Chameleons 2.0 – experimental identities

Last year I blogged about the concept of youth being ‘chameleons’, in that they’re constantly morphing their identities to access different tribes and subcultures online. Today youth prefer shallow membership of many tribes, as opposed to entrenched membership & being defined by one subculture. Access to new tribes is just a ‘Google’ away.

The past few months I’ve explored this concept a little deeper whilst chatting to a host of teens and early 20 somethings as well as kicked around some thoughts with my good friend James Quinlan and we’ve come up with some new perspectives on the concepts of Chameleons.

The big insight is that youth in the digital age see their  IDENTITY AS EXPERIMENTAL.

They’re  constantly trying on different personas to see which suits best. Their identities and how they express themselves online is in constant BETA MODE, open to influence from culture, brands, events, celebrities.

An example being, a 15yr old girl I spoke with who is into beach culture and lifesaving puts on a certain voice eg: she speaks ‘pig latin’ with her beach buddies, but that same afternoon she’ll interact with her gamer or dance crew over Facebook or messenger and her communication (language, voice, tone) shifts completely.

Just as the youth of the 60’s experimented with drugs and free love, todays youth experiment with their digital identities, constantly.

How one crafts their digital identity is critical for young people today, as identity and being seen as multimensional within your peer group is social currency and ultimately, acceptance into the group or many groups. If you’re not connected and contributing to the conversation amongst your tribe, you’re social status drops and you’re an outcast. So, we’re seeing massive peer pressure being put on todays youth to contribute to their friends worlds.

This pressure to contribute and play an active role on social networking has led to what I call DIGITAL FAKING or  ‘FACEBOOK FAKING’. It’s rampant amongst Aussie teens.. They’re ‘faking’ checkins on Facebook places, taking credit for other peoples tweets,  lying about their FB status updates eg: they’ll check-in at the Ivy in the Sydney CBD, even though they’re sitting on their couch at home watching The Hills.

Although intrinsically linked, their online identity is far more important than their real world identity given they’re constantly on show and seeking affirmation. They are stressed about it, and scarily they are doing a lot of faking in order to fit in amongst their tribe. In a world where what and how often they share content, ideas, conversation with their friends determines their importance within the tribe, teens are under pressure to constantly be interesting and that’s hard, even for the coolest kids.

The implications for youth marketers are threefold:

–       There’s no longer a one size fits all approach to engaging youth, brands must appeal to multiple passion points and match their different social rhythms of the year

–       Think about how your brand enables young people to take on or evolve their identity? The success of gaming culture is a perfect example of the escapism and role playing young people crave today

–       How does your brand give youth fun and interesting ways to express or reinvent their personas, either via an interesting experience or content/ideas they can curate and share with friends. Give them ideas/content which is cultural currency, stuff they’ll want to talk about with their friends online as friends are the ultimate filter

Youth Marketing Rule #4 Experiment, always be in BETA mode

Experimentation was the catchcry of the 60’s with youth, and we’re seeing it come back as a key part of brand behavior. Brands who have an ‘always in BETA’ attitude to their business are gaining traction with Gen C. These brands are constantly trying new things and experimenting, asking for a viewpoint, in all aspects of the marketing mix. As long as it delivers on the overall brand point of view, it’s worth trying. Don’t be afraid of failure, if you have a go and are transparent, you get respect and love. Burger King is a great example of a brand constantly experimenting with new ideas but staying true to a core organising thought of ‘having it your way’. Over the past few years we’ve seen the ‘Subservient Chicken’, ‘Whopper Freakout’, ‘Whopper Virgins’ and most recently ‘Whopper Sacrifice’ all bringing people’s love of the Whopper to life in very different but engaging ways. Skittles latest foray is another great example of a brand trying new ways to connect with youth and really leveraging social media to create conversations around the brand.

Generation C- A look into their world


I wrote this deck late last year, my first presentation exploring the world of Generation C and how they’re different. In subsequent presentations I’ve spoken a lot about Gen C being the ‘connected collective’, whereas this presentation gives more of a quick overview of what this community of digital natives are into and some tips for marketers looking to engage them. These guys and girls are digital storytellers who use social media to express themselves and demonstrate their belonging to a community.