Should youth brands rethink their marketing in the wake of the riots? The Marketing Society Forum
A view from Staff

Should youth brands rethink their marketing in the wake of the riots? The Marketing Society Forum

The recent outbreak of riots and looting have led many to question just where the boundary lies between 'edgy' and 'irresponsible' when it comes to marketing products aimed at young people.


The riots have provoked a huge amount of passionate debate among politicians, law-enforcement agencies and teachers.

I sincerely hope that this episode will shake many people in media and marketing (not just 'youth brands') out of their complacency and make them consider much more seriously their wider responsibilities to society.

Take the example of Adidas. It said: 'Adidas condemns any antisocial or illegal activity. Our brand has a proud sporting heritage and such behaviour goes against everything we stand for.'

From a brand that chooses to have itself represented by Snoop Dogg and Big Sean, this isn't just disingenuous, it's downright hypocritical.

Youth-targeted brands would do well to take a leaf out of the drinks industry's book. Companies like Diageo have been proactive, creative and serious about alcohol abuse. It would be good to see the likes of Adidas and Levi's doing less adolescent posturing and more constructive thinking about what they really want to stand for.


Although we don't rely on celebrity endorsements, young people look up to sportspeople and musicians, so it makes sense for brands to align themselves with stars. But it's far too simplistic to blame the riots on ads featuring edgy celebrities.

We need to look at the root causes, rather than blame marketing. Brands need to be responsible about their messaging and give something back to the communities that sustain them.

KFC is a brand that resonates with young people, so we try to use that to have a positive impact on communities. We can help through sharing expertise in training and skills: we have expanded our apprenticeship scheme and developed a partnership with Barnardo's to offer work experience to young people.

Youth unemployment is an acute problem and we have identified it as an area where we can make a difference. We urge other businesses to understand what they can do: otherwise, they risk losing touch with their consumers.


The breakdown of authority in the riots provided a window of opportunity to get richer quickly. It was Lord of the Flies transplanted to England. The instincts were not political: to burn government offices, banks or other seats of authority. The priority was to acquire status symbols. The entitlement culture went onto the streets.

Marx would have been disappointed as the proletariat seized not the means of production, but rather the most celebrity-endorsed output of the free enterprise system.

Professions should operate for the good of society, with a code of ethics like the Hippocratic Oath. Only those possibilities that 'do no harm' should be implemented. Marketing wants to be seen as a profession. The riots give marketers an opportunity to review the ethics of targeting under-age people to aspire to and covet goods many of them cannot expect legitimately to own. Are they using imagery that encourages a cohesive society or that exploits teenage rebellious instincts? Are they acting as professionals or tradesmen?


If youth brands need a rethink after the riots, then something was already badly wrong with their strategy. Are the images of people looting Adidas really damaging? I don't think so. They also looted everything else, including Champagne. But who wears the brand? That matters. Should fashion brands be worried about who is seen to use or favour their brands? Yes, but they always knew that, as Burberry found. BlackBerry's image as the executive mobile tool has taken a battering.

Should brands create an edge by associating with street cred? It clearly works for some, but it's a tricky balance. If a brand dallies with gang culture and values, it takes a huge risk with its future. So Janet Street Porter implies that brands are responsible for the riots? That makes no sense. But if the brand invests in sports and social programmes with these communities, maybe they can keep the edge.


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