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Alain Giguère

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Another look at Millennials – And Puccini’s La Bohème

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-12-19 at 4:53 p.m.

Not a week goes by without a colleague, a client, a friend or a publication coming up with a theory about Millennials and how they are changing the world! Many believe that Millennials represent a unique generation, an historic cultural phenomenon; that they have unprecedented and unique values. But I wonder if everyone has forgotten Woodstock! (Okay, I know my age is showing.)

In response to this avalanche of random hypotheses, I felt I needed to take stock of this generation. Every year, through our Panorama program, CROP measures a hundred or so values and hot buttons, which allows me to weigh in on the various opinions that everyone seems to have about this age group.

A question of age or generation?

Technically, Millennials are considered to be young people under the age of 35. We like round numbers in my field, but Millennials are, in fact, between 15 and 37 years of age because they are born between 1982 and 2004.

But to say that they represent a generation with radically different values from previous generations is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, because young people are first and foremost ... young people! Our studies have shown that much of their distinctiveness comes from the fact that they are in the prime of life, and in all recent eras, young people have radically distinguished themselves from their parents.

Hedonism and status seeking

The two types of motivations on which Millennials do radically differ from older people are their quest for pleasure, which takes precedence over any sense of duty, and their need to become "someone" in society, even if it means clashing with their parents, with older people and with institutions (whence my reference to the Woodstock music festival at the beginning of this post, which was a unique celebration of hedonism and counterculture for the youth of that era). The following tables illustrate this point of view regarding youth today...

At this age, hormones play a role and they also want to be recognized for their uniqueness. There is nothing new here, except that this generation is even less inclined than previous generations to sacrifice their quest for pleasure for their obligations, which is why they are less engaged at work - not to mention the fact that companies are far less loyal to their employees than in the past.

Consumption and its associated status

One area where Millennials stand out - in fact, all of society is different than before on this aspect - is consumption. For a majority of us, consumption has become one of the central values of our lives. But on this aspect, Millennials are pulling society and the marketplace forward. They live to shop. Their hedonism and quest for status are systematically invested in consumption: they want to be proud to display what they own in a social context and the innovations they want to be the first to adopt.

Technology and innovation

Where they radically differ from previous generations and older people is their comfort with new technologies and their willingness to use new technology to interact with the world, with others, with companies, brands and the media. However, it is less a question of values than of economic and technological context. Millennials were born and raised in a unique era of innovation, and the flexibility that they have at their age has allowed them to reap all its benefits. When it comes to innovation, again, they are pulling society and the marketplaces forward.

Ecological alarmism and social engagement

Where I think Millennials are overrated is their supposed commitment to social and ecological causes, something I certainly hear a lot about! Well, on this score, they are certainly not in the lead. They may demonstrate strong ecological alarmism, believing that the planet really is truly doomed. But, despite that, they aren't particularly committed to helping improve the lot of society or the environment.

It is as if these issues are beyond them. They believe that they can only make a marginal difference and prefer to see companies and institutions intervene.

Our consumption segmentation revisited

Shortly before Christmas, I published a blog about the tool we use to segment Canadian consumers, which, when crossed with age, sheds a lot of light on the values of Millennials.

Clearly, we find Millennials overrepresented among enthusiastic consumer segments with various motivations that we find among youth, while Idealists, the most committed to advocating and acting for social and ecological causes, are clearly under-represented among the young and overrepresented among older people.

Millennials at a glance

So, here is my modest contribution to the debates on the uniqueness of Millennials (based on empirical and statistical observations), summarized in a few points:

1. A quest for pleasure, escape, strong emotions, and a very marked and age-appropriate desire for autonomy;

2. A need to make their mark in society, to become "someone," to be proud (also age-appropriate);

3. A zealous desire to consume and take advantage of the latest innovations (appropriate for the times);

4. A defiant and rebellious attitude to institutions and older generations (age-appropriate);

5. A catastrophic, apocalyptic vision of current ecological issues and a feeling of helplessness (again, appropriate to the times);

6. A feeling of helplessness resulting in weak social engagement.

We also measure other characteristics that define this group of young people, but I have focused here on the most salient points. It should also be noted that, quite surprisingly, this portrait of young people does not vary much across the country, even in the usually distinct Province of Quebec.

Finally, my goal is not to criticize this group of young people but to highlight their dominant features, so that those who want to target them have a better idea whom they are dealing with.

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini

What could be a more perfect musical metaphor for youth than Puccini's La Bohème? All the key elements of this stage of life are beautifully expressed in this opera: love, passion, recklessness, distrust, camaraderie, etc.

The selected excerpt is the first love scene between the two main characters. This is the moment when the heroine presents herself to her suitor in one of the most beautiful arias in the entire operatic repertoire, sung here by one of the greatest sopranos of our time, Anna Netrebko, the Maria Callas of our era, in my opinion.

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème – Netrebko, Beczala, Gatti, Wiener Philharmoniker, Deutsche Grammophon, Salzburg, 2012.