Being there

If you think adding the phrase 'that's phat' to your ad will help you connect with kids, think again. If a kid says it of their own accord, then 'fo shizzle' you're on to something. To get there, you need your brand to hang where they hang. The trick is to do it in a way that's relevant as well as consistent with the experience.

If you think adding the phrase ‘that’s phat’ to your ad will help you connect with kids, think again. If a kid says it of their own accord, then ‘fo shizzle’ you’re on to something. To get there, you need your brand to hang where they hang. The trick is to do it in a way that’s relevant as well as consistent with the experience.

The key to success, as the marketers below have discovered, is to connect with youth through their passions – their love of music, socializing, gaming and sports. That’s because word-of-mouth is just as, if not more, powerful as TV in its ability to persuade, according to Mike Farrell, partner and director of research and strategy at Youthography in Toronto. ‘We do studies on what types of media create purchase intent. Word of mouth was recently number one by 4% over TV,’ he says. ‘It’s the grassroots activities that put the walk in your talk.’

The secret, as some brands have found, is to hook up with the media, events and brands that are already entrenched in youth culture.

Norman Paul, CEO of Tru distributor Toronto-based Product Excellence, for example, turned to music partners to launch Tru Cosmetics, a new brand for 14-18 girls.

Research suggested that – surprise, surprise – the target loves all the latest music, so Toronto-based Segal Communications created a promotion involving more than 100 Music World stores and Sony BMG Records. Specially designed Tru Cosmetics gifts bags were given away in-store with purchases of CDs featuring Grammy-winning artists.

Meanwhile, ad space for Tru Cosmetics included stickers on the CDs, window banners and shelf talkers, plus promotion in Music World ads. Phase one took place in February around the Grammy awards and phase two followed during March break, apparently the second biggest music-buying month of the year. In all, 5,000 gift bags were handed out in February and 10,000 in March.

Says Paul: ‘Instead of taking our product and waving it front of them and saying ‘buy it,’ by association with these other brands we said, ‘try it.” Next on the Tru Cosmetics agenda is a big music-related back-to-school event.

Nintendo of Canada also turned to the music scene earlier this month with the Canadian launch of its new Nintendo DS handheld gaming system. The Vancouver company partnered with MuchMusic using original TV creative and an online component to promote the new system, as well as its current and upcoming library of games.

The advertising revolves around a contest geared at 17-year-olds. It offers a chance to win one of four limited-edition systems designed by renowned graffiti artists, plus the opportunity to win a trip to E3 and experience hard-core gaming first hand in Los Angeles from May 16 to 20. The grand prize winner also has the liberty of choosing a MuchMusic VJ to accompany them on their E3 expedition, as they gather exclusive footage from the show floor for future broadcast.

Meanwhile, Trojan has decided to sponsor Exclaim! magazine’s Cross-Canada Concert Series this month. Put on by the national weekly music pub, the tour will be held in major Canadian cities and features a number of rock bands.

Like other marketers, Andrew Smith, marketing manager for Trojan at Mississauga, Ont.-based Church & Dwight Canada, believes music-based marketing is an effective way to reach youth.

‘TV has been a challenge for us, because the people we’re targeting [18-29], aren’t really watching, except for niche specialty channels,’ he says. Smith also liked the fact that Exclaim! offered an opportunity to run ads in the magazine, as well as sample product at the events.

Trojan’s cheeky print ads, which have run for the past few months, show rock concert elements, but with obvious phallic overtones. One ad, for example, uses a microphone and the copy ‘Come. Enjoy.’ On the sampling side, 50,000 pre-concert flyers are being distributed by promoters in each city. They aren’t ordinary flyers, but green pouches listing the details and dates of the tour, and of course, each one houses a condom.

Effem Foods, on the other hand, decided to tap into the action sports arena with its Mars brand. Since the tag is ‘Recharge on Mars,’ the Bolton, Ont.-based company found a suitable partner in SBC Media ( which publishes several niche action sports magazines such as Snowboard Canada, Skateboard, and Wakeboard.

