There has been a steady, ever increasing affinity towards the darker side of life which is becoming predominantly popular among the youth. Black almost appears to be a compulsory statement attire for both genders of urban youth…

Rcently, in a sunny winter morning at Delhi I saw an impressive bunch of youth clad in all black discussing about Birdbox, a Netflix original and debating over the fear of unknown. With my two
decades of research on youth socio-psychology, youth brands and marketing strategies, I have noticed a steady, ever increasing affinity towards the darker side of life which is becoming predominantly popular among the youth. Black almost appears to be a compulsory statement attire for both genders of urban youth. In a colorful country like India, black is stereotypically considered as a color of protest, superstitiously non-auspicious and a symbol of darkness. Ever wondered how this color is silently surging in popularity among youth (which is an absolute opposite to “all white” dress code of most of the politicians in India)!

In fact, is it not that the youth is supposed to be a phase of life when human-beings are meant to be colorful, agile, fashionable and flamboyant rather than wearing Dark?

If the data to be believed, around 65 percent youth between the age group of 22-25 in India show early signs of depression, claimed a study by ICICI Lombard (2017). According to WHO, India has the highest rate of depression with 36 percent of our population and majority of them are below 25 years. However, an IPSOS study (2018) has found India’s youth remain among the world’s most optimistic about current and future prospects. Let’s discuss this paradox at the later part of this article.

In a country where the word youth itself is diluted and brands are desperately trying to associate every product with younger generation, it is absolutely necessary to understand the very definition of this versatile cohort of population. The UN defines youth as those in the age-group of 15-24 years. The UNICEF defines youth in the age bracket of 15-30 years. India’s National Youth Policy (NYP, 2003) considered all individuals in the age-group of 13-35 years as youth population. Though, the same policy in the year 2014, further reduced the age bracket of youth in India to 15-29 years which comprise 27.5 percent of the population. NYP stated that about 34 percent of India’s Gross National Income (GNI) is contributed by the youth, aged 15-29 years. As per the Guardian (2018) about 600 million people (more than half India’s population), are under 25 years old; no country has more young people than India. By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 and it is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64 percent of its population falling under the working age bracket. India is likely to have the world’s largest workforce by 2027, with a billion people aged between 15 and 64 (Bloomberg News). So, when the world is ageing, India is becoming younger!

In India, we have three age based dominant consumer cohorts:

THE MILLENNIALS: This is the most talked about cohort of youth. According to Pew Research, someone born between 1981 and 1996 (aged 22 to 37 in 2018) are called millennials. The country’s more than 400 million millennials account for a third of India’s population and 46 percent of its workforce. They may be young, but they’re already the chief wage earners in most households, with millennial income contributing to 70 percent of total household income. 190 million of 280 million households in the country have a millennial family member. Millennials are also much better educated than the rest. India will have 410 million millennials, who will spend $330 billion annually, by 2020. That’s more than the total population of the US, and more than the total number of millennials (400 million) that China has today (Morgan Stanley report, 2017).

THE POST MILLENNIALS OR GEN Z: Those born after 1996, i.e. those aged 21 years or below, are here referred to as the post- millennials or Gen Z of India. Population projections from the UN Population Division suggest that the Gen Z population already exceeds millennial population in India. According to a recent Bloomberg analysis, India’s Gen-Z population will rise to 472 million next year, double that of Chinas. Gen Z is much focused than millennials. The YouGov-Mint Millennial online survey claims that though relatively older group of youth are more likely to use internet for work-related stuff and online shopping the youngest lot (generation Z) is more likely to use internet for education. Globally, on average, Gen Z uses their smartphones 15.4 hours per week—more than any other type of device. As digital natives, the Gen Z have a lot in common with millennials in terms of being tech-savvy and expecting a strong digital presence from consumer brands, but interestingly, they also show a great degree of variety in their preferences, research shows. For instance, a study by Accenture shows that Gen Z also have a liking for traditional methods of interacting with businesses, engaging with both offline and online channels. Globally, Gen Z is expected to account for $29 billion to $143 billion in direct spending by 2020. However, Both millennials and Gen Z seem to care less about brand loyalty compared to older generations, putting more value on the experience and product, and will quickly switch brands if they aren’t satisfied. However, compared to millennials, Gen Z may have a lower tolerance for sub-par digital shopping experience. “Gen Zs low threshold for mistakes and system issues will make millennials look like patient saints,” says an EY report. Both millennials and post millennials look for instant gratification rather than long term relationship with a brand.

