Brands should be collaborators, creators and curators – not just advertisers

MTV and Durex's 'Someone Like Me' film

How do you get young adults and teenagers to pay attention?

That’s not the first line of a joke, but a serious question for brand managers in an era of atomised attention spans.

In theory, this most disengaged of all demographics should be getting easier to target, given the hours they spend daily with their noses pressed to screens of all shapes and sizes, consuming media in all its forms.

Yet today’s youth is drowning in clips and links, Tweets and likes, gifs and memes. No wonder they seem to have relatively limited bandwidth left over to engage with the thousands of commercial messages they now encounter each day.

Viacom’s largest ever survey, The Next Normal, reaching 20,000 nine to 30-year-olds in 32 countries, reveals ‘millennial’ consumers are looking for so much more from brands than product information in today’s multi-dimensional media environment.

They expect something tangible, something of value in return for their custom: tools and resources to help in other areas of their life; experiences; pleasure and rewards; support for the causes they feel passionate about.

In response, many brands are evolving from being purely advertisers to also become curators, producers and distributors of content. As ‘sticky’ and ‘shareable’ as possible. That means the extraordinary or the humorous or, increasingly, the socially valuable.

Most companies these days, whether they’re flogging loo roll such as Velvet Tissue or diamond rings like Bulgari, are keen to promote their ‘pro-social’ credentials. Some, like Innocent Drinks or Gandy’s Flip-flops, use their CSR strategy as the foundation of their brand identity.

As the world’s biggest and boldest youth entertainment brand, MTV has long understood the importance of social activism to our target audience. The network has given exposure to many good causes over the years. Most notable amongst these campaigns is Staying Alive, which is now a charitable foundation and was set up to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

MTV Staying Alive has enjoyed high-profile support from A-list music stars and wealthy individuals, but a number of brands are now also looking to partner with it. One such is Durex, which last year struck a three-year deal to launch a joint initiative, Someone Like Me, with the aim of getting young people “to talk more openly about sex for better sex education, happier and healthier sex lives and a world free from HIV”.

Condoms as a category – and Durex in particular – have a rich heritage of creative, cut-through, controversial advertising from spoofing the Duracell bunny to subtly promoting the prophylactic effect of children. But Someone Like Me offers a different kind of value for its target market.

Durex’s involvement in Someone Like Me has funded a long-form documentary, My Sex Life and Everyone Else’s, which aired across MTV’s international network of channels in the run-up to World AIDS Day last year. It has also launched a host of online video and other resources available via www.someonelikeme.com and branded social media channels, which have generated more than 200 million page views internationally since launch.

With Durex’s backing, Someone Like Me has now become a multi-territory sponsor of MTV’s sex and relationship themed programming, including new reality dating hit Ex On The Beach, as well as a number of its high-profile live-music events such as the recent Isle of MTV spectacular in Malta, where a number of on-the-ground activations targeted the 50,000 revellers who watched Dizzee Rascal and Nicole Scherzinger perform at MTV’s largest open-air live music event. The climax of this year’s activity will be title sponsorship of the MTV EMA 2014 in Glasgow, with a dedicated Someone Like Me award and an in-store/on-pack promotion giving customers the chance to win tickets to the event.

All this activity is ultimately designed to drive the target audience to www.someonelikeme.com and related social media channels to join a free and frank conversation about all matters sexual, from one-night stands to sex with your ex. Core to this has been the recruitment of a Global Crew – a team of brand ambassadors who help to drive engagement locally in exchange for rewards.

Someone Like Me and Durex are not hiding on the periphery; they’re entering the consciousness of their audience around contextually relevant programming on a channel that resonates with young consumers. In doing so, MTV SAF/Durex have created a prime example of partnership marketing, as recently highlighted by The Drum, which makes perfect sense to the target audience – and engages them via the power of a good cause, making a genuine difference.

Georgia Arnold is executive director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation

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