Consumer Insights: VH1′s ‘Meet the Adultsters’

David Giles by David Giles, Strategic Insights and Research, VH1 & CMT

Scene from Episode 11 of VH1's "Single Ladies" (Photo: Quantrell Colbert)

With a consistent median age in the upper-20s, VH1 has long super-served the young adult demo.  For the past 20 years this target has been a Gen X audience, but now a new generation has moved in, and the network’s focus has shifted to a group they have coined the “Adultsters.”

These first-wave Millennials, aged 25-34, have moved into adulthood at a time of unprecedented change and are embracing these challenges while re-writing the rules along the way.  VH1 sought to understand their attitudes, behaviors, values, motivations, relationships and gain insight into their everyday lives.

The findings:

A number of cultural factors have made Adultsters who they are today. Their formative years were like a “guided tour,” with a much calmer life than they have today – one with clear footsteps and benchmarks to follow. They were fundamentally shaped by:

  • The times they were raised: Adultsters grew up B.I. (Before Internet) in a relatively tech-free environment (they are digital immigrants when compared to the digital natives of their younger Millennial counterparts), and in the Boom times of the roaring 90s, when unemployment was low and the economy was stable.
  • How they were raised: This group was hyper-nurtured by their Boomer parents who raised them in a structured environment but also taught them they could “be anything they want to be.”  They were raised to be super-social through structured socialization like the “playdate.”
  • A perfect storm: At a crucial point when they were coming of age and entering the real world, their journey was jolted by a “perfect storm” of two huge forces that shifted the world and impacted Adultsters’ lives:
    • World events, representing the downside: Events like 9/11 and the Recession brought a great sense of fear, uncertainty and a loss of control.
    • The technological revolution, representing the upside: Technology brought with it great freedom and a sense of power and control to fuel the ability to connect, co-create and champion change.
  • Uncharted expedition: This perfect storm turned their guided tour into an “uncharted expedition” where the world is very different than what they expected it to be, full of new challenges and a sense that there aren’t as many clear next steps or benchmarks.

To not only survive, but thrive in this uncharted expedition, Adultsters use their “Me.P.S.” guide as a type of “positioning system.”

  • Me: They use “Me,” their core selves, as their key anchor and guiding force. They’re confident, self-reliant and place importance on taking care of themselves physically, emotionally and financially.
  • P: They use their Passion and quest for happiness as a key driver.
  • S: They use their Social networks and connections to help navigate their way and enjoy the ride.

Adultsters use their unique Me.P.S. guide in three key areas of life: career, love and parenting.

Keeping Up with the Zuckerbergs: In a world where rules and expectations are less set and traditional than ever, they follow their own goals, look to carve their own career path and strive to overachieve.

  • Think Outside the Cubicle: Hardwired from early age to be super driven to succeed, Adultsters have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Whether working for themselves or within a large company, they seek to uphold their own personal career paths – not one that’s set for them.
  • Passion, Not Just Paycheck: They infuse a quest for passion and fun into their professional lives, choosing to do something that makes them happy – even if that’s at the expense of making a lot of money.
  • Aspire Higher: They’re constantly focused on the future and their purpose in life.  They work hard in an effort to leave a legacy of some sorts and look up to role models who did things “their own way” like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

The Waiting Game: In their overarching quest for happiness, Adultsters are more apt to wait longer and more patiently for the perfect relationship – both in the search for a partner, and in the decision to get married.

  • Settling Up: They always strive for the best and don’t stop until they find it – even when choosing a partner. They eventually “settle down” in the traditional sense, but won’t do it with anyone who’s less than perfect.
  • Hitting Snooze on My Biological Clock: Adultsters – especially women – see advancements in technology (including dating websites, fertility treatments, etc.) as a tool to enable “waiting” for the right person.
  • Analysis Paralysis: They feel the downside and tension of having so many options and the freedom of choice: how do you know when you’ve found the best option?
  • The Whole Is Great, and So Are Its Parts: Adultsters don’t lose themselves in their relationships. It’s not always “we” – they still maintain a strong sense of “me” and even support each other in their individual passions and quests.

iNurture: Parenting and family are anchored in who Adultsters are. They’re very family-oriented, but they work to maintain a strong sense of self by making “me time” and integrating their own passions into parenting.

  • Self Preservation Parenting: They seek to preserve their own identity beyond being a parent and recognize that they need to nurture themselves to be a better parent.
  • Hybrid Parenting: They mix their old-school values of how they were raised as kids (discipline, structure, goals) with new-school values (focus on fulfillment, infuse fun in all they do, love and live life).
  • It Takes a Friendlist: They leverage their social dynamics and community orientation when it comes to parenting (e.g., crowd sourcing tips through sites like Facebook and Wikipedia).

Implications:

  • The Millennial generation spans a wide age range, and marketers would be remiss in grouping them together and failing to distinguish their messaging.
  • If marketers understand that not all Millennials are created equal, they can customize messaging to more effectively reach target audiences.
  • Crowd-sourced purchasing decisions: They are both influenced by and influential to their core social media circle. Crowd-sourced information shapes both major and minor purchasing decisions.

The Methodology:

This study is based on a four-phase approach that included: interviews with experts on this generation (professors, psychologists, social workers, etc.); full-day immersive qualitative research with 24 Adultsters in suburban Philadelphia and Denver to dive deep into their lives; a nationally representative online survey that included younger Millennials, Xers and Boomers; and a weeklong Facebook dialogue with 20 Adultsters to pressure test survey results and further explore key themes and findings.

David Giles is Senior Vice President of Strategic Insights and Research for VH1 and CMT.

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