Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Generational

My granddaughter Stella can’t talk yet (although I’m convinced she can understand every word I say) but she got me to thinking about the huge information gap there is between generations. As impossible as it seems, I can now talk to young people who look blank if I mention The Beatles. They’ve heard the name but only in the same way I knew about someone like Bing Crosby when I was their age. A little nugget of information but no connection, and of course it’s connections and emotions that make meanings and memories. This gap can deeply affect how we do business – and I’m not just talking about ageism and everyone in advertising being under 35.

The experience of Kate Roberts (above left, no relation, but a member of the Saatchi & Saatchi family from the 1990s when she worked for our Russian and Romanian agencies) has some useful insight into this generation gap. One of Kate's many exploits was being kidnapped in Moscow, but today her life is a little more sedate. She is the driving force of the AIDS organization YouthAIDS and works to increase understanding and awareness of AIDS and its continuing impact. This is making the world a better place in a big way.

Kate Roberts once made a point that made me sit up. She was talking about how difficult it is to keep the AIDS message fresh with brand new audiences year after year. As she notes, young people today didn’t see “the shocking images of Freddie Mercury or Rock Hudson dying, or those really scary in-your-face, aggressive public service announcements”. Her job? To make AIDS personal and relevant again, and to make that message sustainable. How does she do it? She goes beyond repetition and connects with emotion. Each kid needs to hear messages of both hope and warning that older folk have heard time and time again. Kate’s been at it since 1999 when she experienced first hand the terrible cost of AIDS in South Africa. Funeral after funeral. Families destroyed. These were the stories that inspired her to take action.

Let’s hope there are other teenage Kates out there prepared to take on the challenge, connect across generations and help create a better world for all of us to live in.