8 February 1994

Generation without a cause: a very different commodity

I AM not a target market," declared author Douglas Coupland in his celebrated book, GenerationX, and the world of marketing still hasn't recovered.
Released in 1992 to universal controversy, Coupland's book laid claim to be the first to label the post-Baby Boomer generation. The Xer has since entered the pop culture vocabulary alongside other "people products" such as the SNAG(sensitive new age guy) and the DINKs (double income, no kids). And let's not forget the yuppie, or indeed the Boomers themselves.
Now a new survey of Sydney teenagers will launch yet another label epithet into this already crowded marketplace: make way for "Generation Why?" - the generation without a cause, the sons and daughters of the sons and daughters of the boomers.
The survey, called Zoom |, was conducted by the youth wing of Loud Advertising - the Sydney agency which mounted the Racism Sux campaign to the teen market late last year.
Zoom | asked 500 Sydney teenagers their views and attitudes on everything from sex to drugs and all points in between.
"No-one's ever gone to any great length to separate teenagers from Generation X," explained John Kellett, Loud's director who, at 32, himself sits right on the cusp of Generation X.
"A 16-year-old is assumed to have the same attitudes as a 32-year-old, despite the fact that today's teens have grown up in a completely different environment, a different economy, and with things like AIDS, unemployment, the personal computer, a burgeoning electronic mass media, video recorders and so on.
"Our results indicate clearly that kids of 15 today are a very different commodity."
The image of the reckless, anti-social youth has dominated the popular imagination ever since Marlon Brando skidded onto the screen in The Wild One looking for something, anything, to rebel against.
With the ascendence of rock'n'roll in the 1950s, student protest in the'60s, drugs and punk in the '70s, and heavy metal and rap in the '80s, this image has not only become entrenched, but has been celebrated as somehow the essence of youth.
The Zoom | survey confirms this stereotype and claims today's teens lack idealism, are materialistic and are intensely conservative.
John Kellett believes this is due to the "pendulum swing" theory across the generations.
"These kids are the children of people who are now in their 30s and 40s,"he said.
"That generation was quite radical and free thinking. They put flowers in their hair and ran up and down Carnaby Street.
"But the kids we are seeing here are almost a re-run of the '50s. They're a reaction almost to their more radical parents."
However, there is a qualification.
Zoom's research contends that, while their values are essentially conservative, today's teens are enormously irreverent, cynical and lack any respect for authority.
"By conservative, you would normally mean someone who respects law and order," he said.
"But with today's teenagers, a very large number - around 80 per cent -said they are prepared to go ahead and break the law.
"Their parents demonstrated because they wanted to change the world. They wanted the world to be a beautiful place.
"We are not seeing a re-run of that at all. What we are seeing here is an aggressive response to the world they think they've been handed.
"They're saying 'Look, we're not happy about the fact we've inherited AIDS, we've inherited the sexual revolution and 10 per cent unemployment, and we've been left with the social bill for the greed of the 1980s. The conservatism of the '50s was characterised by saving, by being stingy, by planning ahead, by 2.2 kids, by a Kelvinator and a housewife in an apron.
"But today's teenagers are interested in spending all their money. They're not interested in saving.
"They're thinking five minutes ahead - not five years ahead. Life is a much more uncertain commodity. You therefore go for the short-term grab."

*  *  *

Savings are out. Mortgages are out. Long-term planning is out. This generation lives for today.
Another surprising feature of the Zoom | research reveals that in the age of AIDS, attitudes towards sex have swung full circle from the '70s.
Says John Kellett: "A majority of teenagers are not in a relationship and 78.6 per cent of teenagers over the age of 16 said they don't have sex.
"It seems fewer teenagers have sex than was the case 10, or even 20, years ago and when they do, it is within the confines of monogamous relationships. There's less sleeping around."
Mr Kellett adds that socioeconomic background is much less important to Generation Why in some areas, but remains crucial in others.
"In the last 10-15 years, kids have been influenced to a much greater extent by factors which are international - by things like the electronic media," he said.
"Beverly Hills 90210 is the same whether you're in a lean-to in Bexley or in daddy's $5 million Palm Beach mansion.
"To that extent, you're being influenced by exactly the same things. To that extent, it's uniform."
But to the extent that behaviour is influenced by peer group pressure, differences emerge. One third more kids from Sydney's western suburbs said they would go ahead and have unsafe sex, than did those on the North Shore.
Zoom | also found a similar split on the issue of Asian immigration. And while the teenagers surveyed in general perceived racism to be wrong, and tended to be less racist than previous generations, xenophobic attitudes were still evident.
"The Anglo-Australians still don't appreciate people who come into Australia and lead segregated lives," said Mr Kellett.
"They're more than happy to accept you as an equal if you behave the same way they do but they are less tolerant if you don't."
The reason John Kellett is keen on teenagers is that he sees them as a growing and potentially lucrative market that hasn't been addressed successfully.
He notes that while teenagers have been traditionally wealthier than the generation before them, the "generation gap" itself - as society ages - is bigger than it has ever been before.
"And because they've been exposed to more media than teenagers ever were before, they've become mature consumers at an earlier stage.
"That's important. When I was 14, I was a very naive person. If you're 14 now, you're a pretty cool and worldly, aware and wise.
"You know what you're doing - and you've got a pretty clear idea of what you want."