But SBC also provided entry into several proprietary sport events, including Wakestock, which takes place each summer in resort areas across Southern Ontario and attracts more than 40,000 young people over its four-day run. (This year the event is being held Aug 11-14 in Ontario – location TBA.)

It involves skateboarding, wakeboarding, and BMW biking, among other activities, as well as contests. There is also a consumer show component where all the leading action sports brands – equipment, fashion, footwear and eyewear – are represented, as well as concerts with about 16 bands.

‘This is where the kids are,’ says Steve Jarrett, president and group publisher of Toronto-based SBC, ‘and these things are an integral part of their lifestyle.’

Rankin Carroll, marketing director at Effem, quite agrees. For the past two years, Mars has had a strong presence at Wakestock, including sponsorship of the Mars Skateboard Park and all the dominant brand presence and sampling that comes with it. Mars also leveraged its involvement with the SBC roster of publications and Wakestock through an in-store promotional campaign.

The goal, says Carroll, was to ‘become a part of the [17-year-old male target's] existing environment and add to it. Our real focus is to keep generating this youth franchise and do what we can to connect with them and build that relationship over time.’

Judging by the experience of the Ontario Ministry of Health’s anti-tobacco campaign, Effem and Tru are on to something; hanging where kids hang is an excellent way to create a buzz – and garner results. Between November and March, had received more than 400,000 unique visitors and over 350,000 online anti-smoking campaign starter kits had been downloaded. Also, thousands of e-cards were sent by visitors to friends and in excess of 6,000 kids used the site’s message board to chat.

How did the ministry get that kind of reaction? Starting with music: The campaign originally kicked off with a series of free concerts in November, organized by Youthography and held simultaneously in various Ontario cities featuring bands like Goldfinger and De La Soul. Media partner MuchMusic promoted the events on air, and on its site, while its VJs acted as emcees.

Online buys were also cleverly targeted: The brand was visible on the MSN Hotmail and Yahoo Mail sites, and the GeoCities community of blog sites ( Because kids have to register for the sites, those who are known to be Ontario teens were served banners, skyscrapers, or big box ads that took them to Media planning and buying agency MBC Toronto also placed ads in youth and entertainment media like TV stations MuchMusic, YTV, Teletoon, TSN, and The Comedy Channel, cinema, and high school-distributed magazines Vervegirl and Fuel.

Says Michelle Garrett, manager of public education for the Ministry of Health: ‘To be where the kids are is really critical. They’re multi-tasking, multi-media and grassroots oriented. We’re trying to make this anti-smoking, anti-tobacco movement cool.’


Girls are more socially conscious than boys. Who knew? This, according to Trendscan, the ongoing research product of Youth Culture, a Toronto-based research and publishing company.

Company president Kaaren Whitney-Vernon says that, according to online and face-to-face focus groups, girls favour brands and companies that give back to society through charitable works or environmental concerns. For example, she says, if a company doesn’t test its products on animals, this group wants to know about it. Boys, on the other hand, are simply looking to get what they want at the lowest price and are interested in kid-friendly companies, like those that hire students.

Youth Culture publishes four magazines including Vervegirl ( and Fuel (, but like other youth media, it also offers cross-platform packages that incorporate events and sampling.

In fact, the importance of sampling has also come out in the research, and Whitney-Vernon says the tactic is quite successful for youth marketers. ‘Youth need to interact with a product before they buy. They’re very experimental.’

Thus, Youth Culture has gotten into the in-store demonstration side of the business with its clients, hiring ‘Vervegirls’ to reflect a youthful image and showcase the products in a more believable way.

Says Whitney-Vernon: ‘There’s lots of room for innovation with that whole layered approach, just make sure what you’re saying online is the same as what you’re doing in magazines and projecting in-store.’