Monday, August 25, 2008

Marketing to youth: Part 1: INTRODUCTION

I really don’t mean to frequently piss and moan about how marketers just ‘don’t get it’ when trying to connect and build relationships with Gen Y, but it’s a topic I feel really deserves more analysis.

With very rare exception, young consumers will affirm that they are not affected by marketing – that somehow they are able to discern truth from fiction, pitch from pulp, and weed out messages that are irrelevant and uninteresting to them. I’m not disputing that youth are adept colanders of information. Our generation has a remarkable capacity to handle multimedia simultaneously and segment our attention among multiple competing sources. Consider how easily we browse the internet, talk on the phone, on MSN, use Facebook, and watch streaming video at the same time. Marketers have difficulty among this cacophony so the typical response is to scream louder at youth consumers, thus adding to the noise and the overall muting of each marketer’s message.

Hear that humming noise? I know the under-25 readers of this blog hear it. Yeah…it’s the sound of a thousand different marketing messages competing for your attention. No wonder Gen Y considers themselves savvy and selective when it comes to consuming. They are able to pick and choose among an immense spectrum of brands competing for their attention and money. Who’s the boss? You.

So when analyzed in this sense, it’s no wonder that youth consumers think highly of themselves when it comes to knowing what to buy and the perceived insignificant impact that marketing has on them. They are (and always were) the authority on what was bought and what was not.

Now, let’s stop thinking that we’re immune to marketing. Obviously you make one decision over another and one brand out of the 100 competing for your attention ultimately gets it. What has made you select that one company? Is it your friends? Youth consumers are information seekers as much as they are willing participants in a culture of conformity and popularity. They’ll be high frugal and choosy about where to spend dollars, comparing features and specs for many types of products, but they are also highly influenced by friends, perception, and traditional marketing techniques that rely on primacy, recency, and spontaneity.

And what about things we allow into our lives but that we don’t purchase. Those who say marketing is only meant to make us purchase things that we don’t want/need are missing a whole other perspective. What about all the marketing that goes into intangibles: who we vote for, what social causes we get behind, what environmental issues we choose to devote attention to, what neighbourhood in a city we choose to live in, what free online applications we choose to use, what songs we download and don’t pay for, what tv shows we stream, what slang we choose to adopt, what celebrities we identify with, what courses we choose to take in school (yes…industrial and professional associations make big investments into educating and funding school programs so that their profession has a future harvest of labour). How can youth now honestly make the assertion that they are unaffected by marketing?

With that aside, I propose to help articulate some ground rules for defining modern youth marketing. Over the next four days I’ll be writing about four important concepts that are essential for marketers to realistically engage youth consumers:


We’ll look at examples of marketers who have done things right and those who might need a little work.

It’s funny when people say that they are immune to marketing. Maybe they’re immune to screaming advertising, but not marketing. As an eternal optimist, I’d like to believe that a better understanding of how marketing affects Gen Y will ultimately precipitate fewer irrelevant ad blitzes by out-of-touch companies looking to increase market share, but greater tactical executions which companies use to deepen and nurture relationships with their best customers.

Although they’d never admit it, Gen Y customers reflect positively on marketing that is relevant and meaningful to them personally.

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