Courting the first-time buyer

They're moving away from home for the first time. They're drinking alcohol for the first time. They're buying cars for the first time. Youth aged 16 to 24 experience more consumer firsts than any other age group, so it's not surprising that marketers are constantly courting them.

They’re moving away from home for the first time. They’re drinking alcohol for the first time. They’re buying cars for the first time. Youth aged 16 to 24 experience more consumer firsts than any other age group, so it’s not surprising that marketers are constantly courting them.

But while the days when you could throw an ad on MuchMusic and call it a day are long gone, marketers are finding that today’s generation of first-time buyers are actually more receptive to advertising than you might think.

In fact, as long as you stick to an emotional sell and recognize their diversity by dangling a family of brands, rather than a single product – thanks to a little softening up courtesy of 50 Cent, Hilfiger and Busta Rhymes’ ‘Pass the Courvoisier’ – you can experience sales increases as high as the 26% boasted by the Dodge SX 2.0.

‘The young are our future,’ says Pearl Davies, senior manager, national advertising/direct marketing for Windsor, Ont.-based DaimlerChrysler. ‘We need to attract youth to our brand so they’ll find it relevant, interesting and fun as they grow older and continue to buy cars from us.’

Davies says that to reach this demo the focus has to be heavier on experience and emotion, and lighter on science. ‘It’s about lifestyle and what they can do with the car rather than the individual product features,’ she says.

The ad campaign for the Dodge SX 2.0 (the rebranded Neon, which launched in 2002) by BBDO Montreal has played to that insight, starting with the ‘Toes’ TV spots, which featured toes feeling happy to drive an SX 2.0. The latest ad, called ‘Beat,’ moves away from feet and instead concentrates on sound. Viewers hear a beat throughout the commercial only to realize it’s the heartbeat of the driver whose pulse is racing because she’s having so much fun in the car.

The SX 2.0 saw a 26% increase in sales in 2003 over 2002 as a result of the campaign.

Another tactic for leveraging an emotional sell against youth is a little patriotism. Molson has famously hit upon this insight with its ‘I Am Canadian’ campaign. It’s been an important point of difference between Molson Canadian and competing brands, says David Jones, director of public relations for Toronto-based brewery Molson.

‘What came back in research was that young Canadians were a whole lot more patriotic than anyone had given them credit for. That was a real eye opener, which led to the ‘Rant’ and the reinvigoration of the ‘I Am Canadian’ campaign.’

Molson’s latest ad campaign also makes a patriotic play with a young man proudly explaining why he doesn’t drink American beer in a spot called ‘American Beer’ created by Toronto-based agency Bensimon * Byrne.

Jones is careful to note, however, that when young people reach the age where they’re making their own brand choices, they’re likely to make several, so the goal isn’t to tie the

consumer to one brand. Instead, Molson aims to get them to include the brand in their ‘circle of brands’ and then as they get older and their tastes change, graduate them to other brands within the marketer’s offering.

‘When people become of drinking age, they start to decide what brand is for them, so you certainly want to make an impact and be part of that circle of brands. It pays everybody to appeal to the drinker who’s making a brand decision, experimenting with different brands and trying to find one that really lines up with what they think about themselves and what they want from a beer.’

In the cellphone sphere, Rogers Wireless takes a more segmented approach and divides up the demo according to where that segment is in its life stage – i.e. late high school or leaving university for the working world.

‘What you have to be careful with in this group is that you don’t stereotype and try to brush them all with the same thing,’ explains John Boynton, VP, consumer marketing for the Toronto-based telecom. ‘So what we’re trying to do is provide a choice of things that matter to them from campaign to campaign. What matters most to someone who is 16 or 17 and still not in college is dramatically different from the person who’s in college, which is dramatically different from the person who’s 24 and is in their first job.’

Boynton says that insight shows up in the brand positioning, which says, ‘Rogers lets you do what matters most to you.’ For one group it might be ease of use and for another, flexible usage plans.

‘So you have a choice of X different kinds of rate plans, one of which will apply to the post-grad group and one to the pre-grad, and we’ll have a selection of phones that are featured within the ads which will broadly target within that group, so it’s consistent with our positioning.’

Rogers has been targeting a youth demo for the past two years, a strategy Boynton says was undertaken in response to data showing the residential wireless space to be a profitable one in terms of usage and early adoption by youth. Phones also sport more capabilities than ever before, creating better opportunities to market to this demo with features youth find appealing.

Rogers’ most recent campaign broke May 3. In a TV spot called ‘Summer of Friends,’ Rogers touts the fact consumers can use phones for a variety of things while outside – such as finding your lost friends in an amusement park. Boynton describes the insight as focusing on doing what you want when you want, whether it be talking, text messaging or taking photos.

The other major strategy Rogers uses to reach youth is capitalizing on the latter’s brand- and celebrity-consciousness. To do that Rogers has executed marketing initiatives such as partnering with fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger for a back-to-school promotion last year for its first mass-market colour phone. The program was targeted at older high school/younger university students. Each time consumers purchased the phone, they received a Hilfiger-designed faceplate and knapsack. Rogers would not reveal figures but, according to Suzanne McMeans, corporate communications, ‘we had very strong Q3 results for 2003, relative to the competition.’

Boynton says Rogers pursued the strategy for a couple of reasons: ‘It’s hard to reach this group. So part of it is strictly reach. Part of it is your brand attribute. You have to find a brand that has similar brand values to you so that you begin building the cumulative effect of your own brand campaign.’

DaimlerChrysler has done the same and pursued tie-ins with other brands popular with that demo. To that end the carmaker has, for example, partnered with Sony to market its Dodge SX 2.0 in a campaign that launched in spring 2003. Five cars were outfitted with an audio/video system from the Sony Xplod Group and decorated with Sony logos. The cars are currently travelling cross-country, where they make appearances in core metropolitan areas, targeting 54 car-related events such as sport compact nights, import festivals and the Molson Indy.

The irony is that while youth can be fickle, they’re also a generation that has grown up completely immersed in celebrity culture and are highly status conscious. Get the right spokesperson or form the right alliance and your job gets a lot easier.

Jeff Spriet, president of Toronto agency Chokolat, says you can thank the popularity of hip-hop culture

for that.

‘It’s a very brand-friendly demographic because that age group is not established yet and they’re a little bit more impressionable. To some extent hip-hop culture has created a lot more friendliness toward brands where you have an artist rapping, ‘pass the Courvoisier.’ You’ve got the 50 Cents of the world talking about Bacardi. Brands are a part of that subculture. There’s a lot less aversion to brands than there ever has been before.’