The foundation of 'The Founders'

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Red Peak Youth explains why the next generation named itself

Red Peak Youth worked with MTV to help the post-Millennial generation, born after December 2000, name itself. After creative workshops, brainstorming exercises and a nationwide survey with over 1,000 13- to 14-year-olds, the name "The Founders" emerged.

Naming a generation is no easy task, and, as responses to MTV’s announcement dubbing the post-Millennials The Founders indicate, doing so can be controversial. Some took MTV execs to task, calling them "arrogant" for trying to capture the essence of a demographic group not yet their target; others thought that trying to classify a generation with a single term is absurd. Like it or not, what distinguishes our approach from other generation-naming attempts is the fact that — as the The New Yorker noted with approval — MTV "took the decision out of adults' hands and went straight to the young people themselves."

It may seem counterintuitive to put the onus on 13- and 14-year-olds. But when MTV approached us with the idea of giving this generation the opportunity to name itself, we agreed that they’re well positioned to do so.

Although the generation is still in its nascent stages (literally?its members are still being born), post-Millennials are growing up in a world that is markedly different from that of their predecessors. Workshops and a nationwide survey confirmed existing research about the emerging attitudes, behaviors and characteristics. And they indicate a generation that has the creativity and self-perception to name itself.

So what characterizes The Founders?

They are incredibly aware of the world. With the vast amount of technology that this generation has at its fingertips, they are hyper aware of the world that surrounds them. Social media plays a big role in expanding their world: according to a Pew study, 51% of younger teens have made a new friend online. They are also more grounded in reality, growing up in a post-9/11 world where terrorism is considered a real threat, and in the wake of the Great Recession: nearly 1 in 4 American children is growing up in poverty, according to Pew. These events and trends influence their perspectives, and exposure is heightened through social media. They’re aware of the problems their generation faces, and with this expansive worldview, they are better equipped to understand how they differ from their older compatriots.

They are innovative and creative. Today, children grow up with entrepreneurs as their idols; innovation is a constant theme in their lives. And with YouTube and a little creativity, anyone can become a star. In fact, a survey commissioned by Variety found that the five most influential figures for teenagers today are all YouTubers. Public (or quasi-public) self-expression is part of everyday life: this is a generation whose careful maintenance of social media profiles has been compared to operating a brand. Their creativity shone through in our workshops, as participants came up with over 500 potential names.

They are independent and seek opportunities for individual expression. With technology comes the ability to establish more independence at a younger age. This generation also celebrates individuality: it’s why brands that are associated with cookie-cutter conformity, like Abercrombie & Fitch, are struggling, while those that champion individualism, like Free People, are winning. These traits prime this generation to create a name independently, rather than accepting a label from an outside source.

The above characteristics position this generation well to name itself– and incidentally, also align well with the winning name, The Founders. But why give that responsibility to a generation at all? Generation names typically come from external observers: generation theorists (Millennials was coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss in 1991), artists and writers ("Gen X" was coined by photographer Robert Capa and later popularized by author Douglas Coupland), and journalists (Baby Boomers first appeared in The Washington Post in 1970, according to the Oxford English Dictionary).

However, though those names caught on in press and popular culture, they were not exactly embraced by the subjects themselves. According to Pew, the majority of Millennials resist the label: only 40% of the demographic identifies with the name. Baby Boomers are most likely to identify with their designation, but even then, only 79% consider themselves to be a part of that generation. So why not give the next generation the chance to create its own label; perhaps it will be more widely embraced.

Now the ultimate question: Did it work? Of course, only time will tell if The Founders will stick. But generational names that eventually become mainstream have one thing in common: they highlight some defining aspect of the generation. For the Baby Boomers, it was the spike in birth rates; for Gen X, a rebellious attitude and desire to avoid labels; and for Millennials, coming of age at the turn of the millennium. The Founders certainly does that. It hits on both the tolerance of a generation that is the most diverse to date (2011 was the first year in which white births were not the majority) and the entrepreneurial drive of a demographic that consists of true digital natives who are aware of the problems that need to be solved.

All five of the top names that emerged in the creative workshops and were put to test in MTV’s survey reflect this idea of pragmatic problem solving: along with The Founders, The Bridge Generation, The Builder Generation, The Regenerator Generation and The Navigator Generation rose to the top. Ultimately, the selected name indicates a generation that strongly believes that they are, and will be, an active force for change in society, rather than a passive transition to a new world. The Founder Generation signals a new era, where a new group of leaders characterized by diversity will shape society — a contrast to the Founding Fathers of the past. The name captures the spirit of creating a world with more tolerance and acceptance, a world fueled by innovation and creation, where uniqueness is celebrated and technology is a tool to change the status quo. 

James Fox
Chief Executive Officer
James Fox spent five years at St. Luke’s, working on award-winning campaigns for Ikea, Clarks and Emirates Airlines. From there James moved to Fallon, where he was the Global Planning Director for United Airlines which earned him two Gold Effies, a Silver Effie and an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial.

James moved to New York to run the Levis and British Airways accounts for BBH. Then he was recruited by TAXI to be the Global Chief Strategy Officer. As EVP Director of Planning, James ran the $1.4 billion-a-year AT&T account at BBDO.

Kristen Nozell
Kristen Nozell began her career in New York at trends and innovation publication PSFK and then as an account manager at Brooklyn-based branding and design consultancy Red Antler. Kristen joined RPY after spending a year traveling and reporting on the latest technology, design and branding innovations for PSFK. 


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