Going tribal

Spencer Willis, head of qualitative research at Colmar Brunton

The phrase ‘Gen Y tribes’ may prompt mental images of hordes of disorderly youths roaming the streets, but that’s exactly the type of stereotype that Colmar Brunton’s head of qualitative research Spencer Willis wants to dispel.

Willis oversees the company’s youth research division and has a long-held determination to help demystify youth. His Gen Y Tribes research does that by segmenting this country’s 15-30 year-olds into clearly defined groups, each with its own distinct set of characteristics. 

“Gen Y is a critical market to reach. It is a generation that will rival the size of the boomers – and their heaviest decades of consumption are ahead of them.”

The research covers everything from aspirations and goals to money, free time, media, relationships, shopping habits and consumption preferences. The results may surprise many, given the negative generalisations often applied to this group.

More than anything the research provides a wealth of new information and insights for marketers, which Willis says is hugely significant, given what Gen Y represents as a market segment.

“Gen Y is a critical market to reach. It is a generation that will rival the size of the boomers – and their heaviest decades of consumption are ahead of them.”

That view is backed up by some simple facts about Gen Y (15-30 year-olds). At the moment 16 percent of Kiwis are classified as Gen Y and are over 18 years of age. Within five years 18+ Gen Y consumers will make up almost a quarter (24 percent) of the overall New Zealand market.

“We are talking about the consumers of the future. In fact they are already growing up, starting families, building lives and buying big ticket items as well as everyday goods and services.”

The research has delved into what drives each of the Gen Y tribes, creating a detailed portrait of each.

The results see Kiwis segmented into six Gen Y tribes:

  • Ladder climbers – going for gold
  • Idealists – I’m true to myself
  • Solitary savers – staying out of the limelight
  • Family focused – home and hearth
  • Spontaneous spenders – live for the now
  • Money = status – what’s in it for me?

The diversity of this country’s youth and the broad range and depth of insights the research provides become obvious, from just a sample of the in-depth portraits that characterise members of the tribes.


Tayla and Liam are best described as being ‘good kids’. At 18 they’ve always known what they want and approach life in a considered way, being conscious of the importance of eating healthy food and working hard, planning for and saving up for what they want. These guys are great team players with lots of interests, they’re the ones that lead the youth group, captain the team, and are the class or team representative at work. 

Tayla and Liam are not concerned about how others see them. They’re not into instant gratification, are extremely self-reliant and not easily led. They buy brands that have authenticity and see through the cool-for-now type products, they have the potential to be very loyal to brands and organisations that stay authentic. 

Gen Y and media

Snippets from the media habits of Kiwi youth revealed in Colmar Brunton’s Gen Y Tribes research.

  • Ladder climbers and money = status tribes can’t live without Facebook; spontaneous spenders use it regularly while idealists and solitary savers are getting sick of it.
  • Outdoor advertising works for ladder climbers but is wasted on solitary savers who never notice it.
  • Only the family-focused say they listen to the radio daily.
  • Spontaneous spenders buy magazines, often to keep up with celebrity gossip. Money = status tribe members are more likely to get their gossip online while idealists avoid it altogether.
  • Ladder climbers and idealists are influenced by word of mouth and talk to people in person.
  • Spontaneous spenders are the biggest TV audience. Solitary savers also watch regularly, while ladder climbers and the family focused do other things while watching.
  • Idealists and solitary savers occasionally access the internet on their smartphones but ladder climbers are at it constantly. 

Continue Reading

Spontaneous spenders

At 18, Aroha considers work as a means to get spending money for the here and now. She lives from pay-day to pay-day and hasn’t really given too much thought to the future or what she wants to do with her life. Aroha seeks out experiences that make her feel better. She tends to gravitate to quick fixes such as fast food restaurants and drinking sessions with friends. 

Aroha’s media choices tend to the popular, fast and easy. She always buys the weeklies to keep up with her favourite celebrities as these are a great source of inspiration and she wishes she could be more like them. She spends a fair bit of time chilling out in front of TV and online, which offers a fast and easy way to get information and advice regardless of source. Social media and blogs are her favourites.

“These two examples barely scratch the surface of what the research reveals not only about what young Kiwis buy and consume, and where they get their information but also what motivates them,” Willis says.

“People are inclined to stereotype youth and my mission is to smash that apart. We need to stop fearing youth and start understanding them.”

Willis hopes this research is a big step in that direction and will influence society’s view of youth, as well as provide marketers with unprecedented insights into Gen Y consumers.

Want to know more? Contact Spencer Willis – [email protected] or 09 919 9238 to understand more about Gen Y consumers.

About Author

Comments are closed.