“We live in an amazing world and we waste it on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots; everything is amazing and nobody is happy.” That’s a pretty harsh judgment by Mexican-American
comedian Louis C.K. on today’s youth, as expressed during one of his acts. To illustrate his point, C.K. describes an airplane scene where a young guy gets incredibly pissed off because the plane’s high-speed Internet breaks down. “How quickly does the world owe him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago?”
The caricature might be a little far fetched, however, the truth is, today’s youth is far more tech savvy, demanding and outspoken than the previous generations. Lebanon is no exception to this global reality. “Nothing impresses today’s Lebanese youth and, if anything does, it is only for a very short time, after which they’ll ask: ‘What’s next?’” says managing partner and creative director at advertising agency Interesting Times, Jimmy Francis, who adds that information overload could explain this new mindset. “Back in the old days, we didn’t have that quick access to that much information,” he adds.
As per JWT MENA’s 10 Trends for 2014 report, put together by JWT Brand Intelligence MENA, Internet penetration in Arab countries stands at 41 percent and is growing fast, while 82 percent of Lebanese young adults agrees that they feel the need to be constantly connected to the Internet through their devices. As per a study conducted by Ipsos, the Lebanese youth, aged between 15 and 24 years, contributed 40 percent to the smartphone market, both in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 58.1 percent of Lebanese millennials looks up on the Internet for information, 44.4 percent thinks that life without Internet access would be unimaginable and the social lives of 31.1 percent of young Lebanese is “very connected with the Internet”.
Besides creating alternative means of communication and a source of information, as well as a platform for social networking technologies, the digital age is apparently at the root of the emergence of the hipsters community in Lebanon as well. “We, as the Lebanese youth, are interest-oriented and social media makes it very easy to find people that share the same interests as us and for us to be exposed to whatever we want to be exposed to. Thus, we’ve created this sort of a digital bubble, where we have this give and take effect of what interests us or suits hipsters’ ideals in terms of music, movies and clothes, etc.,” says copywriter at Interesting Times, Rita Harbie. The simplest way to define a hipster for her would be “anyone who’s exposed to the Internet”.
On the other hand, co-founding editor-in-chief of F/I/M2/P magazine – a Lebanese print and digital publication that offers a platform for fashion designers, illustrators, music-lovers, movie enthusiasts and photographers to showcase their works and interact together – Mohamad Abdouni, says: “We tend to use the term ‘hipster’ as an insult nowadays and I can’t put my finger on exactly why we do so. Hipsters are harmless, really. I might be very far off target here, but I do believe music is at the core of the Nu-Hipster trend. It was bands that were dubbed as ‘Indie’ and their fans that slowly started forming this alternate herd, one that does not adhere to radio-friendly sounds that were so widely played. And then everyone joined in and ‘Indie’ became radio-heavy, which meant almost everyone became some sort of a hipster. At times this movement tends to contradict itself by uniting everyone’s looks and tastes, when what it intends to do originally is encourage differences in both personality and physical appearance. It’s laughable at times, fun even. It shouldn’t be taken so seriously by outsiders looking in.”
Tres Colacion, copywriter at Interesting Times, believes that hipsters are the positive youth of Lebanon. “Unlike the majority of the Lebanese youth that might spread negative vibes, especially to people coming from abroad, hipsters are the ones that embrace Lebanon. We are here by choice, we recognize all of Lebanon’s faults, but we also know how to get around them,” he explains.
Hipsters or not, the Lebanese youth seem to be involved in and care about social causes more and more. “What changed in the Lebanese youth from five years till now is the fact that we don’t hear them talk about stupid politics and religion anymore, but about music and common interests; Today, Lebanese youngsters discuss the same topics discussed by the youth in Berlin, for instance,” says partner and creative director at Interesting Times, Mo Alghossein. Thus, while politics used to be at the center of the Lebanese youth’s discussions (and conflicts), today social causes are becoming “the big thing,” as per Alghossein. “No matter what the cause might be, we seem to be quite the fighting generation; we know our rights, believe in what we do and fight to protect it all,” says Abdouni. Similarly, JWT MENA’s 10 Trends for 2014 report indicates that 66 percent of Arabs believes that life in the region was better before the revolutions, despite the promise of sweeping change brought by the Arab Spring, and 82 percent of Lebanese young adults cares less for the Arab Spring, but would rather live a stable life.
