The opportunities of youth

Somehow, our so-called Canadian reserve rears its head in the most inopportune places, even when marketing to teens, a bunch that comprises the antithesis of reserved.

Somehow, our so-called Canadian reserve rears its head in the most inopportune places, even when marketing to teens, a bunch that comprises the antithesis of reserved.

With youth, it’s the most innovative marketing concepts that break through the clutter. At YTV’s PsykoBlast music tour (see page 6), I was underwhelmed by the promotional activity on site: first, I felt that Canadian marketers missed out on a solid opportunity to target kids at ground level, where they are not only accessible but also in the proper frame of mind (read, hyper); and second, that the existing event marketing initiatives were pretty lame.

I say this with conviction after reading about the marketing tricks performed at previous years’ All That Music & More, a U.S. concert festival for kids produced by cable-TV station Nickelodeon. On the tour, heavyweight American brands institute ‘interactive’ elements, an ever-increasingly vital tool when targeting kids.

For instance, sponsor Johnson & Johnson Kids, in plugging its children’s hair care products, created a human car wash for tykes – aptly dubbed ‘Kid Wash’ – and sampled shampoo sachets to tie into the promotion. Similarly, in creating hype for its new spring water, Perrier astutely offered more than just a free swig of mundane H2O; it also hosted ‘Drencher Adventure,’ a virtual whitewater rafting ride, complete with sprinklers, inside an air-conditioned tent. Not to be outdone, Reebok offered young people the chance to test drive its new DMX shoes on a rock-climbing wall, and then followed up with $5 coupons towards purchasing the sneakers at Footlocker shops across the States.

Compare that to PsykoBlast, where Canadian marketers focused on giveaways, but overlooked interaction. To boot, brands positioned themselves at rickety wooden tables supplied by event organizers. If appearance matters, and with the fickle, image-conscious youth crowd you can bet your favourite Mavi jeans it does, then these companies would have made more of an impact with a visually stimulating presentation, like the tent from Perrier. Or, at the very least, with a splash of colour.

One youth marketing consultant recently confided that Canadian brands are reluctant to appear too edgy. Many strategies, although probably effective, are considered too far-out, and companies nix them at the still-on-paper stage. There is no sense in setting your sights on the lucrative teen crowd if you aren’t willing to invest in creative that is off-the-wall, or sometimes even downright subversive.

With that in mind, we asked four youth marketing experts to come up with strategies for fictitious products in our Special Report on Youth Marketing (see page B1). The consultants were enthusiastic about the idea, especially when they realized that, apart from budget restraints, they had carte blanche, which is a rarity in their real jobs.

The result is four solid plans for four different brands – namely, a girl pop band, a new-age drink, a board clothing line and a teen credit card. One of the consultants, Jeff Spriet of Wiretap, emerged with a blueprint that is clever in its anti-authority stance. He proposes packaging his new-age beverage – named Tonic9 – in syringes. As he points out, a bold move like this might attract bad press from stodgy newspapers like the Globe and Mail. It might even piss off some drug addiction advocacy groups. Maybe it would be enough to push the likes of Robert Downey Jr. off the wagon. But if you’re gonna hit up teens, a disapproving reaction from the mainstream should be your ambition, not your worst nightmare. In fact, if you’re too soft on the message, you may actually turn off teens, particularly early adopters. Especially if their parents actually like the message. With more and more adult brands attempting to woo youngsters, it’s crucial they understand that. It’s particularly imperative they speak to kids in their own language.

Spriet’s suggestions for plugging Tonic9 are also in the right zone. He recommends having actors in hospital gowns push around IV bags of the stuff, as well as parking faux medical trucks at events, where nurses could administer ‘vaccinations.’ Just imagine the buzz that would create at PsykoBlast.

Meanwhile this issue’s Campaign Spotlight (see page 14) shows how a real-life youth brand can successfully be irreverent. The transit ads for Sloche, the answer to 7-Eleven’s Slurpee from Quebec convenience-store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard, unabashedly mocks the federal government’s decision to splatter cigarette cartons with grotesque images in order to dissuade smoking. Couche-Tard realizes the creative probably doesn’t sit well with the gray-haired set, but it’s with-it enough to appreciate that anything rebellious connects with teens. And so far, its efforts have translated into more sales at the store level.

After all, isn’t that the friggin’ point?

Lisa D’Innocenzo

Ersatz sucker junkie; senior staff writer