Change is the essence of the advertising industry but sometimes we tend to forget to focus on the more important changes particularly when it comes to the consumer, writes Miriam Hughes, CEO of the DDFH&B Group who introduces some insightful research into three distinct consumer cohorts.

Of late, most of the discourse on the level of change in our industry has been frustratingly focused on technology, innovation therein and how all of that should reshape how we imagine connections with our audiences and provide new and different solutions for our clients.

You mention innovation or change in the marketing world and the natural default conversations seem to veer towards emerging social platforms and the infinite possibilities presented by the underlying technology to deliver hyper-tailored messaging. We get excited by the power of data, primacy of content, the role of mobile, attribution modeling and by seeking ever more engaging online interactions with our consumers.

But it’s worth remembering that whilst how we communicate has changed and changed utterly, the more interesting question as to why we need to communicate, and the credible role brands can play, is all too frequently ignored.

Technology is important as a communication tool, it can define a lot of the how we communicate but too little of the industry time is spent talking about the ‘what’ we need to communicate and the ‘why’ and indeed the ‘why not’!

We believe more debate time should be given over to changing the belief system of the consumer – their changing perspectives – as ultimately this should be at the heart of everything we all do

It’s the consumer and consumer engagement that drives the bulk of our effort in this industry- the constant challenge and the creativity involved in finding new ways of relating to our audiences and of positioning brands in ways that resonate with peoples’ ever changing realities.

We at DDFH&B are endlessly curious about consumers and continually seeking to understand what they think, feel and believe. We believe understanding people is the starting point for creating work that really results in great consumer responses, great work that engages and persuades and work that great clients want to make.

But if we want a deep understanding of the beliefs, views of consumers and the culture we work in, we need to engage and invest in that understanding – what shapes people, society and our deep rooted consumer beliefs. For Irish consumers, the family unit and our friends are the most fundamental and formative unit of all our social structures.

At DD’s we have a history of bespoke research projects that we undertake to get under the skin of certain groups or mind-sets in Irish society. We believe it is significant that our latest project is a quantitative and qualitative deep dive into the modern Irish family. It’s a study of how we view family structures, marriage, gender roles, sexuality and spirituality.

As Irish people we are experiencing these key pillars of society in new ways and as we do we shift to new ways of viewing and understanding the world around us, including communications!

In exploring the reality of modern Irish family structures and belief systems, we were expecting to document and reflect upon a rapidly changing culture. What we were not expecting was the sheer velocity of that change.

From our survey of 1000 Irish adults we identified key trends in changing attitudes and institutions and then delved into the key topic areas further with 10 qualitative groups, inside and outside Dublin, across different age brackets and different attitudinal groups.

We thought it worthwhile to share some rich insights, key changes and statistics that our planners found from three key consumer groups: the Millennials, the Inbetweeners and the Seniors.

The Millennials

They are the most coveted demographic amongst brand owners yet they can be a tricky bunch to nail down, writes Amy Mitchell, head of strategic planning at DDFH&B.

The older generation gnashing its teeth in exasperation at what’s coming up behind them is a theme as old as time. But, Millennials probably have more in common with other Millennials around the world than they do with the older generations in this country and it creates a sort of inter generational conflict.

So, who are they? Millennials are known as generation Y or the Trophy generation, because of their many participation trophies! They are the demographic cohort that follows Generation X and were born between the years of 1980 up to 2000. They have a reputation for being self absorbed and lazy, they priorities themselves over others and it would appear that they are driven by a clear-cut self- interest. In other words, they are not very “Irish”.

On reading about them, my initial response was that they should be exiled to Skellig as part of a great big reality TV show, but then I thought I should get over my prejudice and try to understand how they came to be and who they really are.

In analyzing the data on Millennials in Ireland there are marked differences from older generations. But, they are a generation still in the process of becoming and their high expectations have not yet been tempered by life experience.

I think it is important to separate the distinctive Millennial traits we are observing from the traits of the young. When you hear Millennials described as self- obsessed, overly optimistic me-feiners, you have to think, was there not a little bit of that in all of us at a similar life stage?

