Subtlety has never been one of the advertising community’s strong points. It is, after all, your job to be noticed and to stand out. Infiltration; now, that’s another story. But still, when it comes to infiltrating the closed ranks of the youth market, the avid marketer can trip up on his Armani suit hems and expose himself in a way that is damaging to both agency and client alike – as an advertiser.
But not everyone trips up. A number of agencies in Scotland have turned up their hems (and rolled up their sleeves) to get down with the kids, infiltrating the very grounds on which they play. The youth market is a massive target but, despite its size, it can seem impossible to hit. And if you get it wrong you run the risk of alienating an audience for ever.
Andrew Grant, creative director of Nation1, a specialist youth marketing agency, says that media-savvy kids are no longer naive: “Consumers now are ‘ad-aware’ at the age of five and ‘ad-literate’ by the age of twelve. At five they are aware that they are being sold something. At the age of twelve they are able to dissect the commercial, what the message is and what it’s trying to get across. So it is going to be very difficult to communicate naturally. People’s barriers are up, they are being hit by so many messages.”
This is a point that Mark Evans, director of Bhuda Creative Support, agrees with: “The danger of communicating to the youth market is that they will feel as though they are being infiltrated by the adults, and their methods and means. And there is a very fine line between selling out to them and selling in to them. That is where you have to be cunning and adopt a strategy that is delivered from end to end.
“Traditional media have been exhausted and over-used to the extent that now they are perhaps not as creditable as they were and a lot of the brands have tried to infiltrate the youth market by using them.”
Despite this, the youth market isn’t cynical – there is a difference between being cynical and being aware. And, as Evans says, the youth market is now just terribly aware: “If they turn up their noses at something then that can make them seem cynical. They are not turning up their noses to the overload, though, but at the sense of quality that surrounds it and the method by which it is presented.
“The big brands look at things on a global scale, but to make something successful in the youth market you have to tailor-make it regionally and almost locally. You have to take it right down to the local personality of an area.
“What sticks in London needn’t stick anywhere else. Look at R’n’B music in London - it is incredibly successful, but it’s taken years and years and it’s still not caught on north of the Border. Look at fashion and the way people dress from one region to another - it can be completely different.”
Youth marketing is all about the lifestyle that people lead. They are not up first thing on a Sunday morning to read a big stack of Sunday papers. They are much more technologically inclined. They want up-to-date information and they want it as and when they choose. It’s a 24-hour lifestyle. A lifestyle that can change from one day to another, says Craig Gillespie, art director at Angel One: “Once you get to the opinion-formers, the people that others will follow, then you get a champagne glass effect, where people who want to be cool jump on the bandwagon of imitation. But very quickly you can see the opinion-formers moving on to something new.
“At the moment everything is football associated. It is very obvious and an easy route, but it’s not going to have much longevity. People have become too savvy to brands trying to associate themselves so obviously with the latest fad. That is the wrong way to target a youth market. You should be trying to create the new fad and let everyone else jump on your bandwagon.”
The type of clothes you wear, where you dance, what you drink and where you drink all say a lot about a person. It’s like labelling yourself, branding yourself, says Grant: “Before, people would choose their prospective partner by what they looked like and who they were. Now it is who they are and what they do. The first thing people ask when they meet is ‘What do you do?’ It’s a lifestyle thing.
“Are you wearing Oakley glasses or Gucci glasses, a Prada top or a Nike top – it says a lot about a person. So advertising agencies that specialise in that kind of targeting have to make sure that they get it right, because, again, if you get it wrong you can tarnish the whole brand.”
The youth market may not always have the spending influence, but certainly within a family they have a decision-making influence. They are outspoken, they’re confident, they know from a very early age what their limitations are and what they want. So, to target such an ad-astute, yet elusive, audience, you have to play to their strengths. Grant says: “You have to play on the fact that the consumer is ad-literate. If you see a TV commercial and it tells you everything that you need to know, you’ll dissect it. But if you see a TV commercial that tells you a little bit of the message, and then you walk down the street and see a billboard that tells you a different part of the same message, and then get an underground ticket that tells you even more, you’ll be aware that the advertiser knows how your brain works and that you are able to put together the different pieces of the jigsaw. It’s flattering that the advertiser’s taken the time to structure their campaign to challenge you. And something that provokes a reaction and encourages word of mouth is so valuable.”
But, still, the youth market continues to pose a difficulty to advertisers as they strive to reach this increasingly savvy market.
“It’s almost like your dad picking you up when you are a young schoolboy and having a chat with you about ‘pop’ music, trying to make himself hip and trendy,” says Evans. “You sit in the car cringing because you feel as though you are being infiltrated by the adult world.
“The big companies and the big agencies think that it’s a simple market to tap into and they think that the easiest way to do this is by buying their way in, conning their way in, and that is worst thing that you can do.”