Marketing to Youths – What makes them click

As I’m currently leading a large youth project, I attended this year’s Marketing to Youths conference. Today was Day One. Being a new media person, I thought the tagline on ‘making them click’ meant there’d be more focus on online campaigns. However, most speakers focused on traditional media, at best mentioning blogs and other social media elements ‘by the way’. That’s how I felt, at least.
Initially, the presentations seemed to be focusing a lot on two things that young people like – Fashion and Entertainment (including music, videos, games). The case studies were also on brands that were already well known worldwide (MTV, fashion labels, McDonalds), or products that went down well with young people (anime). The presentations were all right. The problem for me was that I had seen most of them already, at last year’s conference 🙁
I also started to wonder, ‘How can we market an intangible product that young people don’t think about?!’ We could create yet another ‘cool’ looking website with lots of free MP3 or ringtone downloads, but that’s just a short-term solution. It won’t build customer loyalty. I would rather start small, have an authentic message, take the back seat and young people run the show, such as this youth online counselling service we’re supporting.
For me, the presenter who stood out was Ian McKee from Vocanic. I saw his blog address at the end of his presentation, and realised I’ve been there before, perhaps as a link off Walter’s blog.
Ian challenged other presenters’ viewpoints and traditional marketing practices. For instance, he did not agree with another presenter that you (only) needed to go to the opinion leaders to promote products. Your brand advocate can be the average customer. He also made us wonder if spending lots of money on traditional advertising, year after year, and giving cursory replies to existing customers (on the phone or via email), or even removing such channels because they were seen as ‘troublesome to upkeep’, was actually a good idea.
I already knew of the trends and figures presented, and the misallocation of marketing budgets in most corporations today. For instance, more youths are online but a disproportionate amount of money is still being spent on traditional media. I also have’s Reader’s Choice 2006 survey results pinned on my cubicle wall, and knew that Google and Apple pipped traditional brands who spent more money on advertising.* What it did for me was to rehash these thoughts and wonder if all of us could change the way things were being done – and if so, how?
Word of Mouth marketing was another focus of Ian’s presentation. I was glad to hear I was not the only person who’s encountered people who think viral = word of mouth! Another thing that moved me was the appearance of the word ‘conversations’. Authentic ones – not having to people to say good things but letting them recommend the product to their friends themselves.
Another point that spoke to me was that we tend to think only funny videos and games can be ‘viral’ in nature, forgetting about blogs (whose links can be forwarded, commented on, with trackback) and widgets (which can be embedded on other websites).
Apart from building on relationships with your average customers, which I feel is a ‘maintaining’ role, influencer marketing is worth exploring – letting respected experts have a go at your product earlier than the rest of the market. I suppose that’s what Web 2.0 companies like Pownce and Joost have been doing, making the whole beta testing thing feel exclusive and exciting.
Generating lots of buzz, pageviews, visitors et al is not the end but just the means. For instance, most of us in the audience did not know that Subservient Chicken was a Burger King ad. I only knew of the chicken, and not the chicken sandwich. In fact, looking at a human being in a chicken suit put me off from even thinking of eating chicken for the rest of the day.
The Edelman-Wal-Mart fake blogging fiasco seems to be a standard example in the “Don’t” section of marketing and social media conferences today, so I won’t mention it in detail.
Day One ended with an apt summary of all the presentations by our moderator, Judd Labarthe. I found this useful because many presentations were on case studies more than marketing principles. He also noted that most presenters did not talk much about meeting their KPIs, which are so important to those of us in large organisations. He should, since he’s the Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Effie Awards.
We were also reminded not to get carried away with technology for technology’s sake – something that those of us in the emerging new media industry should heed.
*note: Upon Googling for brand surveys, I just found a newer Interbrand report placing traditional brands ahead of new ones, in terms of value.


  1. walter

    Its always a challenge trying to reach youths and I find it strange how the usual suspects always crop up like MTV, Coca Cola, Nike, fashion labels and so on. Government agencies and youths are probably the most unlikely bedfellows since well youths are “supposed” to rebel and the authorities are the ones to rebel against (other than papa and mama). Haha….
    Well, glad that you found Ian’s presentation refreshing. As I have blogged before, the challenge is in getting the right Word-Of-Mouth-iness in one’s product/ campaign first before you can trigger them influencers like connectors, mavens and salesmen (ala Malcolm Gladwell).
    The other thing is that we all already know about the power of online media, blogs, podcasts, yadda yadda, but how do we harness them when there are a gazillion out there? Does everything youth have to be either online, Orchard Road, or Ministry Of Sound oriented?
    I personally believe that one of the greatest opportunities (which arose out of a threat) is in socially responsible marketing. Increasingly more and more youths know that time is really not on their side as their world starts getting warmer, sicker, wetter, and more polluted. What we may need is a more evangelistic style of marketing – peppered with lots of personal zeal – in order to make the difference.

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    Marketing to Youth – Day 2

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