Matthew Miller
Oct 18, 2016

‘Adulting’: A fluid process for young people

Brands should start understanding and assisting young people in the complex business of growing up, according to McCann’s latest ‘Truth about Youth’ research.

‘Adulting’: A fluid process for young people

This article does not contain the word ‘millennials’ (except for that instance). People below a certain age have already had too many simplistic labels slapped on them in a process that is as insulting to human diversity as it is useless from a marketing standpoint.

“What we want to do is not set new labels, or divide artificially,” said Nadia Tuma-Weldon, senior vice president and director of McCann Worldgroup's Truth Central in Singapore. “Our approach is to see youth culture as a sliding scale that's based on attitudes, and then our approach is to humanise and globalise this group.”

To that end, Truth Central undertook 33,000 interviews in 19 countries (including China, Hong Kong, India, Japan and Philippines), plus more than 120 focus groups in many other countries to produce its new ‘Truth About Youth’ report.

“Our research uncovered a universal truth among global youth that ‘adulthood’ is no longer comprised of a half dozen distinct milestones like marriage, children and career,” Tuma-Weldon said. “Rather, we’re seeing a more fluid state of ‘figuring it out’ based on many ‘micro-moments’ of achievement.”

Young people in Asia like that they can choose be an adult in some situations and a teenager in others. “It allows them to embody either mindset depending on their mood, allowing them to figure out who they are on their terms,” and at their own pace, Tuma-Weldon added. 

What brands need to do is be nimble about supporting this process while avoiding “the pitfalls of inadvertently behaving like classic parents”, said Richard McCabe, McCann’s regional strategic planning director. “Avoid stereotyping youth into one cluster or even into tribes,” he added. “The classic tribe concept is dead. This generation do not limit themselves to one tribe, but see themselves as more multi-faceted.”


Here are some areas where responses from Asia stood out against global averages, and some of the lessons brands can take from those differences.

1. The highest age when it’s still acceptable to live at your childhood home:

  • 32 globally
  • 36 in Asia (39 in Japan and 41 in Hong Kong)

Young people feel pressure from their parents, but they see this extended "figuring it out" process as a way to make sure they end up in the right place, Tuma-Weldon said. They are trying to construct their future self without making a mistake.

“In this complexity, they have a strong need for simplicity,” she added. “They’re looking for brands to help them 'adult' on their own terms". Go-Jek in Indonesia, Wunder in Philippines, Meal Tango in India, and A-s-mama in Japan are examples of “adulting economy” services that provide high-utility services for young people when they feel like they need a hand.

2. The percentage who agree their friends are more like their family than their actual family:

  • 43 percent globally
  • 46 percent in Asia (62 percent in India and 52 percent in Hong Kong)

Making social connections is easy, but making real friends is difficult, so young people have a strong need for honesty and loyalty, plus a desire to promote harmony within their groups. Tuma-Weldon cited statistics about the number of young people who admit to criticising others online, which is lower in Asia than the global average of 25 percent—in some cases much lower.

3. The percentage who agree they need to document their lives by constantly uploading photos of what they’re doing:

  • 37 percent globally
  • 52 percent in Asia

This is not narcissism. "It's based on a mixture of two things,” Tuma-Weldon said. “One is anxiety around being forgotten, which is particularly the case in large countries like China and India. But arguably the greater motivator is this need for community."

The researchers also noted that the the high value placed on honesty has driven a shift from posting perfectly composed, constructed shots toward a preference for “raw, unfiltered and utterly creative” content.

Brands should observe that young people want an “on-the-ground and immersive perspective” not only from friends, but also from brands. And of course brands should never forget to help young people entertain and gain admiration with their personal online audiences.

4. The percentage of young people who agree that global brands have the power to make the world a better place:

  • 87 percent globally
  • 91 percent in Asia

Despite high levels of optimism about brands, Tuma-Weldon noted that brands in Asia need to play this power out differently than their western counterparts. Whereas brands in the US tend to speak directly on social issues, brands in Asia have to approach them a bit more obliquely. She cited Nike’s recent 'Da-da-ding' video in India as a strong example ( see "Da da ding: Nike's call to women in India").

5. How young people say they best express themselves:

Editor's note: Campaign Asia-Pacific plans to carry additional market-specific takes about the 'Truth About Youth' research in coming weeks.

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