Tribes a trap, says expert

Marketers who think they can capture a greater share of the youth market by segmenting it into "tribes" are just fooling themselves, says a youth marketing expert....

Marketers who think they can capture a greater share of the youth market by segmenting it into "tribes" are just fooling themselves, says a youth marketing expert.

Max Valiquette, strategic innovation architect at The NRG Group, a Toronto-based Internet business "incubator" and youth marketing advisory service, says it makes a lot more sense to focus on the commonalities among young people, rather than their differences.

Valiquette, speaking at Strategy’s Understanding Youth conference, held earlier this month in Toronto, defines youth tribes as splinter groups distinguished by a specific behaviour or lifestyle. Hip hoppers, ravers, rockers, anarchists, skaters and retro girls comprise the main camps, he says, adding the tribe concept dates back to the birth of punk.

The problem with marketing to tribes, warns Valiquette, is that it can become a trap.

"If you keep marketing to a particular tribe or group, you go down one of two roads," he says. "Either you are over-identified with that group and it’s difficult to gain any kind of market share beyond that group, or you end up doing too much preaching to that group and therefore defining them – which is the surest way to be a turnoff."

Cameron Smith, senior research manager at Vancouver-based research firm Angus Reid Group, agrees, saying the lines between tribes aren’t as clear-cut as they sometimes appear.

"Young people borrow from so many different influences," he says. "They can be whacked on ecstasy one day, and be a responsible school-goer the next. It’s much harder today to tell what camp people are in."

Patrick Thoburn, director of research and Internet strategy with Toronto-based Youth Culture, publisher of teen-targeted Watch Magazine and Bang, says young people have incredibly diverse interests, but that doesn’t mean they don’t share values.

Marketers who understand this are turning more to psychographic profiling, Thoburn says, targeting young people on the basis of attitudes that span several lifestyles.

"The teen market in Canada is pretty small. So when you tell someone they should focus only on ravers – about 10% of the teen market – that’s a total of probably 240,000 kids in Canada. It’s not that many."

Doug Martin, publisher of Winnipeg-based What! A Magazine, dismisses the whole concept of tribes, saying it’s a classic example of the marketing industry creating yet another buzzword to look important.

"Is Coca-Cola going to create a different campaign because they know there’s such a thing as ravers? Bullshit. They all brush their teeth. That’s what mass marketers look at – what they all have in common. Do they really care that they have individualistic interests? No way."

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group