Can F1 appeal/survive Gen Why?

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I admit it. I have been concerned over the future of Formula One. I have written pieces on the marketing of the sport and what should be done to secure its future. Sure, Messrs. Ecclestone and Todt may not be reading my commentary with feverish pitch but I believe there are some notions that are worth considering.

I work in an industry on the leading, if not bleeding, edge of the evolutionary change of communication and presentation. I also represent the future of integrated office and workplace space planning and design and there is no getting around the fact that I have been working with the Millennial generation or Generation Y for quite some time now.

It was interesting to see Dieter Rencken’s piece at AUTOSPORT about the future of F1 and why kids won’t care. Dieter has many sources listing statistics about waning interest in cars and driver’s licenses as well as the reduction in car sales and general interest in motoring. When I look at track days and exotic driving programs, there is a lot of gray hair in those crowds.

The most important thing is to not marginalize the connected generation called “Y”. They are resourceful, in their own imitable way, and are leading many areas of social and technological innovation via their use of technology to communicate and socialize. They are an impressive generation with over 80 million of them in the USA alone.

While they deserve the respect they are due, I also find it interesting to see the press and cultural reporting that surrounds them. In my day job, I read endless accounts of how employers must cater to them on their terms if we have any hope of attracting and retaining their services. The media attention panders to their connected sense of social and occupational desires. The “No-collar” work force is daunting and demanding and employers should quickly cave to their terms or face doom. I beg to differ…the more forceful the media presents the one-way terms in favor of Gen Y, the more I am reminded of the emperor’s new clothes.

One factor that Dieter may have missed is the simple fact that youth unemployment is the highest it has been since 1990 and these jobless, social media users have fewer need for a car or transportation if they have no job. The interests in games, social media, internet video and information curating is coupled with their personal brand management via Facebook and other semi-permanent digital billboards. The more the media fawns over Gen Y, the more harm I believe is done to their efforts.

Ultimately Gen Y is a consumer base and that’s the more important element to employers as well as marketers. While the media position Gen Y as the dictators of the new workplace, they write stories about how employers must cave to their demands such as hot desking, hoteling, Starbucks coffee bars, free Wi-Fi and radical flexibility in the workplace. They support the notion that CEO’s have a lot to learn from the 22-year-old entry-level person. They may work differently but the bigger issue is that they buy differently and that, in the end, is the issue that Formula One faces.

I’ve argued this until I am blue in the face but Formula One must recognize the manner in which the Gen Y consumer acquires/uses products, services and information. Don’t get me wrong, I have suggested that America’s lack of interest with Formula One began waning when the country lost its love of the small European sports car in the mid-70’s and Gen Y has little or no interest in cars like my generation did when we turned 16 and couldn’t wait until we got a car…it represented freedom. We cherished our cars and worked on them and loved the late night drive with our favorite cassette tape playing…loudly.

F1 has to get on board with one simple notion…building community and creating the conversation by which Millennial ‘s will engage. They have a big chore ahead of them…getting a generation that is indifferent to cars interested in watching the worlds most advanced cars race in exotic locations.

Dieter argues for alternate technologies and jumps on the bandwagon about renewable energies and alternate sustainable racing that will save all forms of racing by appealing to Gen Y’s sensibility and moral conscience. I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t discount Formula E as I believe the series has tremendous value in an all-electric series but the reality is, today’s racing is the product to be sold and its infrastructure is massive and mature. Formula E will have to cut a few teeth to get the appeal that F1 currently enjoys.

How do we get Gen Y interested in Formula One again? It will take several factors but one of them is the mutual relationship between manufacturers and the series. It was heading in the right direction a few years ago with Ferrari, BMW, Toyota, Honda and Renault all involved but then the economy collapsed and four of them left as works teams.

Blame for the lack of interest in cars, as Dieter suggests, is multi-faceted combining the use of social media instead of driving to your friend’s house for a visit to the urbanization of the young workforce that relies on public transport and the hipster notion of minimalism instead of excess. It’s all fair assertions but has little do with F1…or does it?

I tend to look at the car first and then the elements around the car second. In that vain, the carmakers have not created an interest in cars like they did in the past. The utilitarian looks and banal features neutered by miniscule engines and plastic bodies have all but left us void of what was most appealing about the car. Who could get excited about the Toyota Prius, Honda Fit or Chevy Spark?

While contemplating the notion of what car you could get excited about as a young Gen Y, you also find yourself deluged with cute Facebook/Twitter guilt-quips such as “first-world problem” and other shame-laden comments intended to suggest that evolution is a bad thing and the desire for advancement, improvement and economic stability or gain is horrible so long as another person remains mired in a third-world economy.

Formula One races in some of these areas in AsiaPac and it’s not lost on Gen Y’s who see the hypocrisy of a billion-dollar sport racing a few miles from a billion-dollar problem. Perception is 9/10’s of the law with a generation obsessed with managing their personal brand on an hourly basis via Facebook and other social media. Who wants to seem indifferent to world causes? No one.

One interesting notion is that of the “hipster” culture…if they are perpetuating the beards, clothes and social sensitivity of their predecessors, they are missing one big thing…the car. The original hipsters are the gray-hairs at the exotic driving programs of today. They were the generation camping at Watkins Glen with a tent they hauled there in their MG or Austin Healy. They loved Formula One and made an event out of the weekend. The halcyon days of F1 were driven buy the original hipster and yet today’s hipster is more interested in moustaches and imagery than they are in being real to the cultural that spawned them…if they were, they would have been at Austin in droves last November.

Formula One has a lot of work to do and I enjoyed Dieter’s article a lot. It prompted just a few thoughts I felt like sharing with you but what do you think about Gen Y and how F1 should appeal to them? What can be done to make F1 relevant to the Millennials? Will it take an electric racing series to survive the future or is humanity finished with cars in favor of staying home and Tweeting our lives?

Oh…one other thing. Employers are perfectly fine in forging ahead and not caving to every whim of the Gen Y. Sooner or later the generation will learn that being productive, producing and creating value for an employer is more important than tweeting, posting and lounging in leather furniture as you attempt to be broadly, in not shallowly, versed on all topics currently trending. With youth unemployment as high as it is, they will find that fitting in and being appealing to employers will work far better than remaining unemployed and demanding more huddle areas with Wi-Fi and Starbucks coffee in their office.

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