What Would Waleed Do? And Why Do Millennials Care?

What Would Waleed Do? And Why Do Millennials Care?
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In this opinion piece, John Matthews, managing director at research company Jigsaw, says co-host on Network Ten’s The Project, Waleed Aly, is the approach Millennials are looking for.

I’m not sure that being called a ‘dick’ by Shane Warne is a cause for great anxiety. In fact, if you’re Waleed Aly, rubbing an Australian institution up the wrong way seems rather to be a sign you’re doing something right.

Following the Shane Warne interview, among other instances, Aly’s Millennial appeal knows no bounds, which I would argue is due to him espousing a solid and consistent set of principles that resonate with younger generations. If Waleed Aly is the ‘Most Important Man on TV’, as Men’s Style proclaims on its cover this month, it might not be for his present influence, but for the way he exemplifies Millennials’ aspirations and frustrations.

Aly’s Millennial appeal rings true with Jigsaw’s ongoing ‘Young Australia’ project, where we let 18 to 24 year olds speak for themselves. Aly’s ethnicity and religion alone make him a singular figure on primetime free-to-air TV. While it would be naïve to dismiss how important that is, to focus solely on this factor is to miss the bigger picture.

In our conversations with Millennials, we regularly hear they are frustrated with the predictable positions taken by politicians and brands. The party line played out in soundbite after soundbite is a major accelerating factor in the decline of institutional authority. Put yourselves in the shoes of a 19 year old and imagine how it feels to hear the same message repeated again and again, with little or no regard to context or the empirical evidence of our own experience – and they’re supposed to respect these robots?

Aly, and his presence on The Project, is different. No-one would argue he doesn’t have a position – leftist, socially liberal perhaps – but it’s hard to pin down on a political spectrum. He doesn’t exist on The Project simply to be a counterpoint to a right-wing talking head. The appeal of Aly is that his positions aren’t entirely fixed, he’s engaging with the world and what we see is someone forming opinions based on a defined set of principles amidst a chaotic world. His talent is often to tackle issues from an unexpected angle, and he’s gaining attention for it. For example, his ‘ISIL is weak’ piece to camera after the Paris attacks has had over 30 million shares on Facebook.

I don’t believe it’s drawing too long a bow to point to the phenomenon of youth support for Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic primaries. Young people are increasingly disillusioned by institutions, but they are willing to lend their support to figures or organisations who demonstrate they are listening and, at the same time, stick to fundamental principles. For political parties, brands and institutions, this is a challenge. It means learning the difference between consistency of values and consistency of message. This intellectual integrity is the ‘authenticity’ that we’ve for so long been told is important.

Waleed Aly might be the best evidence yet in Australia that the Millennial generation responds better to principled independence than almost anything else.

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