GEN X OR THE SHADOWED GENERATION: With the buzz on millennial and post millennial cohorts of youth, those in the age group of above 40s got shadowed by fashion marketers. As per the latest census data, 41 to 50 year olds, who fall in the Gen X category is the fastest growing population segment in India. While they contribute just 28 percent of the population, they contribute up to 42 percent of the population growth. A recent report by Nielsen says that the Gen X group is already a formidable force which marketers across sectors can no longer afford to ignore. According to the report, contrary to popular belief that the Gen X
group is slow towards adoption of digital platforms and technology, this generation is actually fast catching up with the millennials. The Gen X group is actually spending as much time as the millennials on various financial apps such as mobile wallets, mobile banking and Internet banking. This cohort has money and much higher spending capacity than other generations. The fashion brands cannot afford to overlook this group.

However, as UNESCO defined, Youth is a more fluid category than a fixed age-group.

Youth Mindset Segmentation- Bharatiyas, Indians and Inglodians:
In the year 2009, I broadly divided the younger population of India into 3 socio-psychological mindsets and coined them as: Bharatiyas, Indians and Inglodians. This division is further cited in multiple books and articles by other scholars. These mindset-categories are cohesively prevalent across the age-group of youth and are vital for understanding the Gen Next consumer behaviour of this subcontinent.


With the buzz on millennial and post millennial cohorts of youth, those in the age group of above 40s got shadowed by fashion marketers.

The Bharatiyas estimating 67 percent of the young population live in the semi-urban and rural (R1, R2 to R4 SEC) areas with least exposure (ie. influence of globalisation, social media etc.), opportunities and higher traditional values. They are rooted to tradition, culture and customs. Bharatiyas are least economically privileged, most family- oriented, Bollywood-influenced generation. The Indians constitute 31.5 percent (A, B, C, D & E SEC) and have moderate global influence. They are well aware of the global trends but rooted to the Indian family values, customs and ethos. MGI India Consumer Demand research states that the urban middle class (majorly the Indians) will experience unprecedented growth, expanding to 87 million households by 2025. This alone will be larger than the projected population of the United States in 2025. The Inglodians are minimal in number, have higher exposure and opportunity, adopt a trend faster and are the influencers for the trends introduced in the social eco system. They are globally inclined and affluent enough to afford the contemporary fashion. Inglodians always need not have grownup as a creamy layer but ‘reached’ the creamy layer through various professional achievements. The Inglodians are basically the affluent (A1, A SEC) and marginal (1.5 percent or roughly three million) in number though they are strongly growing (70 percent growth rate). Inglodians consume most of the trendy and luxury items. They are internet savvy and the believers of global-village (a place where there is no difference between east and west, developing and developed countries etc.), highly influenced by western music, food, fashion & culture yet Indian at heart.

Desire, Relationships, Parents & Self-Love
An HT Youth Survey 2017 noted that today’s youth are self-centred and will do almost anything as long as it benefits them. To top it all, impatience seems to have been woven into their DNA. “I will beg, borrow or steal to buy something I really want,” the Hindustan Times- MaRs Youth Survey recorded as many as 81.5 percent respondents as saying. While 68.3 percent youngsters confessed to doing things their parents would not approve of, as many as 66 percent confessed to lying to their folks. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents polled by the survey said they would do anything to win the approval of their friends.

The survey also highlighted the widening generation gap between youngsters and older folk. As many as 75 percent of the respondents said they wouldnt care what their parents thought as long as they did what they believed was right. In fact, a majority of the youth from Indian cities, say they will not let anything get between them and the object of their desire. Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi, along with the German political foundation Konrad- Adenauer-Stiftung, conducted an exhaustive youth survey and noted that 65 percent youth still live with parents.