The negative press they get is basically because they are displaying the traits of the young but it is the responsibility of the generations to understand each other and we have a duty as marketers to get beneath the headlines and the stereotypes and understand the unique set of circumstances, which has shaped their distinctive attitudes.

So, what factors have influenced the development of those distinctive Millennial traits? Are Millennials a product of more liberated parents who built their self-esteem and told them they were special or a rapidly changing environment or both?

Millennials are the product of an evolving technological environment.

They have grown up in a time where revolutionary technology has changed how we live, work and connect.

This new technology exposes Millennials to more peer- to -peer interaction than any previous generation and this shapes their point of view. Constant interaction through a screen means there is lower face to face feedback and it can make it difficult for Millennials to pick up on non verbal communications. They love their phone but hate talking on it.

Advances in technology have also opened borders, increased opportunities, but also intensified competition and as a result Millennials are a truly global generation and they understand their relationship with the rest of the world and they are not afraid of it, they embrace it. They don’t just want to travel they need to travel and explore.

Uncertainty: They have also grown up in a world characterized by great uncertainty, the institutions that safely caged previous generations, providing boundaries and rules, were all but dissolved for this generation.

Add to this the serious recession they grew up with and the job market they encountered and you can understand why they are cautious and more financially responsible. For Millennials in Ireland, financial independence is the number one priority for both men and women.

Work: Millennials want a freer and more fluid life. They want to travel and change their job or their direction. Gone is the idea of a career for life, it’s just not desirable. Millennials are willing to work hard but are more committed to working smart. They are not lazy. They are the most inclined to agree with the statement that work is linked to their sense of who they are and this is higher for female Millennials (80%).

The belief that women should priorities children over careers is lowest amongst female Millennials at 35% vs 42% of Xers. Nor do they agree that women should stay home to raise the kids at just 18% vs 30% for Xers. There is an assumption nowadays that both parents will need to work and they are in favour of shared parenting responsibilities.

“I left a fulltime job when I was 25 to go travelling and my family was like, ‘you’ve got a job for life, what are you doing?’ and I was like “I don’t want a job for life”

Marriage: Millennials are more open minded than their older counterparts when it comes to relationships including homosexuality, gay marriage, gay couples having children and co-habiting out of wedlock. Some 75% of Millennials agree that marriage is an important institution but they are in no rush to settle down. They have more time to enjoy life on their own, without family or dependents and they like it that way.

Millennial men and women do differ in their attitude to marriage with men more inclined to find marriage to be antiquated (50%) vs 30% of female Millennials. Millennial men also prefer the idea of long term commitment and see no real difference between a long term committed relationship and marriage, in fact 80% of Millennial men would prefer it. Millennial men also find the prospect of marriage to be more stifling and confining and marriage prevents them from living the life they want to live (50%). I think we need to remember that Millennials are still very young, the average age for marriage in Ireland has increased again and some of this attitude to getting married themselves could be attributed to their life stage and not their Millennialness.

“People think that everyone needs somebody, everyone likes to see people boxed off whereas lots of people want to be alone for a while, doing the things they’re doing”-

“We’re about ten years behind where our parents were in life… they’d all have been married and had about 2 kids by the time they were 25/26”

Family: Millennials are more likely to have grown up in a non-traditional/ single parent family and yet the traditional family is still aspirational. The nature of the relationship Millennials have with their parents is more friendships than traditional parent-child relationships. This means Millennials are more inclined to turn to their parents for support over their friends, especially for the bigger stuff like life- changing news, promotions, significant purchases or big problems. The sentiment around the evolving family structure is most positive amongst Millennials with 80% of males and 70% of females excited or positive about it.

Support for same sex families is driven by the Millennial generation at 60%. Millennials most inclined to believe the following are socially acceptable: sex before marriage, co-habiting, gay marriage and gay couples having children. They are the most inclined to want to see non-traditional families in advertising but handle with care.

Religion: Religion continues to lose relevance with this generation. While many of them identify with a particular religion almost 70% of millennial men and 52% of millennial women agree they do not practice their religion. What does it mean? Is it that they have lost something important, even at the level of tradition or community or are they demonstrating real moral backbone in questioning their traditional religion and making up their mind about whether to continue to accept organized religion in their lives today?

