Value targeting: top youth brands’ niche connection plans

Strategy takes a look at how some brands are breaking through the clutter to connect with kids on all fronts – hitting them at their passion points and the places where they “play.”

Teen singing sensation Justin Bieber heralded the beginning of a new online trend. Thanks to his discovery on YouTube and subsequent rise to superstardom, kids all over the world have begun tapping into their inner pop stars, creating YouTube videos of themselves performing cover songs. It’s made some into overnight internet stars, like Maria Aragon in Winnipeg whose cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” was promoted on Twitter by the artist herself. At press time the little girl’s video had accumulated over 17 million views.
The trend has not gone unnoticed by Coca-Cola. In March, Coca-Cola Canada, working with UM Canada, launched a program with MuchMusic called “Covers.”
It encourages young Canadians to make videos of themselves performing a cover of one of six hit songs and submit them to
Site visitors can vote for their favourites, with participants encouraged to solicit votes by leveraging their social networks. A series of elimination stages will whittle the contestants down to three finalists who will be flown to Toronto for the MuchMusic Video Awards in June. There they will get to walk the red carpet with one lucky winner receiving a Covers Award during the festivities.
“It’s a project that naturally lends itself to all platforms,” says Brad Schwartz, former SVP, GM, Much MTV Group (at press time, Schwartz had left to take a position with Fuse, Madison Square Garden’s national music TV network). “You’re engaging your audience to do something active, not to just passively sit and watch a 30-second ad, but to participate.”
The program is being promoted by a contest spot airing on Much, both on TV and online. Some of the best submissions will be shown on New Music Live. Once a top 10 has been established, those videos will appear in Much content. The Coca-Cola brand is being completely integrated into promotional devices every step of the way, while also earning social capital as a topic of discussion between participants and their social networks.
“What we’re encouraging teens to do with this program is demonstrate their optimism, their hopes for the future through music,” says Bobby Brittain, VP, sparkling business unit, Coca-Cola Canada. “The oft-quoted example of Justin Bieber is certainly something that inspired this program as a way of creating a really positive future for people, and as a way of connecting with each other and celebrating being a teen.”
These days, a big part of being a teen is the ability (and incessant need) to multi-task. Whether they’re into music, fashion or sports, teens live out their passions across a variety of platforms, often at the same time. Narrowing their efforts against a diverse age range, marketers are learning to multi-task too, targeting teens with campaigns that span those playgrounds, in person, on TV and especially online.
For Coca-Cola Canada, music has become a key way to engage youth where they play. It recently entered into a partnership with Apple’s iTunes, wherein people who buy a 591 ml bottle of Coke receive a free song download.
Brittain says that partnership, along with “Covers” (the largest effort around music the company has engaged in over the last 10 years and the first time Coca-Cola Canada has solicited user-generated content from teens), is a localized interpretation of the global “Open Happiness” effort. This global platform is seeing the brand become more strategic about the way it’s targeting young people through music. It includes a recently released global “Anthem” commercial, developed by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam that will soon make its way to, featuring young people rocking out to a soundtrack provided by British band One Night Only.
Another initiative on March 22 saw Coca-Cola team up with the band Maroon 5 for a 24-hour recording session in London, which involved fans around the world, who could follow the session as it streamed live on