Moreover, the same JWT’s report shed lights on taboos that were previously never discussed in the region. Liberal youth are inching towards progress in rights in some Middle Eastern markets, when it comes to homosexuality, premarital escapades, substance abuse and others, while these taboos remain illegal in the Arab world. In fact, 88 percent of Lebanese young people believes that following traditions and practices should be one’s personal choice. On the same note, the report recalls Lebanese icons that are openly gay, such as the lead singer of Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila, Hamed Sinno. “Voices, such as Sinno, who has written a love song about homosexual love, are empowering Arabs to become more open. With more than 100,000 followers on Facebook and concerts all over the Middle East, Mashrou’ Leila’s candid approach to sexuality seems to be a winning formula,” it states.
With the young generation’s mindsets shifting from merely challenging change to creating change, brands find themselves at a loss, when urged to enter the muddy waters of the social world. JWT’s report shows that consumers are looking for brands that can shock and confront them, celebrate their lifestyles or force them to have difficult conversations, even if only with themselves. Seventy five percent of the Lebanese youth says that they are excited to purchase brands that dare to be different. “When it comes to advertising, young people don’t want to be sold products and services anymore. It is more important for them that the campaign is more of a project that refers to the society and the community,” explains Alghossein. Consequently, the young generation is putting pressure on brands to pioneer social solutions, both on behalf of and ideally in partnership with their consumers. “The solution revolution is a reality and it’s growing, and brands have a unique opportunity to support passionate individuals in changing their communities. It’s all part of being a purpose-driven brand, with a higher purpose,” reveals JWT’s report. Crowdsourced initiatives are examples of how brands are participating in the social transformation. For instance, Beirut’s waste management company Sukleen launched an app that allows users to report overflowing bins and other waste issues to the company by geo tagging photos of waste they come across.
“We’re a generation that did not necessarily live the war, but was raised by those that have. We’re strongly affected by its aftermath and it shapes the core of how we think and what we do, whether we’re aware of that fact or not. It took me quite some time to realize this; in fact, I’ve only recently come to terms with and accepted that, at the end of the day, our actions just might be preconditioned by this ‘something’. I guess that’s why we’re a generation that craves the most out of life, a generation that wants to go far in terms of both career and personal and cultural development, a generation that simply wants more out of life, more than what our parents were able to have, and they have pushed us to be this way and happily so,” says Abdouni. Moreover, Abdouni thinks that, albeit being a fighting generation with many causes and rights that it feels compelled to fight for, today’s youth is much more focused on all things personal and solitary, and its main concerns tend to revolve around personal aspects; a search for self-fulfillment and discovery in both professional and extra-curricular realms. “Everyone works hard on developing their own tastes, their own likes and dislikes, far from those of the norm and in all kinds of different fields of interest. It’s not a bad trait though, I’m glad I belong to such a generation; it’s an ever-learning atmosphere where you discover additions to your own taste through others,” he says. In this transitional phase, young and progressive Lebanese are taking on the responsibility of shaping their own futures, leveraging crowd-power and technology as the enablers of self-sustainable lifestyles, adds JWT.
“Today, consumers, and especially the youth, are very powerful. Brands are afraid of any 17-year-old boy sitting at home with his laptop, for by a simple tweet or blog post, he has the power to destroy a brand’s image,” says Interesting Times’ Francis. According to JWT’s report, the young generation calls for an era of hyper transparency. Everything is a fair game and, therefore, the days of hiding business failures are over. Some 62 percent of the Lebanese young adults writes a negative review on social media if they have had a negative experience with a brand. “Having witnessed well-publicized brand scandal after scandal, millennials have learned that no one and nothing is perfect. Their own behavior has left a trail of evidence online that they don’t take too seriously. People or brands that do not have the same attitude come off as a suspect and the ‘too serious’ ones are rejected. Public displays of perfection are a thing of the past and young consumers want brands that mirror their own lived experiences, with all of its imperfections, disappointments and shortcoming,” states JWT’s report.
