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

Why Red Bull is the best youth brand…by Q..Red Bull devotee

It’s not often you meet someone who lives and breathes a brand. James Quinlan ‘Q’ is that person. He is the posterboy of the Red Bull tribe, the brand is his life. not in a geeky way, in a very cool way. I asked him to write a piece for me on why he loves Red Bull and how they get youth marketing

Red Bull sells a liiiiifestyle…by QI’m writing this rather late at night. I’m quite awake after drinking a can of what’s been called everything from “liquid speed” to “Viagra in a can”. It’s a good thing as I’m watching the F1 from Spain, supporting my team Red Bull Racing (and keeping an eye on Scuderia Toro Rosso). I’m wearing a Red Bull t-shirt and belt. I’m also keeping an eye on the San Diego leg of the Red Bull Air Race via the Internet and watched some of last year’s series earlier today on Fuel TV. Today’s paper was full of news about the Red Bull Cliff Diving Event in La Rochelle. The current copy of The Red Bulletin magazine sits on the table. Next to my Red Bull ice bucket.

I didn’t even used to like the taste of Red Bull – so how did I get here?

It’s because while V may “get things started” (as the ads reliably inform me, but only when they’re on air) Red Bull does the entire job from go to whoa (or maybe that’s whoooooaa!). Most brands spend loads of time looking for something in their product that they can sell to us. Sugar free. Less CO2. 24 hour protection. All very interesting, but rarely unique (and even if they are, easily replicated). The reasons why I’m a Red Bull devotee has buggerall to do with the product and everything to do with something that’s extremely hard to copy: the brand. Here’s five reasons why:

1. They sell lots of swag.

I’m constantly amazed by companies that stick to selling their products and nothing else. You can’t bring a car into your living room. Or take it with you on the train. Or to a meeting room at work. You can bring/wear a piece of merchandise everywhere you go. Clients look to their advertising agencies for communications, not frozen water receptacle device producers – but the Red Bull ice bucket that sits on my desk has done loads more to promote Red Bull to me and those around me than 99% of the TV commercials that we see because it doesn’t just make the brand famous, it’s infiltrated my life, every single day of the year (and I even paid for it). Note to marketers – Red Bull even manages to make money out of its swag – how’s that for “measurable communications”?

 2. They‘re consistent.

Blindingly so. Which is quite odd when you consider that the world of Red Bull involves everything from BASE jumpers to F1 to classic aircraft to hip-hop music to visual artists. All of these activities need energy – for both the body and mind. Forget making sure that all the artwork looks like it came from the same place and instead remember what you’re actually about.

 3. They’re not screwed when the media budget runs out.

Red Bull buys media last. It’s been ages since I’ve seen one of their ads on TV and certainly more than a year since I’ve seen any outdoor advertising for them (and even that was used to promote one of their events). Red Bull does the complete reverse of what anyone else does and create demand before they advertise. Product sampling. Cooler fridges in bars. Events. Only when the market begins to mature – and the brand is welcome – do they do “advertising”.

 4. They’re cool

When was the last time anyone proudly ordered a Vodka and Mother at their local bar? Probably around the same time anyone who drank a Mother actually paid for it.

5. They involve us.

They don’t interrupt us, infact we seek them out. And I’m not talking about any of that “you make the ad and we’ll give you a cold $20K” malarkey either. All that that rubbish does is to put really crappy work infront of a large audience (at great cost) – making a brand seem really downmarket. Last year a very large chunk of Sydney went to Red Bull Flugtag. And loads of people went to the Red Bull Air Race in Perth. The other month I went to the No Comply exhibition at Red Bull Australia’s HQ. And what an HQ. It got me thinking about the last time that Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble or Cadbury-Schweppes hosted something at their office for the people who buy their product was…never.

 Is this all working? In a world where the bottom line is, well, the bottom line they’re charging loads (compare their price to an icy cold can of Coke next time you’re instore) and selling even more, something they can do because instead of focusing on selling a product, they sell an entire liiifstyle.


Q in the Red Bull F1 garage  - Australian Grand Prix '09

Q in the Red Bull F1 garage - Australian Grand Prix '09