*  *  *

The Zoom | survey comes just two months after the release of Clemenger Advertising's research report, 20/20, where 100 20-year-olds from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane participated in focus groups.
20/20 received wide media coverage and while it revealed a number of similar trends to the Zoom | survey, Kellett believes it "is totally misguided".
"First, it looks at 20-year-olds only, which doesn't provide a genuine picture of young Australia and second, there was no quantitative findings, and it's from a sample of only 100.
"It's not so much that it's wrong, just that it misses out sorely in many important areas."
However, Greg Daniel, Clemenger's Sydney chairman, strongly defended the report and the methods by which it was produced, saying it was precisely designed to look at 20-year-olds only.
"What we do with reports like this is commission and brief an independent research company to undertake the actual research and the formulation of the report. We do not set the questionnaire nor do we endeavour to guide the research company in their findings.
"It would be foolish of us to interpret the research because then we could slant the findings any way we wanted to."
Daniel said the 20/20 report was commissioned and published by Clemenger with the aim of discovering principally what 20-year-olds thought about entering the workforce.
"It was not so much a youth survey as a young adults survey."
Daniel also questioned the strategy of an advertising agency conducting its own research unless it was fully qualified to do so, but was in no position to comment on the validity of the Zoom | survey.
Kellett admitted that the field of market research methodology was full of so many competing theories, that the best method was to "just go out there and do it."

*  *  *

Generation X, Babybusters, Slackers, The Lost Generation, Twentysomethings, and now Generation Why.
While everyone argues about what to call them, what is certain is that the under-30s are under more scrutiny than ever before as ad agencies, market researchers, social scientists and think-tanks fall over themselves to define the new consumers.
Apart from Zoom | and the Clemenger study, other wide ranging surveys on Australian youth have been released in the last three months.
The Australian Youth Foundation's A Lost Generation, and the Australian Youth Institute's Visions for Australia, painted vastly different pictures than that of the Zoom | survey, revealing a serious, committed generation with a sophisticated, international outlook.
Meanwhile, the leading advertising agency McCann Erickson is about to release yet another major study into the 18-29 age group, and next month marketing and sales types will fork out $1,295 a pop to attend a conference in Sydney entitled Generation X, Marketing to the Third Millenium, to be chaired by none other than Loud's John Kellett.

*  *  *

 According to the Zoom | survey, average Australian teenagers:

  • Get their values from the electronic media, but are also extremely cynical and critical of it.
  • Make their friends at school.
  • Are driven by peer group pressure
  • Think their prospects are better than their parents had
  • Don't drink-drive
  • Have few qualms about breaking the law
  • Couldn't care less about politics
  • Rarely watch TV news or current affairs
  • Are more likely to vote Green, then Labor, then independent, then Liberal.
  • Buy only well-known brands, and then the ones their friends buy
  • Are interested more in a job than a career
  • Worry about getting a job and money
  • Will have tried illicit drugs, and are likely to take them regularly
  • Don't drink much, but when they do they go on benders
  • Don't go to church
  • Hate the police
  • Are unlikely to be in a relationship
  • Are unlikely to have had sex - and, if they have, are more likely to practise unsafe sex
  • Are attracted to someone by personality before looks
  • Have negative attitudes about gays
  • Slavishly follow teen magazines
  • Think the world is going down the gurgler


  •  Netball and basketball.


  • Ren and Stimpy
  • Hangin' With Mr Cooper
  • The Simpsons
  • Beverley Hills 90210
  • Melrose Place
  • Home Improvements
  • Roseanne
  • Rage


  • Pepsi MAX, Coke, Levis.


  • Demtel, McDonalds, "ads that treat us like we're stupid."


  • Catipillar boots, Keppers, Levis, Mambo, Booty, Stussy, Mossimo, Tag Heuer.

Headline:   Generation Who?
Byline:       Michael Hutak & Susan Borham
Caption:  Illus: Generation without a cause...a very different commodity

Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 7-2-94
Edition: Late
Page no: 11
Section: News and Features
Sub section: Agenda
Length: 1934

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