During a recent Sunday Times Gen Next digitized event, in collaboration with Yellowwood and Shell, hosted by Refilwe Maluleke, Managing Director of Yellowwood, we explored how to grab the attention of the youth in the era of hyper-connectivity.

Agathe Guerrier, Global Co-Chief Strategy Officer from TBWA Worldwide, kicked off by mentioning that in her opinion the most impressive youth campaign this year is Dettol’s hand wash challenge that was done via Tik Tok. “It was a simple idea that incorporated dance. They were smart about it, they were quick and effective about it and they launched it at the right time. This campaign was about being in the moment rather than having a large degree of polish.”

Maluleke asked what keeps the big brands on their toes when appealing to the youth. Pondo Belot, Senior Manager: Go to Market Operations, MTN answered by saying that their “brand ethos is about affording everyone the benefits and tools of a modern, connected lifestyle. Knowing that this is a big ask in our country and current situation, we try develop meaningful, affordable and accessible offers for the youth and make those innovations available as soon as possible.”

Chatting to Tanith Madurai, the youngest member on the panel, she mentioned that “As far as big brands go, one of the brands that have stood out this year is Nike, purely because they represent diversity really well and all their campaigns are consistent in their messaging.”

Maluleke asked the question “what does hyper connectivity really mean?”

Guerrier summed it up perfectly by saying, “Listening to the radio I heard a story about fake news and that it’s thought to have been created and insinuated from the internet but actually goes back way further. The thing with hyper connectedness, it’s thought that it’s a product of “new technologies”, but the reality is that connectedness and hyper connectedness is a human feature. ‘I think hyper connectedness is part of what makes human beings, human.’ She carried on saying, “What’s accelerated through tech is how universal fluidity is. There’s never really any point in time where you are not connected and that’s powered by tech. There are a lot of young people today that consume more hours of media than there are hours in the day and that’s because they are consuming several streams at once, and are literally in different places and points in time at the same time.”

Madurai went into the social movements seen lately all over social media; she said “My generation is made up largely of disruptors, we relate to brands that are socially conscious. Brands that identify with social or digital divides and act on those inequalities makes the biggest difference. Those brands make the youth feel like the world that they are inheriting has taken their voices into account.”

Belot added that “Relaying an authentic message is one thing, but actually doing something to make the difference is another. MTN has launched initiatives that address the digital divide and are providing access to information and are making it affordable with low data prices that will enable the youth in education and information, during and after lockdown.”

Guerrier went on to say that “The youth are also full of contractions. ‘They can’t wear the same outfit over again but want to know where products are ethically sourced from.’ It’s a delicate balance of appealing to both the selfish youth markets but also to the selfless youth markets that are looking for meaning in a deeper way.”

With technology fatigue rising, Madurai mentioned that she experienced the connectedness without human connection but it has made her quite tired of looking at a screen.

This has made brands ask where else they should be focusing their marketing efforts when communicating with the youth.

Guerrier advised that, “Most brands go to digital platforms to reach younger audiences. Media consumptions are fragmented across channels. It’s more about the quality of the communication than the quantity as well as the locations of the communication you want. To avoid consumption and marketing fatigue, brands need to speak less often but more meaningfully.”

Belot agreed that the evolution of communication is happening in all corporates. “The conversation has shifted and the communication blueprint has been forced to expand. Brands need to be agile and flexible and willing to collaborate with partners that may present multi access paths to reach the youth.”

In saying that there have been a few unintended benefits of hyper connectivity Guerrier added, “There’s been a realisation that the bigger challenges humanity face are global challenges, like the pandemic or climate change. Younger generations are more aware of this as they see themselves as global citizens whereas older generations identify more as being part of a local community.”

Maluleke then posed the question around bigger, more uncomfortable issues and how this makes the youth feel when brands address these.

Madurai explained that “My generation prefers a level of authenticity. Brands can’t say one thing and do another just to create a relationship with the youth. If brands are going to be socially aware, they need to be authentic about that.”

Belot pointed out that though most brands are good corporate citizens, their intentions can be lost in the way they communicate. “It’s one of the trickiest things brands attempt, but when brands find that sweet spot and commit to that journey with the youth, they make the biggest impact.”

“The youth want it all, they want brands to be socially aware and make an impact but they also want the functional product that meets their expectations and also want to be entertained on top of it. The most successful brands are the ones that can tick all three of those boxes on that roadmap.” added Guerrier

As the conversation drew to a close, the panel discussed the lack of humanity social media presents.

Belot spoke about her lockdown experience by mentioning that “What we as MTN experienced during lockdown especially has confirmed that during a time of crisis people wanted a human connection, whether it was coming into one of our stores or phoning our call centers for answers. People want support from each other and want to interact with people and not always through a screen.”

Guerrier concluded that “A big part of humanity is vulnerability. It’s something creative industries struggle with at the moment. There’s this perception that brands should only tell positive stories and stand for positive things. Truth is that there is no solution without addressing a problem. Lastly, she added that “brands need to be bold and brave when putting out their messages. Brands can learn from their mistakes and can reap the reward for being brave. Technology needs to be used to target messaging and respect privacy. It’s down to the business to regulate themselves and find the balance what’s right for them.”

The annual Sunday Times Gen Next Awards in partnership with HDI Youth Consultancy will be taking place on the 21st August at 10h30 online where we will be announcing South Africa’s coolest brands as voted for by the youth! To watch the awards online, be sure to register at

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