Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Marketing to youth: Part 2: TRANSPARENCY

We’re at Day Two of the Analysis of Youth Marketing. Today we’ll examine transparency, a critical factor of effective marketing to youth.

Youth value authenticity and reality. These qualities permeate their online and offline lives where ‘defining oneself’ is as much an act of self-expression as a pastime and filler of spare time. Customizable iPod skins, modular and unique Facebook pages, and rich media applications that allow users to generate their own content are embedded in the social lives of youth. These examples – emphasizing the personalization of youths’ consumer lives – aren’t exactly shocking when you consider how Gen Y was raised. Highly involved baby boomer parents have cultivated our individualism and forged a sense of self in Gen Ys that could cut through concrete.

The relevance for marketers is that this personalization is never unauthentic. Gen Ys are encouraged to be themselves and put their stamp of individual approval on every aspect of their lives. So for a brand to masquerade as something it’s not or to primp and posture itself as ‘hot shit’ to an audience that has not yet validated that assertion can mean brand seppuku.

To be less wordy, this means that brands that are not transparent about themselves do not succeed in a youth market. Why? It’s the same reason why we hate posers. They’re just lame.

Here are a few signs that you marketing reeks of lame-i-tude and is not transparent enough:

  • Excessive use of teenage slang and speech patterns
  • Portrayal of teenagers by 25-30 year old commercial actors
  • Pompous style that suggests that your brand is cool and is somehow an authority on what youth like

But it’s not just trying too hard that can get a brand in trouble.

For a marketer to be transparent with youth consumers requires full disclosure about the purpose of the communication, the intended action to be taken by consumers as a result of the marketing, and the future relationship that the marketer would like to develop with them. There’s no way that this can all be communicated in one unique touch with a consumer, but if the style does not suggest that everything is on the table, then the youth consumer has no interest in even including the brand in their lives.

Remember, youth receive thousands of competing messages a day. Why should we listen to you in particular? The hook is as much excitement and buzz as it is the ability to portray yourself as a real brand with values that we can identify with.

So let’s analyze:

Who is transparent: Coke, Nike, Converse, Marilyn Manson (actually yes…when has he not

…btw, I’m a huge Manson fan. Watch one of the most offensive moments on television here.

Who is not transparent: NKOTB, High School Musical (despite its massive popularity), Dove (Unilever also makes Axe…think about the contrasting brand values), Rogers Wireless

…boo. Too much product placement, too distant from reality, too offensive to youth sensibilities. I do not identify with these actors. My friends do not identify with these actors. Missed. The. Mark.

Instead, let’s see a great example of an on-message commercial that has zero pretenses and speaks to the needs of young buyers:

(Or maybe I just like the beat…)

To marketers, the value of being transparent is that they can devote less time to embellishing false claims and more time to doing what the brand does best. Less energy is wasted thinking about how to tart up the brand to appeal to youth consumers and more energy is spent thinking about how to effectively develop meaningful relationships with the right consumers.

Youth are fickle and will as quickly drop you from their consuming lives as you were added to them. Marketers must expect and be prepared for this. You can be delightfully surprised when your brand actually achieves a modicum of traction and staying-power among this highly mobile and dynamic demographic. Transparency – underscoring the honest and authentic description of a brand in marketing communications – is essential to for any youth audience.

Tomorrow we’ll analyze participation, the second critical variable in marketing to youth.

been on message or uncompromising in what he says?)

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