Do brands know how to engage young people?

The evolution of digital technology is forcing advertisers to reappraise how they communicate with the youth market. But can they keep up?

McCarthy, Briggs
McCarthy, Briggs

EMMA McCARTHY COMMUNICATIONS PLANNER, OMD INTERNATIONAL

- How has the digital space changed the way brands talk to the youth market?

I like to think that it has stopped brands from standing on a pedestal and shouting down at them but, unfortunately, that's not always the case. Instead, they're just using more platforms to do it from. The most successful brands haven't just changed the way they talk to the "youth market" but they also listen and react to them. Get it wrong and youth marketing can be like a bad date - you know the one when the boy or girl doesn't stop talking at you, and even when you do ask a question, they don't listen to your reply.

- Are brands getting it right when targeting this age group?

Many brands are still only using the digital space to disseminate information and the web as a storage facility. This brings us on to the next rule of dating: the best dates are when you have something in common. Pepsi has historically launched a long list of initiatives that create a connection between its brand and people using common interests, and it's now also using "of-the-moment" tech-tools. The Pepsi Refresh Project is a perfect example of this. It uses user-generated content and crowdsourcing, it's sharable, creates conversations, brings together onand offline realities, harnesses creativity, and it's cool and credible for the target market. In short, it works.

- What are the creative challenges you face when developing content for the youth market?

Youth can usually do it so much better.

- How important is it for brands to connect with this market through events and experiential activity?

Events and experiential marketing are important, because you can physically put the product in people's hands and the rise of a "try before you buy" trend means they're integral touchpoints.

Ultimately, it's the idea and what you do with it that counts. For PlayStation, OMD manages a full communications planning process, meaning the idea determines the touchpoints, not the assumption that events and experiences will deliver the brand promise. We have the flexibility to look at owned, earned and paid channels and ensure full integration, therefore making the idea work harder than the sum of its parts.

- How do you think targeting this market will change over the next five years?

Predicting change over the next five months is hard enough, let alone five years from now - after all, just over five years ago, YouTube didn't even exist. But by being able to be flexible, reactive and applying real-time insights - in other words, not trying to second-guess them - we can ensure a meaningful relationship with our customers.

- How do you maintain a relationship with the youth market as it gets older?

See the previous answer! By being honest, transparent and remembering that, ultimately, people have the purchasing power. It's less of a partnership - they are our bosses.

MAXINE BRIGGS EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, TULLO MARSHALL WARREN

- How has the digital space changed the way brands talk to the youth market?

Digital channels allow brands to walk straight into a teenager's living room, not in a mum-offering-sandwiches-to-mates kind of way but as the cool older brother/sister - that is, if the brand gets it right. Digital has made it possible for youth brands to talk to their consumers in real time and with an increased level of frequency. This immediacy has completely changed the dynamic between brand and consumer, resulting in new levels of engagement and interaction.

- Are brands getting it right when targeting this age group?

Our experience of working with Lynx has taught us that social media is the best way for the brand to engage its 16to 24-year-old male audience. This approach allows Lynx to engage with young people on their own terms by creating a persona and lifestyle for the brand.

- What are the creative challenges you face when developing content for the youth market?

A key challenge is judging what the zeitgeist is. You need to work out what the latest cultural trends are among young people and use this as a springboard for generating content. The best way of doing this is thorough research and by having someone in your team who is themselves part of the target group. A second challenge is being able to turn content around quickly in order to stay current.

- How important is it for brands to connect with this market through events and experiential activity?

Events provide brands with a wealth of rich content that can be used to connect with consumers long after they have ended and can help build valuable online fan bases and communities. This includes behind-the-scenes videos, blog posts, live web chats and vox pops. The ability for the youth market to engage with a brand in such a wide variety of ways adds value to any campaign in a way that consumers are increasingly coming to expect. It's therefore essential for brands to not only be present at relevant events, but to make the most of them by extrapolating as much as content as possible and using it in their wider marketing strategy.

- How do you think targeting this market will change over the next five years?

When developing content strategies, brands need to look at emerging platforms including apps, optimised sites and location-based services, making sure they are ready to use them as soon as they are brought to market. A key challenge is that the youth market tends to go against trends; as soon as something becomes mainstream, it has already moved on.

- How do you maintain a relationship with the youth market as it gets older?

The youth market can make for loyal customers so it's important to value and reward them. This consumer group will experience many life stages in a relatively short space of time, from being at school to university or college and getting a job. Brands therefore need to take a tailored approach to their communications to ensure they appeal to their literally growing audience. Harnessing "cool" consumers as "brand ambassadors" is also key to creating aspirational appeal.

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