November 11, 2002
The youth market in Asia is even more diverse as that of the West, as one would expect given the range of ethnic groups, exposure to media, level of economic development, and educational opportunities and focus. We have commented before, for example, on the difference between Chinese youth "heroes" which feature politicians (like Jiang Zemin), scientists (Einstein) and failed political theorists (Mao) to those of Hong Kong (Canto-pop singers) and South East Asia. All is useful information for the use of celebrity endorsements in advertising campaigns.
Central to the issue is the extent of Western acculturation.
Western culture in the form of MTV and Hollywood movies delivered through satellite TV has been a major influence on youth culture, though MTV features local pop stars and culture to a significant extent. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is a stalwart against the inroads of "western culture", seeing it publicly as a threat to "Asian values" but specifically to those of respect for elders and political authority. He even went so far to call Japanese "blondes" for their slavish pursuit of US culture. Part of the Malaysian and Singapore problem however is due to the lack of support for a local youth pop culture, leaving teens with no option other than Western models to express their individuality and youthful values. A thriving Bumi-Rock music genre, highlighting an original, indigenous and Malay based culture was throttled in its nascent years, leaving local Malaysian youth venues crowded with Western pop cover bands, including imports from the Philippines.
It is generally accepted that the Chinese for example, tend to look to Japan rather than the West for their foreign pop idols, while Thai youth is well served by a thriving local pop scene as well as a mixture of Japanese and Western "idols"
In countries where free-thinking is given some leeway however, Asian youth attitudes are maturing fast. And market segmentation and targeting is more important than ever
Such a case is Thailand, where a recent survey by the Thailand Marketing Research Society (TMRS) among 1,200 thirteen to eighteen year olds in major Thai cities in late July and early August, found that Thai teens were in fact - getting serious. According to the TMRS's Dr Rawewan Prakobpol, "Thai teens are not getting worse, like many believe. The study shows that Thai teens are well aware of what's good and bad."
According to the survey, the top five most serious issues to Thai teens were drugs, the economy, the environment, traffic problems and the loss of the "Thai identity".
The TMRS study categorized respondents into four categories. These were Liberals (28%), Individualists (27%), Follower/Mainstream (25%), and Image Seekers (20%).
Liberal teens welcomed differences in people, felt free to be open about sexual issues and were more adventurous. Individualists were not influenced by expensive goods, brands, Western values or advertising. The Follower/Mainstream group was made up of those who avoided taking leadership positions and sought acceptance by their friends. Image Seekers were influenced by peers, advertising and emphasized the value of people's family backgrounds.
Advertisers may well keep in mind that the (admittedly slender) majority of Thai teens, at least in this study, seem like they take a more skeptical attitude to advertising and brands than their elders - the ageing yuppies who took to Western culture and brands like ducks to water. It is also just a small warning, that re-branding products as "Western" just may not have the sway it used to. One may even go so far to say that the balance has shifted to the "individualists" being more likely to reject the mainstream knee-jerk affection for Western and international brands. Thai Identity Branding may well make a comeback.
In other results, it was found that Thai teens spent around 3 hours a day talking to friends and 1.7 hours on homework during the work day week. They spent 5 hours watching TV on the weekends. A further trend was towards earning money through part time and casual work. 27% worked part time, earning an average of Bt2,422 (approx USD$58, while 25% earned Bt1,025 (about USD$25) a month.
A quick summary of the TMRS's Thai teen personality groups follows:
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