Two-faced marketing

Forget attempting to blow young minds with glitzy ad campaigns; brands like Tylenol, Chevrolet, Jeep and Microsoft have found a cheaper, arguably more effective, means to connect with young consumers. They've learned it pays to infiltrate youth communities, and the more natural their involvement - whether at grassroots events or online - the better, say youth marketing experts.

Forget attempting to blow young minds with glitzy ad campaigns; brands like Tylenol, Chevrolet, Jeep and Microsoft have found a cheaper, arguably more effective, means to connect with young consumers. They’ve learned it pays to infiltrate youth communities, and the more natural their involvement – whether at grassroots events or online – the better, say youth marketing experts.

Max Lenderman, VP/CD and co-founder of Montreal-based experiential marketing firm Gearwerx, says more and more traditional brands are using below-the-radar tactics to resonate with young consumers. This is a topic he follows closely, both as a founding board member of the International Experiential Marketing Association, and as someone who develops such campaigns,

properties, and programs for a long list of clients including Procter & Gamble, DaimlerChrysler Canada, and L’Oreal Paris. He points to a one-year-old Tylenol campaign that saw the drug align itself with skateboarders, breakdancers, and party promoters in the U.S. as an example of this increasingly popular form of marketing.

Tylenol has also been quietly handing out tchotchkes branded with the slogan ‘ouch’ at youth-oriented fringe events. It even has spent US$2.5 million funding such gatherings, according to Fortune magazine, after

discovering that 10.2% of brand users aged 18 to 34 switch to other pills annually. The fact that rocker Ben Kweller has since penned a song about Tylenol suggests the covert strategy is working.

Lenderman cites a couple of reasons behind the trend. For one thing, there’s the old

‘get-’em-while-they’re-young’ factor. But ‘going underground’ also provides a safe

outlet for acting out, because the mainstream won’t see – or become disillusioned with – a brand’s bad-boy side.

He adds: ‘All great pop culture phenomena originate underground in the first place. If you’re ambitious enough and brave enough to start ‘down there’ you’re ahead of the curve in terms of buzzworthiness.’ Then there’s the added advantage of getting to know the target a heck of a lot better because ‘you need to spend a lot of time.’

Like Tylenol, Microsoft has carved itself a place in youth communities (in this case, with students), although it’s been much more open about its involvement. Daniel Shapiro,

academic program manager with Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada, says there are three components to the strategy – a blogging site called thespoke.net, an offline component targeting university clubs, and a loyalty

program. (See Behind the Idea.)

Created in July, the spoke offers young tech enthusiasts – high school to post-grad university students – a place to converse about programming, digital music, movies, and anything else that strikes their fancy. Spoke Premium, the loyalty arm, gives students points for writing blogs, which they can put towards the purchase of Microsoft software.

But to Lenderman’s point, Microsoft can also use the spoke as a fairly rich qualitative research tool. ‘We’ll listen to the audience and be able to incorporate [their needs] back into the resources and programs we provide,’ agrees Shapiro.

‘We’re encouraging the next generation of software developers. Younger and younger consumers are starting to use technology and [the spoke] allows them to make a connection with us.’

A global initiative, the spoke isn’t promoted through advertising, but Microsoft reps do spread the word through 60 events it hosts at schools across the country each year.

For General Motors’ Chev in the City marketing program, which ran in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver last fall and winter, research was also a major component. Chevrolet had introduced a lineup of vehicles – the SSR, Aveo, Optra, Malibu and Colorado – geared at a younger generation.

While traditional media – Internet and radio – was utilized, GM also looked for ‘something that would create a buzz’ with the 18-to-35 crowd, says Richard James, the automaker’s Oshawa-based manager of product communications. That objective led to street surveys conducted in trendy districts, enabling the brand ‘direct contact with the demo.’

‘Chevrolet was not a name [young people] recognized or identified with, plus we didn’t have vehicles that met their needs,’ he says. ‘The only one that Chevrolet had was the Cavalier, which had been around a long time, and wasn’t felt to be stylish or cutting edge.’

GM polled about 16,000 young adults over a four-week period. Gleaned insights were then used to determine Chev’s next path, which involved creatively displaying the vehicle at city hot spots. For instance, in Toronto cars were showcased on a bed in the Distillery District, in a yoga pose at Yonge and Eglinton and as a DJ table at Dundas Square. The brainchild of Optimum PR in Toronto, Chev in the City hit

15-odd venues overall.

There are no direct results for the program, although James says the automaker is pleased with the performance of the Aveo and Optra brands, as they are bringing up the volume of total vehicle sales. And while Chev in the City won’t be duplicated exactly down the road, GM will continue to explore avenues to ‘create awareness in a different way.’

GM isn’t the only car company to cozy up to youth through grassroots events. DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep brand has been involved in the Exclaim! anniversary tours – put on by the Toronto-based entertainment and music mag of the same name – for the past two years. For Ian Danzig, publisher of Exclaim!, subtlety was essential. ‘You’re not going to drive a car around on stage, because that’s not going to fly,’ he says.

Instead, Exclaim! handed out Jeep-branded CDs, featuring compilations of the bands on tour, both at the concert itself and as promotional flyers beforehand. ‘People are getting access to cool music and it’s on a Jeep-branded CD. Do people go home and say ‘I have a great Jeep CD?’ That’s probably not what they’re calling it, but the association is there.’ Jeep also gave away branded guitar picks.

Exclaim! offers other sponsorship opps as well, such as through its involvement with the national DMC DJ competition. Recently, Apple got onboard by supplying a local DJ with iPod technology, which he used during performances. There was no overt marketing on behalf of Apple. In the past, Pioneer has also signed on.

Sponsorship price tags with Exclaim! range between $10,000 and $80,000. Aside from the low cost, Danzig believes there’s another clear benefit to having a brand presence at youth events (at least cool ones): ‘Having brands introduced to you in that environment is way more powerful than having something thrown in your face when you haven’t asked for it to be in your face.’

BEHIND THE IDEA

Microsoft at University

Microsoft’s thespoke.net may have been born at its U.S. head office in Redmond, Wash., but Canada is the only country to give student clubs – currently at the University of Toronto and UBC – a hub on the site. The idea came out of talks with members of the U of T

computer science club who bemoaned the lack of a strong presence online. If all goes well, the offer will be rolled out to other

universities, says Daniel Shapiro, academic program manager at the Canadian subsidiary in Mississauga, Ont. This move plays into the fact that ‘the spoke is ‘being defined by

students for students,” he explains.

And as Fubu, an apparel brand that carried a similar mantra – and was extremely popular in its day – can attest, ‘for us, by us’ is an ideal philosophy for resonating with youth.

MuchMoreOpps behind the music

Susan Arthur, director of marketing for CHUM TV, says youth property MuchMusic undertook a new strategy to create event marketing opportunities a year-and-a-half ago – by partnering with Toronto-based agency CIM – mainly because clients were asking for it.

Much responded by turning its VJ Search into a national road trip -sponsors have included Ford, Radio Shack and Panasonic – and adding the Much Unleashed tour, presented by Xbox.

A new marketing outlet, to debut next summer, will consist of a hybrid between event and programming, says Arthur, who adds that MuchMusic Dance Parties and Video Awards are also available to marketers looking to add to their TV buy. ‘If you can get out there and touch [youth] with your brand then you’ve leveraged that media relationship,’ she says.