Brands as Important as Religion, Ethnicity to Gen Y? Really?

Scrolling through my RSS feed this morning I came across this headline from Fast Company: "For Millennials, Brands May Be as Important as Religion, Ethnicity." My attention seized, I clicked through to find a post reporting a new study by PR giant Edelman. 3,100 people from eight countries who were born between 1980-1995 (dubbed 8095ers) were asked about their brand affiliations. Fast Company summarizes the findings:
Brand identification is just about as important as religion and ethnicity when it comes to personal identifiers millennials share online. Volunteering to try new products and review some of them online is a "core value," according to Edelman, and the majority of those surveyed had recommended products to friends and family via a social network.
But when I checked the survey itself, I found slightly different wording: "Brand preference ranks with religion and ethnicity as top personal identifiers that 8095ers are willing to share about themselves online." How many levels of self-serving can we find here?
Obviously, being equally willing to share your ethnicity and your love of Apple or M&Ms is not the same thing as thinking these two things are equally important to your identity. Saying they are does make for an attention grabbing headline, however. But if it's a little self-serving for Fast Company to trumpet click-generating headlines, isn't it also self-serving for a PR firm, which makes its money polishing and presenting brands, to push the idea that the consumers of tomorrow are so fanatical about them?

And while I am posing questions, isn't is also possible that teenagers throughout the ages, obsessed as they are with self-definition and fitting in, have identified with brands -- be they poodle skirt companies or cell phone manufacturers -- more than older people, and have consistently grown out of it?

Of course brands saturate modern life and we all use them as shorthand to identify types of people, but I'm very skeptical that young people are so addled by consumerism that they feel their love for Sony or Toyota as deeply as they feel Chinese, American or Brazilian (though they may not notice this until they travel and experience other nationalities). I hope not anyway. Most wars have been fought along religious and national lines. What next, Adidas lovers battling Nike fans in the streets? Please.

NASCAR enthusiasts may generally vote Republican, while Sierra Club members tend to vote Democrat, but both groups, if pressed, can identify that the brands they love are just emblems of deeper differences in values and culture. Do you think Gen Y really has all that different a relationship with brands than older people?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Terry Johnston, CC 2.0)