Young Hearts and Minds

How to secure the insecure generation

Conventional wisdom seems to be that may be that young people look for the novelty factor from brands more than anything else. Catch their eye with something exciting and glittery, and you’re half way there. But our latest research in conjunction with Channel 4 has found that security is the most important ‘need’ state for young people today. In a time of political uncertainty, economic insecurity and the ever present threat of terrorism, many young people are anxious about the future. Validation is therefore a vital means of reassurance in a world of increasing instability.

Many assumptions are made about young people, but to really connect with this audience, brands have to understand the deep emotional reasons as to why they behave in certain ways. Starcom and Channel 4 conducted the study ‘Young Hearts and Minds’, to find out just that, asking over 1,100 young people to identify the emotional needs that were most compelling to them today. The results, which prioritises and also quantifies how young people express these desires, has significant implications for the way brands target young people through advertising.

Marketers are still fascinated by young people. Indeed, they’ve never been so important as the speed in which they influence the market place has never been faster; from the way they communicate on emerging social media platforms, to the speed in which they’ve embraced the sharing economy. Roughly a quarter of the world’s people — some 1.8 billion — have turned 15 but not yet reached 30 and yet they will become an increasingly rarer breed.

And the issues facing today’s youth are different to previous generations. The youth that Alex Garland wrote about in his book The Beach 20 years ago are almost incomparable to the youth of today. The premise of the book wouldn’t work in 2016. This is not the generation prepared to take the risk of swimming off to an unknown community on a far away island let alone be able to keep it a secret with the longing of an Instagram and Facebook status update. Google maps, fitbit analysis would have ensured they knew exactly where they were going, how long it would take and the most efficient route. But more than this, the youth from The Beach were escaping boredom. They knew they could easily choose a life, a job, a career, a family (to paraphrase Trainspotting). A clear linear path. Today young people don’t need to escape boredom. There are distractions and challenges everywhere. Rather, they need help and validation with the simple everyday choices where all the rules are there to be broken.

Security emerges as a key ‘need’ state in our study with 9 out of 10 saying it was very important to them today and was also the need which had grown more important over the past year. The recent Brexit referendum brings this into sharp focus, where younger people voted overwhelmingly (73%) to stay in Europe which, amongst other things, highlights a vote for security and stability.


Whilst many young people aren’t directly impacted, they are aware that they are growing up in a culture of political change, austerity and fast paced technological innovation. The path to adulthood is complex and challenging with more distractions than ever before. Simple life moments such as marriage, a career, a house, cannot be taken for granted. Rather these are things to be fought for. They are preparing for jobs that don’t even exist yet. In fact, a report from Demos found that 18 year old’s are three times more likely to believe that school doesn’t prepare them for adulthood than 14 year old’s.

We asked young people what security looked like for them and 60% said Security meant “Trust”. As young people transition through this key life stage, it is clear that they need to feel that they have someone or somewhere to turn to that can truly be relied on.


Today’s young people are struggling to grow into adulthood. They are gifted, privileged but ultimately held back. The UK is an ageing nation and by sheer volume grandparents will always win. Employment rights, housing, even educational opportunities all favour the old than the young. It is therefore unsurprising why so many young people just don’t think it is fair. Young people in our study defined significance as “Respect” (48%). They want to be acknowledged and listened to as adults.

Sumukh Mehta’s Magazine CV (a perfect example of hard work + Brand Me) successfully won him an internship at GQ

Consider their grandparents. At 21, they could have owned a business, were likely to be married with a child on the way and a house. At 21, many young people today live with mum, work as an intern for free, and date on Tinder. They aren’t seen by society to be the adults they feel they are. Brands can fill this gap. Dove and Always have created significance for young women through powerful campaigns, championing the right to be comfortable in your own skin and to be proud in your achievements.


Novelty is a key need marketers want to attribute to young people. Why? They have more time, more appetite and realistically, they have the energy for it.

The boom in experience economy is built on a desire for thrills not just things. Novelty means “Adventure” (54%) followed by “Opportunities” (44%). Travel is a huge part of discovery and self-development, and of course it isn’t just about experiencing new cultures or meeting new people.

“I did it for Instagram” is a reason to do anything. The anticipation and nervous energy that surrounds each new encounter is heightened by the strategic need to capture it for all eternity. 63% agreed that social media is crucial to meeting this need because if you don’t have the photo, well, then it (almost) didn’t happen.

A dutch student fakes a 5 week holiday editing images of South East Asia with those of her own


Arguably this is the most connected and worldly youth group to ever exist. Yet they are also one of the loneliest. Depression is high with this age group and recent research by the National Citizen Service Trust, found six out of 10 said they were lonely and one in 20 said they never spent time with friends out of school. How come?

We’ve found that, whilst 58% of young people still build relationships through meeting up with friends, the same percentage build relationships through online channels.

Communication between friends is becoming quicker, broadcast and group orientated. Rather than a dialogue, communication becomes increasingly a means of validation through “likes” from peers to your posts and/or photos online. Whilst you have greater access to what is happening in the lives of friends, the relationships are often built on weaker ties. These weaker ties, built on written, rather than spoken communication means that it becomes much easier not to commit. The rules of FOMO mean it becoming socially acceptable to feel that it’s ok to take up a better offer.

Quarter Life Poetry: Going Out

Therefore, youths call out for the most fundamental element within a relationship — “Trust” (58%), to not be let down. In our study, Coca Cola stood out as a brand that delivered powerful and compelling messages of friendship and loyalty — of standing by your friends.


Whilst Integrity was ranked the 5th most important need in our hierarchy at 75%, it is still acutely relevant to this demographic. Integrity centres around moral principles and for young people it primarily means Justice (38%).

7 in 10 young people view themselves as social activists and social media is an integral means for young people to share their opinions, seek information and stay connected to the issues facing the world today.

This space is a particularly difficult one for brands, as our study revealed that only 10% of young people think brands help to provide them with something to believe in. Yet brands that stay true to strong principles in an authentic manner are the ones that seek attention from young people.

Brands such as Selfridges’ Agenda clothing line or Lush who have a clear environmental approach, cut through the clutter. When 25% of young people say their trust in companies is lower than it has ever been (Source: YouthSight), delivering integrity becomes a vital means to connect.


The needs highlighted in the research also resonate with people beyond the 16–24 year demographic too. By tapping into fundamental desires that affect how we approach life and make decisions it allow us to talk to potential customers in highly meaningful and inclusive ways.

By understanding the cultural shifts amongst young people from generation to generation we are able to define and build compelling experiences to engage with this important audience. And needs states are an important starting point.

First published in Mediatel 16th August 2016