November, 2015
Our youth are marching to the beat of a new drum by Katlego Moutlana

I teach part-time at AAA and one of my lectures is always on youth. One of the most passionate discussions we have is whether today’s teenagers, students and first-jobbers have a cause – whether they have anything they care about enough, to look up from their smartphones/chats and disrupt their daily lives. The consensus, up until about a month ago, was that they have no cause.

All we discuss in boardrooms is how conspicuous consumption counts a lot, and very vague insights around their wanting respect and judging brands on authenticity.

Well, what we have seen is far beyond what brands and marketers understand. The youth, (and I do so hate this phrase, as it assumes that they are a homogenous group we can clump together, but that’s another debate for another day) have always had a voice, but now they have something to say. They have something to say to the government, to business, to all the powers-that-be. No longer is #activism enough, they are literally taking to the streets.

In boardrooms we pontificate that they are a lost generation, born-frees who have had the world handed to them, yet who at the same time feel the pressure to be better than their parents. We consider them to be millennials, whose only cares are ‘what are brands doing for me’. We recommend strategies around co-collaboration, thinking that getting them to design a new sneaker will make them even more connected to a brand. Well, we’re wrong.

They have influence that goes beyond the shopping aisle and, if all goes the way they expect, they will change policy and future trends.

My generation, slightly older but still in touch, only cared about the university we were going to get into, and finding cool jobs so we could accumulate cool things. I remember marching at Rhodes University against the Afghan/Iraq war and a fellow barefoot student grabbing the microphone to shout controversially: ‘Legalise weed!’ We had no cause. We were pampered. There were still jobs. We were making our parents proud. And here we are today, silenced by mortgages and year-end bonuses.

But today’s students seem to care more, seem to have deeper, better informed opinions that take into consideration the global village they inhabit, as well as the man down the street.

They are not looking to be part of your brand or business, they’re looking to create their own brands and business. These are the people who are shunning the way that the very institutions they belong to, do business. There are no sacred cows. Speak down to them to your detriment. They don’t want to belong to our world with our staid rules, and they don’t want to ask permission to make their own rules.

They have already made their own rules and we didn’t notice. We were too busy trying to get them to name a new flavour.

We’ll be watching this space with interest.