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Sweet tooth: updating confectionery comms for the new youth

The confectionery category has always had strong links to childhood, and often employs themes of playfulness and frivolity.

However today’s teens and young adults may not respond to this as readily as previous generations. They have grown up facing a very particular combination of challenges. Their formative years have been marred by the worst economic crisis in history and they now face diminished life prospects as a result. The cost of education has rocketed. And growing up constantly connected means that they have unprecedented visibility of major issues the world over. They therefore demonstrate great maturity, sensitivity and awareness.

This was made clear by the findings of Youth State, our brand new research initiative, exploring youth culture in the UK. In the first report in the series, it became apparent how nuanced and complex the 16-24 year old audience really is. This may create a marketing dilemma for confectionery brands targeting this age group.

Reaching the inner child

Firstly they straddle the boundary between childhood and adulthood, embracing elements of both. As one focus group respondent commented: “Even though we have our times when we act like adults, we still have our childish times as well”.

Contrary to what might therefore be expected of young people, they present surprisingly mature and caring values: most important to them is happiness, with love, equality, honesty and freedom all featuring in the top ten. They also show concern for the future and a sensible outlook on life; 72% rank education as one of the top 3 things that will help shape the life they desire in the future.

Yet despite this they still consider themselves to be fun loving and sociable. Many respondents claimed friends would describe them as ‘fun’ and ‘funny’.

So many of the key themes of confectionery messaging will still apply. However, based on the above, they may require a re-calibration for this generation. Especially as they feel so ill represented: respondents rated the accuracy of their portrayal as a mere 4.4 out of 10.

Themes to consider

To avoid contributing to this low score, exhibit a less slapstick, more nuanced approach to the light-hearted side of life that reflects the complexity of these young people. Fun and humour could take a nostalgic turn, tapping into the open embrace this age group have of their recent childhood. It could also represent an escape from the less positive elements of their day-to-day reality.

The report also found that 35% consider “not afraid to be themselves” the characteristic they most admire in others and 71% said they want to be judged first and foremost by their personality. So an alternative approach could be to reflect this emphasis on personality and individuality and give humour a quirky offbeat feel.

We also know that personal relationships are hugely important to this cohort. They are deeply social, and in a touching twist, appear to hold their family in particularly high regard: 71% of the respondents said their relationships have a positive impact on their lives and when asked who they most admire ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ were among the most common responses.

Confectionery has always had a place in social situations, themes of sharing and bringing people together are familiar in comms for everything from biscuits to chocolate boxes. To engage this generation though, consider positioning products as a means of showing appreciation for those everyday heroes they admire so much.

Assumptions about this age group must be addressed, and tweaks accordingly made to our approach to engaging them. Many of the messages that have always been employed by confectionery brands are still relevant, but the precise approach to these messages needs updating for a complex audience.

Further knowledge

These observations directly impact brand youth communications – in content marketing and beyond! For more insights into the diversity of 16 to 24 year olds, particularly getting beyond the myths surrounding millennials and understanding the distinct identity of the subsequent Gen Z, check out of the full Youth State report.