In order to ensure the best ROI to each communication campaign, media agency Zenith Optimedia invests, along with its clients, in research to make sure that their investments are made in the right place at the right time. “We have launched a research platform across the network aiming to address the missing gaps in the market regarding millenials. This platform allows us to assess the most important values to millenials and better understand the types of experiences valued by this category. One of the interesting insights was that this new generation is optimistic, despite the many challenges [it faces]; we call it ‘the pursuit of happiness’. The youth of Lebanon are also concerned by this trend. We can notice it in many areas of their day-to-day lives and their future plans. They are very active and ambitious. In that context, whenever a communication message conveys positivity or ambition or humor and fun, it is well accepted by millenials. Therefore, such content, if published online, will get high chances to be shared among their networks. The youth usually interacts positively with joyful messages,” says general manager at Optimedia, Carole Hayek. “The Lebanese youth are savvy, aspiring, courageous and vocal; they aim for the best and seek quality and convenience,” says chief commercial officer at Lebanese mobile operator Touch, Nadim Khater, who explains how the operator is inspired by the Lebanese youth to build the values of their brand and communication. The crowdsourced ‘In My New World’ rebranding campaign, for which content was user generated, is a good example. “In order to launch products on the market, we run many periodic reports such as the brand health research, the customer satisfaction research and the segmentation market research – the latter being the one that gives us a view of the Lebanese population and the needs of each segment. As an example, we noticed in one of our segmentation researches that many people call one specific number a lot more than other numbers; this pushed us into developing the Web and Talk plan that specifically targets the youth and allows them to talk for free for one hour with a specific number within their plans – knowing that young people are the ones that are most likely to have this best friend whom they frequently call. Another product from which young people can benefit is the off-peak rate, which allows them to benefit from a 40 percent reduction on talk time after 10pm – knowing that young people stay up late at night,” says Khater.
As reported by JWT, consumers are increasingly coming to appreciate brands that push the boundaries through honest conversations, more daring innovations, quirky approaches and more risqué experiences, with a more mature approach to acceptance and equality.
“By understanding millenials’ behaviors and their media consumption habits or touchpoints’ influence on their purchases, or other decisions, we can better plan the communication message and the media mix,” says Hayek, who adds that there are less chances to capture the attention of the youth on traditional media due to less frequency exposure and time allocated for TV, press and radio. “However, we still find a remarkable audience on specific TV programs and on some key radio stations targeting the youth,” she says. According to research by Ipsos, 73.2 percent of the youth is heavy TV users, whereas 75.4 percent does not read dailies. Moreover, 58.6 percent of the youth does not trust what they read in newspapers and magazines, nor believe what they hear on television and radio – the latter is utilized by 50.6 percent of the youth only when in the car. For Interesting Times’ Alghossein, the youth and traditional media are like distant cousins that never talk. “Some print media, especially magazines, are kind of a cool thing now, since they’ve become sort of vintage. In fact, magazines that would interest the Lebanese youth are made by young people as well; they are artistic and more of a niche thing,” says Colacion.
“On the other front, social media is leading the change of media consumption by millenials, if we take for a fact that more than 63 percent of Facebook subscribers is among the 18 and 34 years age bracket, this should lead us to create new ideas and communication strategies capable to reach them and interact with them effectively and efficiently. Therefore, we cannot ignore this ‘connected’ generation; we should follow it and give it something valuable,” says Hayek. F/I/M2/P magazine’s Abdouni sees the digital age that differentiates today’s youth from older generations as double-edged. “We’re more tech savvy and social, but, at the same time, seem to have less and less appreciation for human interactions – something I’ve envied past generations for, for a while now. It seems like friendships meant more back then, relationships felt more special. We’re exposed to the entire world; we no longer cherish certain things simply because we tend to believe that there will be others out there in case something we already have goes wrong,” he says.