Youth, I do adore thee

The race to capture the millennial vote reached the height of farcicality this week when the Conservatives launched an online competition for ‘Love Island’ water-bottles, branded with the phrase “Don’t let Corbyn mug you off”. The water-bottles could be won in exchange for personal information, seemingly as part of the Conservative party’s ongoing efforts to target the all-powerful youth vote. The stunt was deemed a resounding flop, and Momentum, the pro-Labour campaign group, responded with the playground taunt: “Dear Tories, no matter how hard you graft, young people won’t want to couple up with you. All the best, younger voters.”

Traditionally, older generations have disapproved of the novel practices of their youthful counterparts, with the notable American lawyer Adlai E. Stevenson warning his contemporaries in 1952 that “nothing so dates a man as to decry the younger generation”. Times could not have changed more. A defining feature of today is not so much disapproval of the younger generation, but rather a race to keep up with them. Generation Y most notably revealed itself as a force to be reckoned with in the May 2017 election. Labour seats skyrocketed, to the detriment of the Conservative majority, largely on Corbyn’s harnessing of the youth vote; only 22% of 20-24 year olds voted Tory, whereas 62% voted Labour. Political success was thus revealed to be partly founded on a party’s ability to learn the lingo.

Millennials are transforming the way that we communicate. Attention spans are at an all-time low, with recent research finding that the average attention-span of a human is 8 seconds, inferior to that of a goldfish. The youth culture of compulsive social-media scrolling has been primarily blamed for this. Such practice puts enormous pressure on businesses and political parties alike to create eye-catching content to isolate the attention of the consumer or voter, being brief enough to communicate all relevant information before the young scroller’s attention is exhausted. This is clearly having an effect on the quality of our political landscape. Consider the Brexit Leave campaign bus that claimed that £350 million per week could be transplanted from the EU to the NHS, or the election of the prolific twitter-user Donald Trump, whose quotable, and often outrageous, account is followed by 53.4 million people.

The communication habits of Generation Y are thus filtering outwards, creating a world where brevity, shock and celebrity hold more sway than fact. Looking forward, one asks if the hitherto responsible corporations, desperate to influence young people, will follow this path or hold themselves to a higher standard. Amidst an increasingly dark world of pessimism and negativity, the positive power of humour in engagement should not be forgotten. It is up to professional advisors to signal the consequences of short-sighted banality, and guide corporations towards the correct balance between accuracy and accessibility in their media.

02 August 2018

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