of the Yuppie.
were sixteen when Chernobyl blew and nineteen at
the Tiananmen Square uprising and when the Berlin
Wall came down. They were twenty-one when the Gulf
War started. And they were twenty-two when Madonna
produced her book, Sex. Just think of how that
timeline is so very different for many marketers.
One of our Japanese respondents summed up
"learning about the man on the moon is just
history." Now let us turn to the next topic
of driving forces.
have identified seven driving forces which
produced The Digital Generation in mature
countries. The significance of the driving forces
may vary from country to country. You will
recognise some of these in their early stages in
start at the top of this flowchart, we see a
political climate which has yielded a series of
governments in which there is no trust. Just look
at the pervasive cynicism surrounding the
elections in the US.
next element is the economic system which is
resulting in significant levels of unemployment
such as 30-40% in some countries. The impact in
Spain and Italy is substantial. As a UK respondent
is a struggle just to survive."
qualitative research indicates how desperate this
is for young people.
also true, that as we move towards the millennium,
there is a level of social uncertainty. Ask this
group, what they will be doing in 5 years time,
and not unnaturally, there is much reflection.
media environment is a very important driving
force. The Digital Generation have created their
own media community which has its own texture and
vocabulary. Within this media community, there is
an increasing role for non-traditional, street
media and also techno-based media. As a group,
they will pick and chose, deconstruct and decode.
My generation does not.
feeds into this media community and helps develop
channels of communication such as the Internet.
The issue of access to technology is fundamental,
because it is very clear that with the prospective
high levels of unemployment, we are in danger of
creating a society where there are those who are
technologically literate and those who tragically,
will not be. In some countries, ethnic populations
may be less able to participate.
respondent in France remarked "new
technology, computers. My house is full of that.
It is one of our priorities."
drugs are part of the fabric, too. As one social
forecasting agency in the UK succinctly put it,
" this is the generation which swapped Double
D (a beer which was a benchmark for anyone in the
1960s in the UK) for Double E". Double E is
Ecstasy and Evian. We've also had some terrible
deaths of youngsters...there are severe dangers of
final element on this flow chart is social
structure. This is the generation where divorce
and the breakdown of the family has had
significant impact. There is no single right way
to live anymore. Also, the confrontation between
the generations is less acute than it used to be.
Clearly, this change is less advanced in Italy and
Spain where the family still has considerable
this checklist of seven driving forces is applied,
it is very clear that the strongest intensity and
saliency of The Digital Generation is felt in the
US. Here the context is generational, attitudinal
and motivational. The leading edge of structural
changes will ripple outwards to other countries in
different ways and forms.
intensity and saliency is different in Europe,
North and South, where there is a different
expression. Here, it is less about being a precise
generation or cohort, but rather an attitude of
mind. Some of the feelings are just as raw as in
the US, though, about such issues as unemployment.
Technology too is at a different level of access.
are even weaker attitudinal echoes in Japan, where
most of society seems to be in a process of social
change, though decreasing employment for graduates
may start to yield increasing parallels with the
Digital Generation seen in other countries.
Kenichi Ohmae talks about Nintendo kids.
other emerging regions/ countries such as Latin
America, relatively early signals are seen.
just show you a video which demonstrates why brand
communications are uncomfortable in the Digital
Generation's media environment.
will see, their attitudes and values are rarely
one-way or uni-dimensional. This aspect reinforces
the complexity of appealing to this group. Which
mind-set or mood will you have caught them in? We
will look at four specific values in this part of
the presentation: cynicism vs. romanticism,
responsiveness to technology, individualism vs.
collectivism, and a need for control vs.
is dominant. It is clear that when you speak to
them they feel powerless to affect major changes
in the future. As a US respondent remarked:
feel my voice mute in a world increasingly target
marketed for people who need spray on hair."
they are acutely aware that prospects will not be
so good as the previous generation. The American
dream is something that the boomer generation
experienced and also screwed up.
have it worse than my parents. They got married
young, they bought a house at twenty-five. I doubt
I'll even have a new car by then."
are few current role models. They are looking for
new moral tutors. They will admire people who go
their own way and make it on their own.
