Adult brands want to grab ‘em while they’re young

For kids, typical adult brands are about as cool as a washed-up TV star (think David Hasselhoff), yet grown-up companies like banks and automakers are still striving to grab their attention. The belief is that if a brand can successfully seduce young consumers, it can forge a lifetime relationship with them.

For kids, typical adult brands are about as cool as a washed-up TV star (think David Hasselhoff), yet grown-up companies like banks and automakers are still striving to grab their attention. The belief is that if a brand can successfully seduce young consumers, it can forge a lifetime relationship with them.

Firms have good reason to turn their attention to kids. Canadian teens carry around $19.1 billion a year in disposable income, according to Trendscan: Report on Teen Lifestyles, a national, semi-annual quantitative research study produced by Toronto-based firm Youth Culture Research, which interviewed over 1,200 kids, aged 12 to 19, last fall.

Scotiabank, for instance, introduced their Young Investors Fund in a soft launch last December, but will boost its promotional activity this fall. ‘Kids are going to go off to college or university and at some point they’re going to need a banking relationship – maybe they’ll remember us,’ explains Woodrow Pelley, VP of mutual funds, Scotia Securities.

Pelley says the bank has shifted some budget toward the youth market in hopes that they’ll also remember the brand when they graduate from college. Youth ventures will be handled by a children’s marketing agency, he says, although the bank has yet to make a final decision on which shop will get the account.

While conducting a major review of its funds, and keeping in mind its mid-to-mass market of families, it dawned on executives that there seemed to be an overall weakness when it came to children’s education of financial services. ‘We thought if we had a product that’s more family-oriented, parents would take an interest,’ he says, adding that people are more likely to pay attention to what lands in their cluttered mailboxes if it somehow involves their children.

The fund, which encompasses firms such as Toys R Us, Nike and PepsiCo – brands that add a dimension to the lives of children, says Pelley – will be explained in an informational newsletter sent to clients on June 30, which will also outline details about RESPs and opening accounts. Pelley says the bank will also invest in a three-month-long campaign for the fund starting in September and, while he won’t give details, he says the program, which will include ‘zany’ prize giveaways, will focus on educating kids in their own language. ‘If you were to hit kids over the head with investing, they wouldn’t care because it’s not fun,’ he says. ‘But if you tell them how they can save money for a Sony Walkman, [they think it's] cool. Everything is in approach.’

According to Doug Stewart, president of Youth Culture Research, it makes sense for financial services firms to speak to teens, since they on average pocket about $5,000 a year. While savings aren’t a priority for them, the Trendscan study discovered that tuition is. ‘Banks have something to talk to kids about, something that matters to them,’ he says. ‘It’s a great way to introduce a relationship to the brand.’ Stewart believes approaching kids through education, as Scotiabank plans to, will keep parents pleased, and stresses that kids aren’t likely to buy in if a bank starts calling itself hip. ‘A bank should be pretty direct; it should offer solutions to tuition questions.’

Stewart says cars are an obsession for teens, too. In fact, during the Trendscan survey, Youth Culture Research asked kids if their parents could help them with one thing in their lives, what would it be. Buying a car was in the top five, right up there with assisting them in an emotional capacity. ‘It speaks to a desire of this generation to grow up,’ he points out. ‘Because teens are so motivated to care about cars, what a perfect time to begin promoting your brand.’

Indeed, automakers are ramping up their efforts to attract a younger market. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, suggested that German automaker DaimlerChrysler intends to scale back on TV ads, and market its brands through youth-oriented, entertainment- and fashion-related functions. (A Canadian spokesperson was unavailable for comment.)

Meanwhile, Ford seems eager to make its Focus brand synonymous with all things trendy. In the U.S., the manufacturer has sponsored various teen-focused events, such as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in May. Last February, the brand went so far as to ask 10 cutting-edge fashion designers, including David Rodriguez and Alexandra Lind, to create clothing out of recycled Focus parts. According to Ford U.S., its Focus, which is targeted at both generation Xers (20- to 35-year-olds) and Echo Boomers (19-years-old and under), quickly became one of the 10 best selling cars in America since first landing in U.S. dealerships in fall 1999. Ford’s American executives apparently keep in the know by hitting the hot spots in L.A., New York and Miami.

