Nature X Culture = SELFHOOD

ZAK explores why the term ‘Millennial’ is meaningless and why they’ve decided to launch SELFHOOD. This is a new study that enables marketers to understand the fixed traits of the youth brain within the context of a changing culture, allowing them to get a true picture of what it means to be an under 30 in the world today.

Marketing has battled with the different ways to understand youth culture. The current way is to understand young people through a generational lens. This asserts that we are living through a unique era with a distinct set of formative drivers, all of which create a new youth generation (Millennials) unlike any preceding youth generation.

However, Millennial is a meaningless term for today’s youth. Our study found that 69% of under 30s do not think that the word Millennial represents them fairly; over a third of under 30s in the UK don’t even know what a Millennial is; only 1.6% cited ‘being a Millennial’ as the definition of being young; and only 8% believe the media and advertising represents a true reflection of young people today.

▪ SELF = the intrinsic human truths of what it is to be young

▪ HOOD = the extrinsic surroundings, the changing cultural landscape which shapes the self.

Nature X Culture = the age of SELFHOOD.

As Lisa Feldman Barrett writes in ‘How Emotions Are Made, The Secret Life of the Brain’, “At the same time your brain is modelling your world, the outside world helps to wire your brain. Culture is not some gauzy, amorphous vapour that surrounds you. It helped wire your brain, and you behave in certain ways that wire the brains of the next generation.”

We believe it is at the intersection of neuroscience and culture that we can understand SELFHOOD.


Annie Auerbach and Adam Chmielowski, Cultural Insight Specialists, Starling Strategy

Dr Ashok Jansari, Lecturer in Cognitive Neuropsychology, Goldsmiths University, London

Katie White, MD, i-D magazine

Dr Anthony Fung, Professor & Director of the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University, Hong Kong

Emmy Favilla, Global Copy Chief, BuzzFeed

Key take outs:

The youth brain is different to the adult brain – The intrinsic human truths of being young don’t change. If we understand the neuropsychology of youth and the characteristics that typify young lives, we can understand how young people naturally make decisions.  Dr Ashok Jansari explained that the adult brain is characterised by a fully developed pre-frontal cortex, whereas up to our mid 20s, it is still developing.

The cultural context affects the way youth make decisions – This represents the fluid nature of youth traits, and how these are affected by the environmental and cultural factors within which current under 30s are engaged. This includes technology development, political status quo, dominant ideology and media.

Youth milestones change – The goals and milestones we are driven by in our youth are transient. Our study shows that the milestones that govern the under 30s in 2017 are different from their parents’ or grandparents’ generation, and also from those that will happen later in life. Our survey identified a new set of coming of age moments for todays under 30s. This affects how under 30s interpret the world and ultimately shapes how they want brands to talk to them.

There are three key traits that define the immature youth brain Risk, belonging and novelty. All three traits of youth endure as the building blocks of personality. But they also shift under the weight and influence of new cultural pressures. When these two forces clash, the result is a new, modern hallmark of what it means to be young today.

Immerse yourself in their world – Get it right with the under 30s now, and brands can have an audience that are both engaged and committed. Without deeper understanding of the brains of under 30s brains and the effects of culture on their behavior, marketers will continue to make broad assumptions under a cover-all term like millennial. You will inevitably turn the youth off your brand, possibly forever.