Another survey by InShorts (2018) published in News18 found out that 80 per cent of the millennials believe that the Indian society still considers live-in relationships a huge taboo while 47 percent find marriage better than living-in with their partner. Over 80 percent of Indian youth support the concept of live-in and among these 26 percent would choose lifelong live-in relationship as a way of life if they can. A whopping 86 percent feel that lust is not the only factor that drives live- in relationships and 45 percent believe that live-in relations are to test the compatibility of a couple before they dive in to marriage.

In fact, self-love is new ideology among youth across India. According to a study by matrimonial website, 3 out of 4 youngsters up to the age of 24, followed by 65.9 percent individuals aged between 25 and 28 years are happy to buy a present for themselves on Valentine’s Day. However, 90 percent of the individuals surveyed looked forward to surprises on the day, the survey said.

Instagram, Tinder & Netflix: The Generation Awe
The youth are constantly engaged with rapidly changing visual stimulators. Though youth in India are present in multiple social media platforms (85 percent of Instagram users also use Facebook; 71 percent of Instagram users also use Facebook) there is no doubt that Instagram is the most popular social media now among the youth. Livemint (2018) mentioned that the preference for Instagram among the younger generation might reflect an increasing urge for self-promotion.


Scrolling or surfing has become part of their visual consumption pattern, be it scrolling to look at fascinating visuals in Instagram, scrolling to find the partners/ one night stand in Tinder or scrolling to binge upon the trending seasons in Netflix. The visuals are becoming more unrealistic and surreal, mystic and gore, to bring in shock values and awe-factors to engage the youth as the attention span of youth are becoming shorter due to large number of content and activities available at their disposal. The average attention span of a millennial is a whopping 12 seconds (Forbes, 2017). Awe is absolutely necessary to engage them. This can be through shocking videos, viral photos, protagonist statements, memes, offering memorable experiences or exhibiting social concern. The Indian streaming market grew 116 percent in 2017 in terms of the number of subscribers, says Tim Westcott, global data provider IHS-Markits research director of channels and programming. India accounted for about a percent of the 23.78 million members Netflix added worldwide in 2017 (IHS-Markit) and this year Netflix is targeting 100 million subscribers from India alone. Digital activism and hashtagging have become the norm of day to appear unique with protagonistic tendencies. The youth in India thrives to become unique but ends up becoming a “global” stereotype, right from the way they stands, makes faces or communicates while posting online. Interacting devices are becoming smaller (TV screen to wristwatch screen). It Is also to be noted that conventional social media (ie. Facebook) is passé and niche social media/ interaction channels are becoming more popular (Snapchat, Vine etc.).

The Youth Zeitgeists – Adulting, binging, FLO, Ghosting, YOLO & FOMO:
The zeitgeist or “spirit of time” for youth is dynamic and ever changing. Some of the trending lifestyle patterns are mentioned below:

ADULTING: Urban dictionary defines “Adulting” as the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks. Behaving like an “adult” is indeed a challenge for the youth, specially the millennials who grew in a pampered and over protective environment by their parents. To youth, Being adult means respecting and practicing the stereotyped social systems and norms such as “going to office on time”, wearing “formal wear” etc. The ad of Tinder encourages youth not to behave like an adult with the tagline “adulating can wait”.

BINGING: Binge is to indulge in an activity, especially eating to excess, a form of continuous indulgence which has a tendency to become an addiction. The term is now extended into activities like watching internet soaps continuously or hopping as many pubs as possible in one night.

YOLO: this is an abbreviation of “you only live once”. This is used, especially on social media, to mean that one should do things that are enjoyable or exciting, even if they are silly or slightly dangerous. Hence, this word evokes the feeling of experiential living.

FOMO: anxiousness on “missing the train” of excitement is a major cause of depression among the youth in India, thanks to continuous exposure of breaking news, happening events and chance of a lifetime. FOMO is anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.

GHOSTING: Relationship is a crucial issue for the youth. Ghosting is breaking off a relationship by ceasing all communication and contact with the former partner without any apparent warning or justification, as well as ignoring the former partners attempts to reach out or communicate. Though this term originated in 2011 but is has become a popular practice recently.

FLO: This word means a highly intelligent, amazing and beautiful girl who is loved by all, hated by none. It also means the progressive girl who always hooks it up because she got it like that.

