India has today turned out to be a market of ‘middle-aged teenagers’. In a way, the Indian consumer is only 19 years old because that’s how long he has been exposed to the new world of consumption choices, post economic liberalisation. It just so happens that the bulk of the population that has reaped the fruits of this change are in the 35-45 years band, as they were at the peak of their life and careers when liberalisation took place.
Most brands in India are busy catering to this segment and their desire to stay young. These brands are, therefore, youthful in their imagery but not essentially young in their motivation. No wonder the definition of youth political leaders in India starts at 40 and the brand ambassadors of many cola and denim brands are Bollywood heroes who are past 40.
Though most of these brands, leaders and celebrities sport a youthful imagery, they aren’t the real young of this country.
In one of the largest youth markets of the world, the real youth is being squeezed out by the youthful. Whether it’s their choice of denim brands or cafes or entertainment — their seniors invade them all. There is potential in India, therefore, to build brands that are young in motivation than just young looking.
To understand youth in a real way, it’s critical to look at their world from their side up. Today’s youth in India is a ‘silver spoon generation’ — spoilt with choices when it comes to careers, money and even relationships. This is, therefore, a very difficult generation for marketers because they have no apparent need gaps to be fulfilled. While traditional marketing likes to ‘empower’ and ‘liberate’ its consumers, the youth of today’s India need none of these.
What today’s Indian youth needs, however, are ‘partners in crime’. They need brands to be on their side and endorse their unique way of life. The truth is that the youth today knows how to find a way around the system. They are subverting many of the traditional tenets. For instance, while our parent’s generation worked hard on their careers and relationships for achieving stability, today’s youth likes the idea of disposability. They want to experience more and experiment more, both in careers and relationships. Similarly, when it came to growth, the traditional India was almost scared of discontinuity, fearing that if you go up fast, you come down faster.
The younger generation today has no qualms about starting a job at exorbitant salaries or harbouring ambitions to become millionaires overnight. In fact, today is the time of what can be called the quarter life crisis, where the youth is saying, “I am 25 and I am not a celebrity yet.”
Brands that want to tap the real youth need to latch onto some of these motivations. They need to come down from their pedestals and be buddies with the youth.
They need to desist from trying to fulfill need gaps; rather they need to back the youth in finding their own way, creating their own rules. Which at times may be uncomfortable for the not so young, pretending to be youthful.
The writer is the author of ‘Consumer India – Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet’ and Chief Strategy Officer, Bates141