Europe, too, they are deeply cynical. There is
also a strong streak of pessimism about the
future- "it's such a mess".
you ask them who do they admire, the universal
answer is "nobody". Other than Mother
Teresa and Bill Gates.
spite of this, and you may find this curious, they
are very romantic, but in a straight-forward
rather than heroic way.
is a way they can escape the everyday routine,
just look at the viewing figures for films like
Sleepless in Seattle. If played authentically,
this can be a powerful way to reach this group.
are highly responsive to all forms of technology,
because they see this as a force for good. They
hunger for new items of technology which they find
deeply personal. Equally it has given them the
means to extend their immediate community into a
Japanese respondent said "a computer is
something to feel close to. It is an exterior of
issue of access is important as this chart shows
the PCs per 100 population. There are some
surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise for many
Europeans is the position of Japan. This is
because of the relatively high cost of PCs in the
Japanese market. I've often been asked during the
last year, surely this does not apply to Southern
Europe. In Italy, 18% of teenagers claim to use a
PC personally. In Spain, household ownership of
computers has reached 17%. Many of these new
computers will be more powerful than before and
some will be multimedia. We would also expect to
see some of the Latin American countries move onto
this chart following the young tigers. The speed
of change is very rapid.
are some who may feel threatened by the
encroachment of technology into their lives, but
overwhelmingly most feel positive particularly
about new opportunities such as distance learning
and teleworking, even libraries in the sky. There
are still some differences between the sexes: for
example, women believe that computers would be
vastly improved if they had a hand in the design,
especially the appearance. Women also more readily
understand the social contact possible with
e-mail, some even talking about romance by e-mail.
All of these influences or factors help to
generate a common vocabulary. Sometimes, the way
in which they talk to each other is not understood
outside of this community. The language on the
Internet being a classic example.
is no doubt that access to PCs as well as a
diverse and non-traditional media environment
changes the perception and visual literacy of this
group. This clearly has an impact in terms of the
shape of all your communications options in the
claimed now that there may be 50 million people on
the Internet. The population of the Internet is
growing at 10% per month. If this rate of growth
were to continue (although this is impossible),
the total number of Internet users would exceed
the population of the world by the year 2003. It
is a lively exchange for product and brand
comment, even a form of distribution.
in case it is said that this is not happening in
Latin America, there were notable increases in web
use from Mexico, Central and South America in the
fifth GVU WWW User Survey. Non-US traffic is
growing at more than twice the US rate.
Digital Generation are confident consumers and
know where to get the buyers knowledge they need.
In fact, with channels like the Internet, we are
moving to a world of perfect information. So,
their frame of reference for any buying decision
may be partly set before they ever walk into the
Rushkoff writes in Cyberia:
is like tapping into the global brain. Information
becomes a texture.......almost an
Rushkoff revealed the extent of the Digital
Generation's consumer knowledge and power when he
wrote " exposed to consumerism since we could
open our eyes, we see through the clunky attempts
to manipulate our opinions and assets, however,
shrinking. When we watch commercials, we ignore
the product and instead deconstruct the marketing
techniques. This is what we love about TV."
now turn to the next value of individualism vs.
Digital Generation want to be strong individuals
within a group. As the M-People song says you have
got to "search for the hero inside yourself,
until you find the key to your life."
However, there is a recognition that group culture
acts as a kind of security blanket because of the
demise of fabrics and structures. They yearn for
social structures that they can identify with.
This is why the digital domain has become so
important. It has added a layer of social
structure for the Digital Generation.
of the uncertainty in their lives, they are
looking for products, brands and services which
offer them greater control. However, it is
important to understand that while they may be
searching for control, they will also look for
routes which allow them to break out of the fabric
of everyday life. They seek variety in everything.
Freneticism becomes a form of escape.
let us turn to this very new Generation here in
Latin America. If we pick up the template of the
seven driving forces, what early signals are there
should at first comment that many of these driving
forces are more positive than those seen in the
mature markets. However, let us briefly look at
each element in turn. The dynamics of the
political situation do not inspire tremendous
respect among the young, but remember that is not
very different even among more mature countries.
terms of their economic situation, the Colombian
young project themselves into a future where they
see themselves as successful people. Again this is
a view which is very different from some of their
prospects in say ...Europe where there remains a
high level of unemployment.
view of the millennium is overwhelmingly positive
deriving from the energy of a growing country.
media community is far less developed but this
will change rapidly. One of the fastest changes in
the net audience is from the region of Latin
relationship to technology is closer in the same
way that we have seen in some of these other
countries that we've been talking about today.
However, their access is demonstrably lower. They
are also scathing about those who are not
technologically literate..... "my parents
can't even turn on a computer." So again we
see a new generational divide opening.....
use of soft drugs was not specifically probed.
the social framework remains very different. They
have a feeling of affection and gratitude towards
the family. They consider it to be a foundation or
a base which has formed their critical and ethical
values. We do not see the family structure under
significant tension as we've seen in other
find the same transitory fleeting values that
marketers are going to have to get to know and
empathise with. Unlike the Digital Generation in
mature countries, they are not as cynical, indeed
cynicism is replaced with optimism and energy.