Here in Canada, the brand has turned its radar to younger folk too. The latest Focus strategy has a definite youthful feel: in one TV spot, a young man falls asleep during a road trip, only to have his face garishly made up by his friends.

In spring, the company introduced 1,000 Ford Focus Street Editions in cheerful hues like Infra-Red, Fun in the Sun Yellow and Malibu Blue. And last month, consumers across Canada were invited to test-drive the Focus alongside the Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta and Chevrolet Cavalier, while a contest gave away gift certificates from Sport Chek, Roots and Radio Shack. The Canadian automaker, which approached Toronto-based youth marketing consultancy Youthography for advice on its efforts, also recently launched a Web radio station, ‘Ford really wants to tap into the younger consumer [market] … and try to be a part of their daily lives as much as they can,’ says Mark Berardo, account manager at Young & Rubicam, the manufacturer’s Toronto-based AOR. ‘[They're] adding the whole lifestyle aspect to the brand.’

Toronto-based Fuji Film Canada also hopes to build brand loyalty among teens with a new collection geared at them specifically, according to Kent Hatton, product manager of consumer film products. In June, the company introduced Fujifilm’s QuickSnap Colours, single-use cameras that are positioned as a fashion accessory and come in three bright translucent colors – blue, green and purple. ‘We’re trying to develop our franchise across the FujiFilm products and QuickSnaps is a way of doing that because it’s a low-cost point of entry,’ he says, adding that there is a separate marketing budget for QuickSnaps as a sub-brand.

Also, he points out there are 5.5 million such cameras sold each year in Canada and 28% of them are consumed by kids, 18-years-old and under. ‘Really what drives use are events, and teens are prone to go to a lot of them,’ he says. ‘I think there’s still a lot of opportunity to open up an untapped market.’

In terms of marketing, QuickSnaps is being supported at the grassroots level. FujiFilm found an endorser in Canadian crooner Chantal Kreviazuk, who is considered a credible artist among teens because she isn’t positioned as a pop star, according to Hatton, who says the company gleaned this information through interviews conducted at Famous Players theatres in Mississauga, Ont.

This summer, FujiFilm hooked up with Maybelline for a program called ‘I want to shine,’ which entails hosting sampling opportunities at Famous Players theatres in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, where teen girls are treated to makeovers, complete with before and after shots, and receive QuickSnaps as a parting gift. Also in June, a photo contest in collaboration with Winnipeg-based teen magazine What gave students the chance to interview Kreviazuk for their high school newspaper. ‘The bull’s eye is the 17-year-old girl, who is starting to face life challenges and looking for creative outlets to express herself,’ says Hatton. Recently, FujiFilm also launched a TV, print, billboard and Web campaign geared at its adult customers that also emphasizes creativity and self-expression. Created by its AOR Ammirati Puris, the overall brand effort has a new tagline: ‘Open your eyes.’

But Stewart warns brands need to be careful they don’t communicate in stereotypes when talking to teens. ‘An example that seems to be used ad nauseam with young people is ‘I want to express myself,” he says. ‘There’s that shtick in the marketplace with brands completely developed around them. It’s misguided, misdirected and inaccurate.’

Meanwhile Julie Halpern, CEO of the Geppetto Group, a New York-based youth marketing consultancy, says it isn’t possible for just any company to approach teens. ‘I would say it makes sense for adult brands that are somehow a part of kids’ lives, like cars, because they drive in them, or computers,’ she says. ‘I don’t think it makes sense for an Internet Service Provider, for instance, because I don’t think a kid cares who they’re getting access to the Internet through – unless it affects what they’re seeing on the screen.’