19 March 2021

Brands must tap into young adults’ insatiable need to experience life again

Nick Ford-Young

Throughout the last year, Covid-19 and the persistent lockdowns have violated the life expectations of many young adults.

Young adulthood is often billed as the period of life during which ‘exploration’ or ‘experimentation’ is most viable given the limited responsibilities associated with that age.

It’s essentially portrayed as our time to ‘figure it all out.’

These idealisations are consistently promoted across media and everyday conversations – so much so that they are embedded in our collective thinking.

I’m conscious that these romanticisms are neither accurate nor representative – many young adults of course have responsibilities from a very young age, and the idea that you need to both have all the fun you can and get your life ‘together’ by your mid-thirties is concerning to say the least. That said, hear me out on this one…

I feel like I’m missing out.

The damage has been done! It seems I have been indoctrinated and as much as I try to rationalise that it’s only been a year and I have so much time left, I feel an immense pressure to ‘get on with my life.’

I’m not alone in feeling this way – studies on the impact of the UK’s lockdown showed that the mental health of young adults was significantly poorer than that of older respondents, with a very high percentage reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The notions of young adulthood may not be fully representative, but they are ubiquitous, and for most people I know between the ages of 17-30, there is truth to the claim that lockdown has interrupted their life plans and fuelled a desire to re-evaluate their priorities in life, ‘get out there’ and ‘make up for lost time.’

This gap between expectations and reality creates a huge opportunity for brands to get creative.

Why? Because of the things that young people need the most…

1. Social interaction

Much has been said of the loneliness crisis that the pandemic has caused for young people. When I have spoken to my friends over the last year, not one person has talked about objects they want to buy – they are too busy pining over a trip to the pub, going on a date, having tea with their grandma, or a summer afternoon in the park with friends.

So, I hope Walkers are thinking about the exact sound of a packet of crisps opening, carefully split down the seam and laid out for the whole table, as four friendly hands simultaneously reach in. It’s a moment worth bottling.

Similarly, Clarks could really take advantage of the experience of students getting their school shoes fitted, because for the first time it doesn’t come with the dread of lessons and homework, it comes with the feeling of summer walks home via the shop with friends or clattering that shoe into a football at lunchtime. 

Or perhaps there’s a first-date moment just waiting to be elevated: sitting apprehensively in a restaurant, your gaze fixed on the door, anticipating that nerve-racking, first moment of eye contact with the person you met online over lockdown. Specsavers, Wrigleys Extra – do your thing.

2. An end to relentless uncertainty

The anxiety the pandemic has caused from upending the plans of young people is severe. For many, their classes, grading systems, apprenticeships, university experiences, internships, and the beginnings of their careers have been derailed.

Brands would do well to consider the feelings of getting back into the stable swing of life.

For example, after months of sloppy work-from-home outfits, think of slipping on a new suit, and for that split second catching yourself in the mirror looking surprisingly put-together – calming the nerves before heading into the office to meet your team for the first time. That moment, and the boost of self-esteem that comes with it, is what brands from Charles Tyrwhitt to Coconut Resident would do well to capture.

3. To experience life again

Lockdown has stripped away so many of the activities that people rely on as a release in life.

The elated feeling of dancing deep into the night to a new, unknown song that you can’t get out of your head for weeks, only to later realise one of your friends managed to Shazam it on the night. Shazam’s moment of rejuvenated, pure, social magic.

Awkwardly trying to muffle the crackling sound of a Maltesers packet whilst watching the most intense and emotional monologue of a play? The thespians can glare all they like – this is a guilty pleasure worth seeing through for both me and my Maltesers.

It is these intimate, and previously somewhat trivial moments, that are ripe for the taking.

It’s not just my personal lockdown despair that has brought me to this conclusion.

Well before the word ‘unprecedented’ made me feel nauseous, young adults and millennials were already demonstrating their preference for spending money on experiences rather than objects.  

The throwback posts that have inundated Instagram feeds during the pandemic have demonstrated this – constant examples of people yearning for the fun experiences they had prior to Covid-19. And as we get our freedom back, it will be time to double down.

Lastly, this longing may well signal a time to think about experiential marketing again.

Challenger brands should begin to consider planning real world activity, sooner rather than later as an opportunity to break through the mould. Younger audiences will react well to authentic, sensory experiences that offer immersion into a brand’s story and purpose.

The reality is, there is a genuine pressure for people to make the most of their late teens and their 20s. This pressure, alongside the loneliness, boredom, and uncertainty that everyone has felt over the last year, has created a significant, positive opportunity for brands to help young people experience what they have been missing out on.