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The Value of Experiences

September 10, 2020


“Dad, we are going to be forever known as ‘The Ghost Class’”

  • No Friday night football games.
  • No student cheering sections.
  • No Homecoming.
  • No pep rallies.
  • No sitting with friends in the cafeteria.
  • No school plays.
  • No band performances.
  • No prom.
  • No graduation ceremony.
  • No graduation parties.

“The culmination of high school is your senior year, and everything that makes it special is being taken away from me.”

These are the words of my 17-year-old, high school senior, and they echoed in my head as my wife and I contemplated the risk and reward of sending him and our three other children back to in-person schooling this year amidst the pandemic.

The conversation about schooling has recently happened in households across America. It’s a choice no parent should ever have to make, but it’s a choice parents have been forced to confront. And, it’s a choice American parents have not taken lightly. This is confirmed by the results of a recently completed Big Village poll among 1,000 Americans :

  • 86% express concern about schools opening safely.
  • 86% worry the quality of their children’s education is being negatively impacted.

Parents are navigating a delicate balance. Do they proceed with an abundance of caution and protect their kids’ physical health by not sending them to school, while sacrificing kids’ innate need to be around others? Or, do they acquiesce to the importance of kids’ mental and social health by allowing them to go to school, socialize, and participate in extracurricular activities – all in a safe, masked, and socially distanced way, of course. Ultimately, my wife and I decided that our kids’ schools have developed safe and comprehensive plans, complete with the right protocols, for our kids to re-enter school. In our minds, the positives of being in-person and around friends and peers outweigh the potential negatives. That said, many have decided the opposite. The potential repercussion and merits for both sides of this “go back to school or not” argument are well known and have been hotly debated. There’s no doubt philosophers and ethics professors will have rich material on which to debate and reason for years to come.

Who knows how much longer the impact of the pandemic will go on? Big Village research shows that 83% of Americans feel it will be 2 months or longer before we’re able to return to being in crowds and remove restrictions from businesses. On top of that, 86% of Americans are concerned about a second wave of COVID-19 striking in the fall. Yet, 54% feel the U.S. should relax social distancing requirements, as many realize they are missing out on life’s experiences.

Perhaps no other group is missing out on more than our high school-aged kids. As adults, when we think back on our youth, most of us have vivid memories of our high school days. For many, these are the most memorable years of our lives. If nothing else, these formative years, filled with countless experiences, are the foundation and springboard for what lies ahead. Our current high schoolers are missing out on these once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I can’t help but wonder what impact this will have on the rest of their lives.

As an insights professional, I’m certainly interested in the pandemic’s impact on the present US and global markets. But, as the parent of a high school senior, what perhaps is equally as interesting to me is the impact the pandemic will have on their future time and money investments.

I could foresee, as a bi-product of the pandemic, in leaving behind a wake of lost experiences, a shift away from material things and towards experience-related items. The American Dream, as vividly described by F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers of the time, used to include a big house with a picket fence; a high-paying, long-hours job; an expensive car; clothes from the top designers; essentially, the best of the best in all material things.

As I see what today’s youth is experiencing and how their perspective and outlook on life is being altered, I envision a scenario where their values shift away from a materialistic to experiential focus:

  • All things travel-related.
  • More time with grandparents and extended family members.
  • Restaurants and more communal eating.
  • A return to movie theaters.
  • Vacations with more of a focus on the experience than on relaxation.
  • Attendance at sporting events – professional, collegiate, and youth.
  • Attending church and church festivals.
  • Outdoor experiences (going camping, fishing, biking, hiking, etc.).

The list could go on and on. As marketers think about their brands and how they are positioned coming out of the pandemic, it’s important for them to think about how their brands help to provide a unique experience or create efficiencies for consumers that allow them to have more time for experiences.

It’s quite possible that “The Ghost Class” the pandemic has created is going to emerge from this with a voracious hunger for the experiences the pandemic has stolen from them. Or, “The Ghost Class” may be developing (or have already developed) compensating behaviors and come to realize that some pre-pandemic behaviors weren’t really necessary. It’s equally possible that they will feel more comfortable living in more isolation, looking for experiences and material things that can be enjoyed alone or in small groups.

Regardless, it will be fascinating to see how the purchasing behavior of “The Ghost Class” of current high schoolers changes as the result of COVID-19.

Written by Matthew Conrad, Vice President Client Solutions, Big Village INSIGHTS.