While the economic crisis continues to drive new directions in how brands deal with future marketing and branding strategies, one of the often tried-and-true methods is to look at what matters most to today’s youth culture marketplace, particularly in North America. Based on our Global Youth Culture Studies covering North America, Europe, Japan, and China, the United States’ youth culture market of 13-25-year-olds is the most humanitarian and philanthropic of any generation to date. Top statistics in our Humanitarian Youth Culture Profile Report (Green Marketing) constantly point to the high percentages of young people who are greatly concerned about the environment, consider brands that donate a percentage to non-profits, and consider themselves part of what’s going to change the future for the better. For brands, this philanthropic aesthetic is an important component for attracting today’s generation, most especially during the Holidays and economic downturn.

However many brands embarking on a philanthropic branding strategy as part of their company’s new-school DNA rarely know what kind of “humanitarian” concerns are most important to young people and therefore, miss the mark of attracting cred and brand loyalty through a philanthropic strategy. And it does seem counter-intuitive to initiate a “green” or humanitarian initiative when the brands are simply struggling to stay afloat. Knowing that “flat is the new up” when it comes to “successful” stock market reports today, one thing to look at is the still-open market of reaching young people by tapping into their senses of good causes because this is still a part of their aesthetic even if no one is looking this way.

In our latest Humanitarian survey among 13-25-year-olds, we asked the question, “When it comes to Humanitarian problems, what concerns you the most?” One of the most distinct aspects of the results to point out is that by age groups, the results differed greatly -which also represents where certain targeted campaigns would be most effective. For example, while Poverty was high across the board, the older the demographic, the higher the percentages that said Poverty was one of their top concerns, peaking among 21-25-year-olds. War, on the other hand, was highest among the age demographic of 18-20-year-olds, whereas Teen Suicide, an often overlooked problem among today’s society, was higher the younger the demographic and comes out as a major concern among 15-17-year-olds and 13-14-year-olds.

Other aspects to note are that AIDS is highest among 18-20-year-olds, whereas Africa is highest among younger demographics. Clearly, this is a different sort of youth generation when 13-17-year-olds are greatly concerned about Africa meaning that they not only think about the problems in Africa, but are far more aware of the continent in general than any generation previous. This indicates a much more worldly youth market at a younger age and should be noted. As an added note, when it comes to Africa some of the additional qualitative comments about why this was a concern included comments such as, “if we help/improve Africa, then that indicates the whole world is getting better.”

Other things to note are that Education as a “humanitarian” concern is also high especially among older demographics who believe that it’s a local and a global problem -that costs of education, not getting the right education, or the disconnect between educational institutions and the real world, are a major concern for their future, not to mention the lack of education in developing countries.

Cancer, while a top humanitarian concern, is much lower among younger demographics and increases the older the demographic. A general trend that we have seen is that the younger the demographic, the higher environmental issues (and animal rights) are a concern which switches to one’s own health, AIDS, Cancer, etc., the older they get. This is because the youth market’s sense of immortality via disease or health issues are not yet a part of youth thinking among 13-17-year-olds.

A note on immortality, while health issues aren’t as big of a concern among younger demographics, teen suicide continues to be a big deal -and growing. This is one open area that a brand could utilize to initiate a rather fresh humanitarian business strategy that really connects with the marketplace. You see offshoots of this in terms fascination with death, passion, love, and misunderstanding in a somewhat ironically humorous and morbid sense with the rise of young adult books in the Demento Mori category such as Ghostgirl, and the successful book series such as “Twilight” and the corresponding movie–a teen dracula Romeo and Juliet version.

Overall, by understanding top humanitarian concerns, brands can figure out what makes the most sense in terms of creating a campaign that has the most meaning to the target market they are trying to reach, i.e. working with teen crisis centers among younger demographics or issues of poverty among older demographics. By targeting campaigns that mean something also results in brands doing the most good on a far more authentic level than simply working with an issue that they think is most important when in reality, for the marketplace they’re trying to relate to, isn’t.