However, just like their counterparts elsewhere,
they do show responsiveness to technology. TV is
their immediate reference, computers follow. As
one commented.... "we are the mouse
have become a familiar tool, an extension of
oneself. They are experienced in a deeply personal
way. However, men are more associated with this
value than women. As one female respondent said,
"a computer cannot hug you when you are
blue." Technology implies advance, futurism
and significant change.
thanks to McCann-Erickson Colombia for undertaking
this research and showing the shape of the early
stages of the Digital Generation in Colombia. Our
research shows that there are four leading themes
which it pays to understand when marketing to the
first Digital Generation. These themes are
mandates, they are fundamental requirements of
this target audience from any manufacturer or
mandates are: choice, convenience, control and
most importantly dialogue. Let us look at each of
these in turn.
Digital Generation seek constant variety. They do
not care how you as marketers have to flex to
provide them with this, even if you have to
overhaul your production line to cater to their
ever changing needs. Their mood may dictate their
choice to suit the occasion and maybe, even to
suit the venue. As a direct consequence of their
marketing literacy, they expect to dictate their
choice on their terms. They may choose to go both
ways on different occasions. If you cannot meet
this requirement, do not expect to engage them.
You may even have to review your channels of
distribution to reach them at their point of
actual consumption. You should also consider your
media at that point of consumption from in-store
marketing through to consumption marketing. The
net of this mandate is that it requires a new
mind-set for product offering, availability, media
planning and immediacy marketing.
this group, convenience has many forms. There is
convenience of consumption, speed of consumption,
instant availability through a wide range of
distribution channels including vending, the
Internet, etc. Time does not have the same meaning
for the Digital Generation. Fast gratification is
essential. For this reason, the concept of value
will take on additional connotations of saving
time and stress. For them, technology adds to
convenience particularly if it removes everyday
chore shopping. But rest assured they still want
to shop for special things, to experience the
sight, sound and smell of the retailing
show you the difference in the interpretation of
what time means, this chart indicates some of the
differences that the Digital Generation express
about time. Note some of the differences such as
managed time rather than leisure time,
multiplicity rather than simplicity. Have any of
you found them difficult to employ because they do
not fit into a standard organisational hierarchy.
third leading theme is control. The Digital
Generation's consumer power is about being in
control of all phases of the buying process. They
should be sharing and participating in the shaping
of product and brand information. Your ability to
make them feel in control is very important
through a wide variety of channels of
communication. The context is no longer important-
but content is very important as we will come on
to see shortly.
often asked how consumers are applying control to
their media choice and behaviour. These Digital
Generation consumers spend less time with each
piece of media. If they are spending time browsing
on computers, they will spend less time watching
television. They are becoming powerful information
Digital Generation expect to have a dialogue and
the tone of this dialogue is critical. They see
overt attempts to talk to them as clumsy and will
not enter into the game. Companies with the
ability to maintain a successful dialogue treat
their brands, while not, repeat not undermining
core values, with an element of irreverence. How
many of you would say, this stuff we're making, as
Microsoft do? Or have the simplicity of Nike, Just
do It. Too often, brands take themselves too
seriously. Rational claims play to the
sophistication of the Digital Generation. Respect
has to be earned from them. So how does your brand
measure against these four mandates?
this point, I would just like to show a video
which encapsulates each of these critical themes.
The video starts with the retailing of yesterday
and ends with a glimpse of tomorrow. It also shows
how dynamic in-store marketing will become to meet
this diversified retail environment.
draw the implications for marketing in general. We
will also consider some of the communications
which to be working well to reach The Digital
of the complexity of the set of driving forces
which have combined to produce The Digital
Generation in certain markets, you cannot consider
them to be a global group. The greatest intensity
and saliency is undoubtedly in the US, followed by
Northern (Western) Europe and Australia. Other
countries will move into this mind-set as they
mature, and we are already detecting early signals
in the economies of Latin America and the young
tigers. The structural change in this generation
as we move into a digital age will be significant.
This will affect their relationship with the
market-place, and the communications that they
choose to interact with. We've also seen in the
mature countries that they understand consumer
power. Expect them to do the same in the future.
is a need to understand their language in their
language. For this reason, a constant process of
listening, monitoring and reassessment is needed.
same way, that we have seen The Digital Generation
develop its own media community, there are also
signals that they may not like the marketing
status quo. They are not automatically consumers
of your brands without renewing your relevance
constantly to reach this group. Indeed, they are
finding brands which appear to be challenging the
norm. For this reason, they may choose Diesel
Jeans rather than Levi's. They may choose Snapple
rather than Coca-Cola, They may choose Death
cigarettes rather than Marlboro. Their
market-place decisions may be more practical and
marketing is global, all communications are
received locally. All of our work among consumers
all over the world shows that most consumers react
both to global trends and also to local trends.
