Opinion

Content must hold a mirror to the values of young Australians

Brands need to reframe the way they think about content creation for younger audiences, argues Keep Left's Laura Carpenter-Davies.

Everyone has something to say about millennials. We’re entitled snowflakes – narcissistic, lazy, avocado aficionados. It’s no wonder we can’t afford to buy our own homes; and let’s not even get started on our younger Gen Z friends.

But whatever your feelings towards the world’s newest generations, we make up around half of the Australian population, so you can’t really escape us. You buy from us, sell to us, hire us, and may even work for us. So it’s no surprise, that here in the world of content marketing, millennials and Gen Z are almost always in the mix when it comes to the audiences our clients want to reach.

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In the interests of understanding more about my own demographic, I paid a visit to Vice’s Melbourne office to hear the results of ‘The Big Shrink’, their biennial youth survey and one of the largest audits of Australian youth culture.

On the one hand, it was an incredibly insightful presentation, packed full of information that left me with a fresh understanding about the behaviours and drivers of Australia’s future leaders.

On the other, it was kind of like staring in a mirror and seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly staring back at you. Thanks, Vice.

So, what did I learn?

We’re becoming increasingly similar

The presentation itself was called ‘The Big Shrink’, because the trend Vice has spotted is that the world millennials and Gen Z inhabit is getting smaller. We’re increasingly homogenous in terms of our likes and dislikes – and we like it that way.

From the films we watch on Netflix and the music we listen to on Spotify, to the articles we read on Buzzfeed and the status updates we see on Facebook, young people (Gen Z audiences in particular) have been raised on content spoon-fed to them by algorithms. We’ve realistically had very little individual say in what we consume.

In fact, some of us are even living the same life. Just consider these ‘grammers living their best, most photogenic life, all on the same square metre of rock in Preikestolen in Norway.

And I know that it’s Preikestolen, because I’ve been there too. Although I was there in 2010 – classic millennial, always wanting to be ahead of the trend.

We’re rejecting hyper-success culture

As Vice succinctly put it, the standard of youth is no longer innocence, but success. Youth hyper-success culture is behind things like the ‘30 under 30’ lists and media focus on young entrepreneurs and billionaires.

But what’s interesting is that despite these high expectations, young people are not meeting them. Vice found that 75% of people aged 18-35 are in debt, and 32% live pay cheque to pay cheque.

Gen Z is rejecting anxiety-inducing exceptionalism and reframing success more simply: doing well is now defined as doing things that are important to them. Looking after their mental health, having good relationships with family and friends, and working towards a well-rounded lifestyle are coming out on top, rather than being driven by money.

This ‘substance over style’ approach has led to an increasing appetite for low-fi, real life formats such as Instagram stories. Anecdotally, this is something we’ve seen supported across a range of content marketing programs we run with clients that are looking to reach a younger audience.

We need to be told a good story

Vice found that Millennials and Gen Z share concerns around the environment, world peace, and the general directions being taken by governments around the globe. But these are massive problems to which there is no one solution.

In the face of these overwhelming concerns, Vice has noticed a pattern of gravitating to narratives that help people feel more composed.

They see this as the driving force behind the increasing popularity of things like long-format stories, which are serialised and structured, and even self-help content such as Marie Kondo’s latest Netflix show that provides a structured journey to a designated outcome.

In a world where reality is often tumultuous and messy, well-structured stories provide predictability and give us some closure. And no matter what generation you belong to, that’s comforting.

So what?

It should go without saying that the content brands put out into the world must provide their audiences with something they find valuable, whether that’s learning something new, knowing something their friends don’t, or seeing things from a different perspective.

But with this younger generation, it’s about more than that: they want to see their own values reflected back at them. They don’t want to see sloppy stereotypes and unattainable perfectionist ideals. They want brands to tell them stories that show it’s ok to be less than polished, that normalise self-doubt and celebrate everyday successes, and they want it to be done with credibility and integrity.

As content marketers, this means we need to reframe the way we think about content creation for younger audiences.

Content was once the window to a brand’s world; now it must be a mirror.

Laura Carpenter-Davies is a content strategist at content and communications agency Keep Left.

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