Millennials have been dealt a tough hand, but it has forced them to re-consider what success looks like for them and re-frame what is important to them. They have been reared in changing times and change has been a constant in their lives and yet they are not afraid of it and they don’t resist it, they look for its opportunity and they take that and turn it into something.

They are extremely flexible and adaptable. The increasing penetration of technology and the information revolution has empowered them to become more independent and self- directed. They are publishing themselves everyday, responding to and taking on anyone and everyone, sharing their opinions, starting movements, taking down corporations and changing the world we live in along the way. Look at what they have already achieved- they invented Facebook and Twitter. Even our own Collison brothers, who come from Limerick, have created a €5 billion tech firm in Stripe and this generation are only starting.

This is an exciting generation that will challenge our more traditional views and behaviours and take us forward. They will lead the older generations into the future, making sense of it for us, not the other way around. They are optimistic, and smart, they are free and open- minded and they turned out in record numbers to vote in the recent referendum. They were a big part of the majority looking after the minority and, as such, they seem like a very modern expression of our traditional Irish values.

The Inbetweeners

Better off and more enlightened than their parents, the Inbetweeners have witnessed plenty of change in society in recent years, writes Tara Finnegan, strategic planner.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” (Sydney J. Harris)

Inbetweeners is the term we are using to describe today’s parents – the generation rearing the Millennials and Generation Z’ers. This is the generation which is very much straddling the divide between tradition and more modern views and feeling the strain of this dual pull. As we have already highlighted, the rate at which Irish society is changing is ever escalating. They are rearing their kids in a more open and free society, where the Church has significantly lessened its grip and technology has opened up new possibilities. However what hasn’t changed is the importance of family. Our Inbetweeners, like previous generations, are driven to do the best for their loved ones. However in a society where belief systems and life paths have become more fluid, there can be anxiety in this new freedom.

“We’re a lot more open minded….in the back of our minds still holding on to a little bit of what was instilled in us.”

Money: Our Inbetweeners don’t feel as financially stable as their parents. Despite the recession, we have a more hedonistic bent as a generation. In addition, our career paths and earning potential is less set in stone and open to fluctuations.

“I think the difference is, from what I’ve heard, whereas we still would have gone out and had a few drinks and enjoyed ourselves, back in the 80s there was none of that, bills had to be paid.”

Society: The Inbetweeners recognize that for the older generations, it’s harder to adjust to changes in society. However, popular culture now reflects much more diversity of religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and family structures so in direct contrast they see their children have grown up with diversity as their normality and are accepting of social structures in constant and rapid flux.

The referendum highlighted their position in the middle of these different mind-sets.

“We’re kind of the last generation, the up and coming generation are well used to dealing with this kind of thing…what my kid’s think of family might be different.”

In discussing the referendum they were driven to ‘think like parents’ – if their children were gay what kind of laws would they want in place. Many had grown up aware of gay people who had not felt accepted by society and had not come out and so were voting yes for the freedom for their kids’ generation to live differently.

Parenting: There is a feeling that they are better than the previous generation at communicating openly with their children, including tackling more awkward subject matters. However, as their role with their children becomes closer and more like a friendship, their children are more willing to challenge their authority.

In addition to more open communication with their children, they are actively sharing their experiences as parents with their peers. In the past people kept their concerns or failings to themselves but now sharing allows them an outlet to offload.

As a culture we have a huge focus now on child psychology and parenting styles. There is a wealth of sometimes conflicting information available on how to be the best parent you can be. Sharing with peers is a way of sharing knowledge but also angst as parents analyze their parenting choices. Also we found that with working parents, especially the mums, there were feelings of guilt of not being a full-time parent that amplified this culture of parental self-flagellation. The earlier generation were seen to have a simpler and naturalistic attitude to their role as parents, with less navel –gazing and anxiety.