Viewers were able to interact with the band, lending their creative inspiration via a movement-based projection system in the studio that streamed fans’ thoughts, inspiration and comments onto the studio walls to direct the band in the creation of an original song. The session was promoted via Coke’s Facebook page and Twitter, and bloggers from countries around the world were on site to document it.
Back in Canada, Brittain says teens can expect more efforts like the “Covers” program coming from Coca-Cola.
“We are committed to ensuring that we leverage music into the future,” he says. “We’re really excited about the prospects for [‘Covers’] and would love to see how that evolves after this year.”
Mattel is another company that’s recently teamed up with a youth media brand to integrate its products into content to reach a younger demographic. Working with Carat, it orchestrated pre-taped segments inserted into broadcasts of MTV Live
in November and December in which the cast went head-to-head playing the board game Apples to Apples. It challenges players to come up with off-the-wall noun and adjective combinations. The segments were advertised by a branded promo spot, which aired on MTV.
“We wanted to target a younger audience than we had targeted in the past for adult games, really a younger social audience,” says Kathleen O’Hara, brand manager, entertainment and games, Mattel Canada. “So, it was something different than just running traditional TV spots, and they really showcased how your personality can make the game more fun.”  
O’Hara says that the MTV partnership follows on the heels of another, more old-school, experiential program that took the “Games Night” model to university campuses across Canada during frosh week, where students were encouraged to try out a roster of Mattel’s adult games. Brand teams set up tents and created contests to draw people in, giving games
as prizing.
“We really wanted to introduce our games to an audience that we hadn’t necessarily reached yet,” says O’Hara. Mattel is looking
 to adapt its on-campus program next fall, targeting university student residences and further increasing
on-campus engagement with promotions in campus newspapers and on campus radio stations.
Trial was also the name of the game for Xbox when it was promoting the launch of Kinect, its hands-free gaming platform. In September, working with Toronto-based Mosaic, Xbox set up a pop-up Kinect hub across from the Eaton Centre in Toronto and encouraged passersby to step inside and try out the new platform. The launch was celebrated with an event at Yonge-Dundas Square, which featured a hanging glass living room showcasing Kinect games and an exclusive performance by electro DJ duo Christian Rich. Periodic visits to the hub from other teen-friendly celebrity brand ambassadors, like the band Alexisonfire, Blake McGrath of So You Think You Can Dance Canada fame and stars of Canadian teen drama Degrassi, helped to build buzz, drawing autograph-hungry youngsters to the site.
“That really pushed up our trials,” says Eric Charles, marketing lead, Xbox Canada. “Sure, you’re meeting a celebrity, but you also get to try the Kinect experience. It was a really good way of integrating something as simple as an autograph signing with trial in a manner that wasn’t forced.”
Thanks to Kinect and its games with wide-range appeal (like Dance Central), it also helped attract a demo new to Xbox, hyper-social teenage girls, whose social networks Xbox was able to leverage to further promote the Kinect experience, Charles says.
Charles and his team knew that trial would be key to promoting the launch of Kinect based on their first experience with it early on during the product cycle.
“It wasn’t until we were able to try it ourselves that we became advocates and believers,” he says. “When we saw that insight, just within our own marketing team, without doing any research, it clicked with us that experiential was going to be key to this.”
To take the experiential quotient wider, a giant billboard at Yonge-Dundas Square live-streamed hub visitors as they played new games on the Kinect. Massive posters also took over Yonge-Dundas Square, with a domination at Dundas station. The Kinect experience was touted by wild postings, flyers and on MySpace. A similar Kinect experience was launched in Montreal in October.
Xbox also pushed the Kinect launch through partnerships with MTV and Musiqueplus. MTV created an hour-long show called Dance Bang, a spinoff, of sorts, of So You Think You Can Dance Canada, where people could audition for the chance to be crowned the best dancer playing Dance Central as well as win $10,000. Over 7,000 entered, and Kinect also bought all of the commercial breaks during the broadcast.
The partnership with Musiqueplus saw its hosts competing against each other on the same game.
In addition to the targeted and experiential path, Xbox also executed a robust, TV-heavy traditional media spend, but did something a little different with its buy, targeting conventional channels, mostly CTV and Global, rather than its usual specialty choices, in order to achieve a broader range of shows to capitalize on co-viewing. TV creative was picked up from Xbox’s U.S.-based global messaging, and the Canadian buy was handled by MacLaren McCann “Going conventional, although it cost us more money, our share of voice at the time of the buy was 70% compared to our competition, so it actually really worked when it came to segmenting against our target audience,” says Charles.
Another dual-demo brand that augments mass with digital friend gatherings to reach youth is Oreo. Knowing that Kinect is a place where its target demo would play, Kraft’s Oreo Cakesters brands decided to get in the game and tag along for the Xbox platform’s launch. Working with the Toronto-based Armstrong Partnership, Cakesters created its own branded section of the Kinect hub and allowed visitors to demo Kinect Sports and refuel with some Cakesters samples. The Oreo brand also integrated itself into Kinect games, being featured on billboards in various gaming worlds. It also ran a contest over Xbox Live, where members could download wacky Cakesters wallpapers for opportunities to win Xbox points, which could be redeemed for things like games and equipment. The brand gave out 50,000 Xbox points a week and a grand prize of an ultimate Kinect station including an Xbox and a flat-screen TV.
“We were trying to, in a relatively efficient way, get our message out to the teen and tween groups [which are] becoming increasingly fragmented,” says Chris Bell, VP of snacks, Kraft Canada. “So, we tried to go where we thought they would be and spend our money there.
We felt with Xbox – and Kinect is a new technology – we would be partnering with a solid brand that has cool factor and is bringing news to the marketplace.” 
The effort, says Bell, is one of Cakesters’ first forays into the space, but is an area that it is hoping to explore further following declining success with TV advertising after the brand’s first year (it was introduced in 2008).
“In the second and third year it really became apparent that we needed to be a little more specific with our targeting and that’s how we got into the program with Xbox,” says Bell. “As we go forward our media choices are leaning more towards digital.” 
As these brands show, media mashups, social media friendly initiatives and experiential are a few of the ways top youth marketers are reaching out in more psychographic-specific programs. Targeting values through passion points may add layers of complexity to programs, but are key to getting youths’ attention in a very fragmented media and ultra-niche-interest world.