by Colin Jowell

Entitled. Ungrateful. Those are some of the nice words that are used to describe Gen Y in countless articles about how to market and employ the first native digital market segment.

A recent post that “explained” the unhappiness of Gen Y went viral amongst a number of marketing types, and surprisingly, a good many Gen Y’s. If you missed it, you can read it here. It checks off a number of the commonly cited traits including impatience and the overestimation of how special they think are. Initially it struck a chord- it seemed a startlingly accurate portrayal, but digging deeper it seems to be like all good stereotypes - one dimensional, unfair, and sad that so many of the people who it derogatorily describes are so willing to wear and propagate the critique.

The first point that is often forgotten by those not in the segment is that the earliest Gen Y’s are now 32. The depiction of them being young, spoiled upstarts ignores the fact that many are well into their careers, establishing families and their expectations of success after a decade in the workplace is actually quite reasonable.

The second point is that the so-called “unreasonable” expectations may not be so unreasonable after all. Unfortunately some of the rebuttal articles weren’t as cutely written, so it’s worthy to give some of those points a further airing:

  • The Gen Y stereotype is US based- where an estimated 12% of the generation are unemployed and only 40% have full time jobs. Some statistics suggest that of the many unpaid internships people take, only 37% result in fulltime work. Hardly lazy. Have you ever played that game when going on a driving holiday and you count the yellow cars- and suddenly you see them everywhere! The Gen Y stereotype is based on a falsehood in a foreign land, and we should be careful about how liberally we apply it here.
  • The reality is that graduates today will have far more education debt. And that is only going to get worse - the Coalition’s latest plan announced to sell off HECS debt could hardly spell good news for those who are currently indebted. The fears are very real - as one Gen Y put it “I won’t have a baby boomer who likely (sic) got a free education on a silver platter tell me to live within my means”. That rage is real. And not entirely unfair. And certainly not entitled.
  • For that 32 year old Gen Y wanting a house - well that is also significantly more out of reach. Housing price rises in the last 10 years have outstripped income growth by 2-3 times depending on your calculations. While the housing bubble debate rages, the current reality is irrefutable.

So what does that change really?

Well if you are a Gen X or older marketer or business owner, it means understanding the commercial constraints this market faces. It means thinking about ways in which your business can provide substitutes and solutions to a market who are not going to be able to afford as much. We are already seeing car ownership on the decline and the rise of share cars in young urban suburbs. The “dude food” trend is another example where “deluxe” versions of fast food classics are a hit (Chorizo hotdog and fries with wasabi mayo anyone?). Celebrating the ordinary takes the sting out of the harsh economic reality, and we are bound to see more of it.

And if you have begun to believe some of the Gen Y hype, it’s probably best to deliver a more understanding and sympathetic stance to what is ultimately still your most critical market for long-term growth.

Things to think about:

  • Are you making assumptions about disposable income or willingness to spend that might not be accurate?
  • How can your business provide alternatives that meet the needs and aspirations of the market in a more affordable way?
  • Are you making the most of the Gen Y’s in your life - kids, employees, friends etc to get a more accurate view of the generation so you don’t have to rely on the stereotype?