Children: The Inbetweeners had a clear nostalgia for the simplicity of their own childhoods. Modern life seems to offer a paradox of freedom. Traditional institutions have lost their stronghold, but conversely this has eroded the bonds of community and the safety that community offers. Knowledge is more readily available but this has led to a more fearful society where potential dangers are more present.

“I drive my kids everywhere….where I would have walked.”

Technology has enabled endless communication and new social communities, but with this comes added tension for their children as peer pressure becomes ever present.

“I don’t let Erin take her phone up to bed and I don’t know if I’m being mean doing that? If you don’t text back, you’re not involved and I’m trying to say that to her all the time, when you text something it’s there, you don’t know how many people have seen this now.”

Coping: For our Inbetweeners life if very much a balancing act. Family is at the heart of what they do. They appreciate now what their parents went through as they worry over their own performance as a parent. The modern world is a more complex place for their family with much more information and dialogue. But with this comes more choices and more things they need to protect their family from. They are the generation who have witnessed dramatic changes – from a culture where people were afraid to admit they were gay to one where they suggested that any discussion of a possible No vote would be attacked as being anti-gay. They are the generation who have witnessed the Church shift from being unquestioned to defamed and have seen gender roles become redefined.

Change has been rapid in Ireland – as an example the marriage bar in the public service was only lifted in 1973 and same sex sexual activity was only de-criminalized in 1993. The Millennials only know this changing fluid society, but the Inbetweeners have conflicted attitudes – embracing the positives of change but nostalgic for the simpler family life of old.

The Seniors

Surprisingly open-minded, the Seniors have seen it all and with the benefit of experience, they have a unique take on Irish life, writes Claire Clifford, strategic planning director.

One would be forgiven for assuming that the OAPs of Ireland are staunchly traditional in their views. After all, they are the last generation for whom the Church and the State have had the most influence and the most power and they’d be forgiven for clinging to the ‘good ol’ days’ in the midst of whip lash inducing social change. Yet, when speaking with this audience we were immediately struck at just how surprisingly open minded a group they were generally when it came to certain aspects of Irish family and Irish life. And, in particular, just how progressively minded the women in this age cohort were compared to their male counterparts – a gender difference also borne out in our quantitative research.

With a unique perspective on Irish life that spans five generations – their grandparents, parents, themselves, their children, and grandchildren – this audience have plenty to say about how things, in their opinions, have changed in Ireland for the better or indeed for the worse. With regards the latter, they are most consistently nostalgic about the freedoms they believed they had as younger children and adults; ones they lament are no longer available to the youngest members of Irish society.

“We were never in the house, we were out from morning till night….no mobile phones….we only came home when we were hungry.”

Money: Although their own kids and grandkids have far more in material terms, they feel that they have far less in many other ways – “I’m so glad I was born when I was born….we had nothing but we had a great childhood”.

Technology: Many blame this loss of carefree liberty on a corresponding rise in technology and have a love/hate relationship with it as a result. They reluctantly agree that this is the way of the new world and acknowledge that it is important for younger people nowadays to have the necessary skills to advance or risk getting “left behind” in the new digital hub that is modern Ireland.

And although a “more educated” youth is deemed a huge positive comparatively, they are scornful of some of the fall out of this advancement – young people less equipped for human communication, less real social interactions and more social isolation as a result.

Life, as viewed by them, has certainly improved in many ways too. People have more rights, greater longevity, there is more education, money does not limit options and opportunities the way it used, there is more transparency and less ‘turning a blind eye’, and a greater degree of division of labour within the home.

Family: Perhaps the most significant social change they have observed is that there are “less mammies at home” nowadays and they appear to feel genuinely conflicted about this. On one hand it is really positive – it marks greater choice and empowerment for women, particularly when compared to the women of their generation. But on the other, they believe that kids nowadays have less discipline in the home and a greater sense of entitlement because parents have the money to compensate them for their absence with the ‘things’ they want.

These observations around more working mothers generally come without judgement and as a group they are quite progressive. They see nothing wrong with parents wanting more for their children than they had themselves – they would have done similarly for their kids. And, if anything, there is an overwhelming empathy with the parents of today that because of financial pressures they are stuck with the choices they have made.