Mobile Dependency & Stereotyped Perception:
Though youth in India appears to be highly engaged with smart phones, the YouGov survey (2018) shows that 79 percent of respondents aged 60-65 need their smartphone the most. By comparison the results indicate youth are less reliant with 63 percent of those aged between 20 and 25 agreeing they couldn’t live without their phone device. The study highlights, for the vast majority of older generations, the connection smartphone devices offer is of major appeal with very few seeing them as a distraction. While larger proportions of the younger generation, particularly 15-20 year olds (27 percent), do see their smartphone as a distraction. The survey further reveals that reading was the most popular leisure activity, with 58 percent of millennials and Gen Zers saying that they indulged in it regularly. This was closely followed by time spent online, 55 percent.

Buying Behaviour:
HT Youth Survey 2017 exhibited that about 61.4 percent of the respondents trust brands for better quality, a belief that leads 29.3 percent to say they won’t mind splurging on a good label. The style quotient lures 27.6 percent of them to buy expensive products. 99 percent respondents say they dont use top-of-the-line labels to show off. For a miniscule
0.9 percent, they buy products they feel aspirational. The trend is consistent among men and women. Multi-brand stores are preferred by 40.6 percent to shop for shoes and by 52.7 percent to buy denims. One-stop shops with a wide variety of brands and styles are important. At a time when online shopping is the buzzword, the HT-MaRS survey shows 54.9 percent prefer retail stores. Importantly,57.2 percent of these respondents are women. A young female respondent mentioned that “Touch and feel are very important when I shop, so I prefer retail stores to online shopping. If the pricing advantage is taken away from online shopping I will always choose a brick-and-mortar store,”

Another study (Rajput & Khanna, 2014) mentioned that the young consumers are aware of most of the national and International brands and the young men are equally frequent in purchase and spending money as their female counterpart. Online shopping is steadily growing. Morgan Stanley in a recent report predicted that millennials may have the ability to buy Rs 16 lakh crore worth of goods and services online by 2020. Millennials will likely form 61 percent of India’s internet base and 78 percent of its online shopper base.

Engagement Model For Youth Marketing:
This youth engagement model is designed by me with empathy as the core. My work experiences of over 2 decades with various
international and domestic brands (ie. Nike, Nokia, Nippon, Mango, Zara, Skull Candy, BBC, BCL, Groupe Adeo, Coke, Facebook, Blackberry etc.), teaching in NIFT (and other institutions), working with Gen Next designers, design thinkers and mentoring the startups helped me shape this model of engagement. Must state that the experience of social work for underprivileged youth, through my charity organisation (InkLink Trust) also contributed a lot to shape it up. If one wants to implement this model, they must remember to consider youth as part of self. I always mention “dont see them as a client, be one of them!”
The model is phased with 4 simple steps:
1.Observe their activities, relationship pattern, happiness quant, breaking point and understand the spirit of time.
2.Listen to them empathetically, allow them to express fearlessly and appreciate their views
3.Have a continuous positive conversation with them to understand their perceptions, barriers and distresses to become one of them
4.Collaborate and engage them through various meaningful (short term) rewarding activities for themselves, society, brand and environment.
Indian youth is indeed an optimistic cohort. Over 75 percent of Indian adults and 78 percent of Indian youth think their generation will have more positive impact on the world than their parents (IPSOS study, 2018). According to my doctoral research findings, the most preferred color of clothing among urban youth in India is black (28 percent). Akcay (2012), in his study of the influence of colour, ethnicity and gender of teenagers at USA observed that Black (followed by Blue) is the predominant product colour choice among all female and male teenagers of different ethnicities. In my study, the youth associated black with feelings such as Calm, Comfortable, Energetic, Exciting, Happy, Loved, Hopeful and Powerful. Black is also a protagonistic color (“cool” color to show “attitude”) as it is portrayed with negative connotations in the conventional social norms.

Recently, in a study on Netflix I found, for youth the black and darker themes are considered as a route of escapism from today’s mundane over-chaotic world. Hence, as we understand a deeper meaning of black, a better observation and empathetic approach to understand youth psychology through their preferences in fashion will help fashion brands to engage youth in a much immersive and meaningful manner

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