YOUTH MEDIA: YOUTH INTELLIGENCE - Agencies are keen to give the impression that they’re clued up about youth markets, but strategies for getting to know what the kids want vary widely. Mairi Clark reports

Capturing the youth market may seem easy to some agencies. It’s part of their core offering and they are staffed by young, trendy youth consultants in Diesel trainers and turned-up jeans, listening to trance on the office stereo and text-messaging their mates. For other agencies, however, it can be a struggle - not least because they’re trying to balance a youth proposition with a traditional image that will retain more sober business brands as clients.

Capturing the youth market may seem easy to some agencies. It’s

part of their core offering and they are staffed by young, trendy youth

consultants in Diesel trainers and turned-up jeans, listening to trance

on the office stereo and text-messaging their mates. For other agencies,

however, it can be a struggle - not least because they’re trying to

balance a youth proposition with a traditional image that will retain

more sober business brands as clients.



Despite pronouncements that youth isn’t where it’s at any more, there

are clients that are obsessive about tapping into the market and

agencies are expected to know their Moby from their Mogwai. So what

basis is there to the agencies’ various claims to be youth gurus?



Agencies such as St Luke’s, Mother, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe and

Bartle Bogle Hegarty are edgy enough to inspire the confidence of youth

brands such as Boots No7 and Levi’s. More traditional agencies tend to

use outside research groups, such as BMRB and RDSi, who carry out

research into children’s behaviour.



Others have their own brand research projects. Leo Burnett relies

heavily on its Kidscope research, which has been running for three

years. Originally focusing on UK children, it has expanded to include

children from the US, Hong Kong and Australia. Denise Gardner, head of

research and development at Starcom, Leo Burnett’s media arm, who is

responsible for Kidscope, says: ’I think you need a mixture of both

youth mentality and grown-up seriousness. Our research works

independently and collaboratively and is applied to all our clients.

Some of it is general but for certain clients, we do specific

research.’



BMP DDB carries out research through the ROAR syndicate, while other

agencies have backed standalone units or spin-off agencies.

McCann-Erickson made a foray into youth advertising when it set up Magic

Hat four years ago. Although it hasn’t made as big a splash as was

expected, Magic Hat has worked with Nescafe and was recently appointed

by the music channel, VH-1. McCann has also launched McCann Junior,

which carries out research among children.



Other agencies have found that creating a youth arm isn’t the ideal

solution.



Two years ago, BBJ Media set up Full Circle. Although it was originally

positioned as a standalone youth agency it no longer pitches directly to

clients. Instead its knowledge is incorporated into the main agency’s

offering. Full Circle was initially managed by BBJ’s marketing director,

Nigel Morris, who remains involved in an advisory capacity. Morris says:

’We felt that Full Circle would work best as an internally focused

agency.



Its ambition has changed from being ’we want to be a youth agency’ to

’we want to be more creatively focused’. We created Full Circle to get a

different way of thinking in the agency. Two years on, we feel the

company has benefited and so have our clients.’



BBJ has also set up a research arm called Generator, which operates in

the UK, Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands and will be exported to

France and Italy later this year. BBJ’s parent company, Carat, also uses

the Generator research and plans to sell it to other media

companies.



The youth agency, Cake, works in an entirely different way. As one of a

small number of independent youth agencies, it shuns research groups in

favour of a more direct approach. The agency is run by Mark Whelan, who

was previously at Full Circle, Mike Mathieson, a former director of the

youth promotions company, FFI, and Ben Jones, previously an agency

creative.



Cake’s services range from securing sponsorship to guerrilla marketing

(for First Direct it projected the words ’We’re awake too’ on to the

Ministry of Sound in the middle of the night to promote the bank’s

24-hour access).



But the agency’s strength is its mailing list. Whelan has impossibly

trendy connections, dating back to his days as a DJ, and these have been

combined with Mathieson’s own to compile a list of the 1,000 coolest

people and companies - the Early Adopter Top 1,000. Cake mails clients’

new products to these people, asking recipients to fill in a

questionnaire. ’It gets the products into the hands of the opinion

formers,’ says Mathieson.



This approach begs the question - what happens when the people on Cake’s

list, and the people deciding who gets on the list, are too old to be

opinion formers? Mathieson believes that it’s more about attitude than

age. ’You can’t sit in your ivory tower in London and read The Face and

expect to keep up with the trends,’ he says. ’You have to get out

there.



We go on trips and keep our ears to the ground. We also surround

ourselves with young people. Ben, Mark and I are just in our 30s, and we

have all sorts of young people working here and endless amounts of

clubbers who keep us up-to-date with the club scene.’



The first youth agency, The Leisure Process, was set up 15 years ago but

eventually ran out of steam. ’It shocked us that no-one else had thought

of it when we set up,’ says John Carver, who was creative director at

the agency. ’After 13-and-a-half-years, we’d lost the momentum which is

why we closed the company.’



Eighteen months ago, Carver set up Harry Monk, a full-service youth

advertising agency. Carver is involved in every aspect of advertising,

from creating poster campaigns to directing and producing TV commercials

and promos.



’You tend to find that there are a lot of small youth marketing

companies because so many youth brands haven’t got much money to spend.

Also, they want to deal direct with creatives. I’ll never have an

account director working at Harry Monk.’



The hippest clients seem to prefer working with a youth agency. The

Ministry of Sound moved its advertising out of M&C Saatchi and into the

small youth agency, Fold 7, probably the newest arrival in the market,

which also counts fashion brands, Ted Baker and Firetrap, as clients.

No-one at the agency is over 30 and its offices are in trendy

Clerkenwell, of course.



And location is important. The cool agencies don’t work out of expensive

offices in Soho - instead they’re based in East London warehouses

(Mother, Fold 7) or converted churches in West London (Cake). And when

you enter, expect to be served a vodka and Red Bull by a bloke on a

skateboard - youth agencies just don’t do babes on reception.



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