The Digital Generation receive communications very
personally, which gives you the advantage of being
able to form a more direct relationship and have a
genuine dialogue. This was not possible in the
days of monolithic marketing. This gives you a
there is a clear need to market personally, there
is also a clear differentiation of marketing
techniques which they find acceptable and
unacceptable. While they like appeals to their
responsiveness to technology such as the Absolut
Museum, they do not appreciate clumsy personalised
direct marketing. They view that as an invasion of
their privacy, another recognition that the
marketer has tried to classify them rather than
invite them to consume.
are brands with a clear point of view, with an
attitude. They simplify the purchase decision for
this highly sophisticated and knowledgeable group.
Indeed, just tell me why to buy it should become a
personal call to action. These brands include:
Nike, Microsoft, Irn Bru, CK1 and Sega Saturn. Let
me show you their commercials.
Vodka uses technology innovatively to reach this
group with its introduction of the Absolut Museum
and its series of eye-catching print executions.
do these brands have in common? Every fragment of
their communication must count to make an impact
in this marketing environment. This fragment of
communication must be highly textural to engage
them. You need to build empathy with this digital
generation, gain intrusiveness and generate
enjoyment and excitement. This can be done with
great simplicity as Irn Bru showed. It is vital
that marketers experiment with these new channels
to create new brand myths, for we are moving away
from monolithic marketing. We will have to tailor
the brand message for the environment of the
Infomercial, the CD-ROM and the on-line service.
message is now more important than the medium. You
should be aware that variation will blow apart a
brand that does not know what it is.
happens when you get them in-store? As we've
mentioned there may have been a degree of
pre-disposition before they enter, because of the
way in which they seek information. But just as
main brand communications have to make every
fragment count, so does point-of-sale marketing.
You must excite and intrigue them and build the
fragments to help create communications synergy
for the brand.
can add to the effectiveness of this scenario when
it works effectively. It cannot be slow, because
as a respondent said to us "that's completely
boring". The more user friendly in appearance
and style the better. Some of our consumers spoke
about the possibility of using their voices to be
able to give instructions to electronic pos.
Innovation in this area is needed to meet the
requirements of not only being present at the
point of sale, but also increasingly at the point
of consumption. You will need to work this way
with both marketers and retailers in this area.
Digital Generation seek at point of sale the
following elements at point of sale. In many cases
you will find that these reinforce the mandates of
choice, convenience, control and dialogue that we
saw before. The characteristics can be divided
into functionality and contact. Under
functionality, we have simplicity, works fast,
interesting shape, big screens, touch screens. The
look of these is very important to involve them in
sharing and participating in the brand flow of
information. Colour plays a critical role to meet
their level of visual literacy. Under contact,
there is interactivity, invite them to have a
dialogue. As we've seen the tone of voice can be
critical to invite them to consume. Look to
entertain them. The point of sale should be able
to do nice things. Music may play a fundamental
role as well. Finally, there is a concern that
they may be made to feel self-conscious if they
cannot get the display to work correctly.
marketing channels will become feasible and grant
the opportunity of greater experimentation at
lower cost. This can be an easier way of launching
new products and getting more rapid feedback. This
is the advantage of 1:1 marketing as Don Peppers
calls it, where the need will be paramount to
manage customer relations rather than a whole
portfolio of products.
are many other ways to reach the Digital
Generation such as: sponsorship of small business
start-ups, access to various training schemes,
expanding corporate presence in non-traditional
media, increasing street visibility, acting as
their guide to new marketing channels, and even
possibly, the introduction of value lines to sit
alongside brands. The effectiveness of all forms
of communications in the new personal environment
will also become more quantifiable than some of
the forms of mass marketing. They will be more
easily tracked, measured and monitored.
have given you many indications about how
marketing to the first Digital Generation will
affect your business. It is also true that it
fundamentally affects advertising agencies and the
way in which they choose to operate. Advertising
agencies will need to react and work in a very
different way in the future.
the future is not what older people think about,
but what younger people do. Have you talked to
them lately? More importantly, have you listened
to them lately? We should recognise that the only
constant is change. Thank you for the opportunity
of allowing me to share our international
perspective on the first digital generation with
you. I would be happy to take any questions.