Many women in the groups viewed the fact that they were ‘able’ to stay at home with their kids as a privilege, albeit retrospectively. As a group they were pro equality for fathers as well as mothers.

“I think the man should be equally entitled to parental leave the same as a woman.”

And though it absolutely acceptable for women to live independently or to be the main breadwinners in their household they believe that their driving ambition is not competition between themselves, it’s to generate enough for their ambitions for their children.

That being said, when it comes to what is and is not acceptable today, a disparity between the sexes begins to emerge. Although men and women aged 60+ seem united in their views on issues that impact children finding it less socially acceptable than other age groups, by some margin, to have a relationship with someone who already has children, having children outside of wedlock, gay couples having children and having children with more than one partner – the men in our research were a little more traditional about….well, nearly everything else.

They had a more idealized vision of the fairer of the sex and were less supportive of women in the workforce.

“You get some women who know everything about their entitlements….and get as much from the system as they can.”

They were also more inclined than any other age group and their female counterparts to agree that if one parent needs to stay at home with the children it should be the mother. They were also far less inclined to see any merits to divorce.

“We worked at our marriages….there’s too much of an easy out nowadays.”

‘Traditional’ men were the least likely to agree that marriage is an antiquated institution and most likely to agree that marriage should be celebrated.

Given that all of the respondents we spoke with, male and female, had been brought up in traditional households – a mum, a dad and lots of siblings – and it wasn’t until their own kids had families that they were exposed to more non-traditional familial elements – for example, daughters who are single parents, grandchildren that are gay – and given that they were all roughly in and around the same age, we wondered why it is that the women in both our qualitative and our quantitative research seem markedly less traditional than their male counterparts?

Perhaps it’s because women by their nature are more empathetic and certainly in our groups it was the mums/grandmothers who seemed to feel a greater degree of sympathy for the stresses and strains of modern living as experienced by their kids and grandkids? Or maybe it’s because they are more likely to be the unpaid childminders, looking after their grandchildren, and thus are on the front line of modern life to a greater extent than their male equivalents? Certainly when it came to the topical issue of same sex marriage, women in these groups tend to be more pro change.

“I think if you’re in love with somebody, no matter what sex they are you should be able to marry them if you want to.”

This compares to a typical male viewpoint:

“The definition of marriage since time….is the unity of a man and a woman and that’s my understanding of it and I have no problem about gay people and lesbians or whatever as long as they keep it to themselves.”

These women want to agitate for change on their behalf because many of them believe that in generations to come it could be their great grandchildren. Although we don’t know how many of them actually took action and voted ‘yes’, they did seem more likely to do so than their male counterparts.

No doubt all of these factors have contributed. It seems though, that the best explanation for this difference in mindset and outlook is not just down to a greater exposure to and empathy with modern life, but that Irish women aged 60+ have been the most clipped members of Irish society.   The State regulated their bodies; it was illegal for them to take the contraceptive pill. And the State regulated whether they could work or not; before 1973 the marriage ban precluded them from gainful employment post wedding. They did not have the same options or freedoms – either socially, morally or legally – as their male counterparts who, for the most part, were the power holders in what was a very patriarchal society. Albeit men do cite historic struggles of their own – having to work all the hours, trying to provide for their families, feeling redundant when they retired – it is clear from our research that life in Ireland for women of a certain age could, at times, be very difficult. Not surprising then that women aged 60+ are the least convinced ‘that things were better back in the day when men went to work and women took care of the kids at home’ (traditional men are the most likely to agree) and far more likely to believe that ‘their lives will be different to their parents’.

Not only are women in this age group seemingly less traditional than the men, but, interestingly, they seem to have more in common with Millennials when it comes to some opinions on sex, marriage and gender equality. And so it’s not surprising that those women aged 60+ are relatively excited about the evolving family structure and society in Ireland. In some respects they seem as pro social change as those far younger than themselves, albeit still a little hesitant about whether or not Ireland is ready for these differences to be reflected back at us (e.g. more overt references to gay couples in ads).

SOURCEFirst published in Irish Marketing Journal (August 2015)© to order back issues please call 016611660
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