The years between 16 and 24 are those that shape our values when it comes to music, clothing and attitudes towards the world. Anders Parment, Associate Professor at SBS, studies individuals born in the 1990s, a group that will soon start their working careers, make money and become influential as consumers.

Anders argues that the 90s generation was brought up in a very different world from the generations before them. They have used technology from early childhood and the Internet and social media has become an extended part of their lives. A range of ideals and values have been communicated to them through popular culture and commercials.

“Earlier generations met a less commercialised world without as much to choose from, whether you talked about TV-shows, clothing or schools. The 90s generation on the other hand is used to choosing between a huge number of alternatives”, Anders says and points to the low-cost manufacturing that has brought a surplus of products and services to the market, in a whole range of price and quality levels.

The 90s generation as consumers

Anders argues that the vast supply of products and services is the major factor that explains why members of this generation act differently as consumers.

“They can be picky because they know that they do not have to adapt to companies, employers or universities- which instead must adapt to them because of the vast competition on the free market”, Anders says.

In comparison, the older generations are not used to being in the driver’s seat.

“When someone older goes to the bank to ask for a loan, they dress up to make a good impression. A young individual would instead think: what can this bank do for me? This attitude comes from how they grew up and came of age.”


According to Anders, the 90s generation also act differently when it comes to choosing products or services:

“Younger people ask friends, do research on the Internet and are influenced by marketing and social symbolism. Their elders, on the other hand, rely more on rational arguments and less on image and emotion. They also value in-store experience and advice and are generally frustrated by too many options.”


A variety of subcultures

For the 90s generation, consumption is integrated with lifestyle and personal image building. Image can be expressed through what you eat, what restaurants you visit and what clothes you wear.

“For previous generations, having enough money meant you bought expensive meat, which was high status. Nowadays, there are many other options,” says Anders and gives a few examples: cooking your own food, knowing where the ingredients are produced, the environmental impact and so on.

For the 90s generation building an identity is central. Their consumption shows who they are as individuals, and in a world with many opportunities, a larger variety of subcultures has emerged. Anders uses the example of today’s hipsters and the mods of the 70s.

“The mods belonged to a group where all members used the same attribute. Today, the features of a group are much more subtle. There is a difference if you are a hipster from Södermalm in Stockholm or one living in Hammarbyhöjden a few kilometres away. If you want to belong, you have to know the characteristics of the different groups.”


Marketing to catch the young

Marketers are traditionally used to people consuming in certain patterns that could be easily identified. We lived our lives in similar ways and less choices were available.

“Today, purchasing patterns are difficult to map and follow. It´s hard to see how the young consumers will behave in the market place,” Anders says.

He explains that the market is more fragmented today, and so are preferences and values. You can no longer rely on the old categories of segmentation by age, gender and socio-economic profile  ̵  where for example young women can be seen as a homogenous group or a high income couple is expected to live in a wealthy area and buy things that suit their status. People with high incomes do not necessarily buy expensive cars anymore and they can choose to fly with Ryanair, because luxury in a conventional sense might not be important for them. They spend money on other things instead. Welfare and luxury have become individualised concepts. Identity creation and a desired way of living determines their consumption.


To meet this challenge, Anders believes that marketers have to let go of control and be innovative. His advice is to aim at becoming market drivers instead of market-driven.

“Look at Apple. Before the iPad, consumers could not articulate any need for that kind of product. So Apple invented something that they believed the customers would like.”

His research shows that companies also need to see how their young consumers think about experiences and brands and become part of the consumption culture. They have to get closer to their clients, like some successful examples.

“Take the international success of H&M, which quickly began to open stores in city centres where only expensive brands were normally located. The company offered affordable clothes in the city and got access to important categories of consumers, even those that would not normally buy cheap clothing, which in turn gave the brand a position within popular culture and fashion magazines. To continue attracting young consumers, they don’t only offer a spring and an autumn collection; they display new clothes every week. This fast fashion concept creates a constant flow of buyers and has succeeded in attracting the young generation.”