Editorial: If you want engagement, try engaging

Executive editor Mary Maddever on the challenges of truly connecting with youth.

A cynical person might observe that a lot of youth campaign “insights” must read something like this: Youth like music. Youth like games. While on the connection front, there’s lots of very literal takes on engagement (contests, for instance).

So what’s standing out?

Our Youth Report looks at campaigns by some of Canada’s top youth players – from Doritos’ techy social evolution of its traditional UGC program, to Adidas’ new culture-curation chapter, “Unite All Originals,” featuring a site that pairs artists, designers and musicians for collaborative collisions.

Music is actually a good lens for examining what’s resonating with youth, and the Red Bull Music Academy is a useful yardstick since they are credited with nailing the whole brand-as-media-company thing. It’s been around since 1998, and puts music icons together with emerging artists around the world. They make good choices. When Red Bull hooked up with MF Doom a few years back, that was brilliant match-making. The notoriously incognito, talented and original Doom has a loyal following, so the content was a welcome offering.

And that’s the conundrum in the brand content space – you’re up against everything on YouTube, TV and the concert circuit, so it almost has to be better than what’s already out there. And while brands love scale, a lot of content is compelling and relevant due to its nicheness.

Finding the right model is half the battle. Finding the right content – now that more brands are entering the space and there are more free-range gatekeeperless options to sort through – is the other challenge, and an ongoing one.

As Mike Farrell points out in his Forum column, today’s youth have more disparate and unique music, fashion and entertainment preferences than the last wave, so mass and mainstream associations have diluted brand bonding power. Think Brooklyn rather than New York, and that’s where the taste and trend-setting cues are coming from – a little street, a little DIY, a little quirky.

To truly engage, many companies need to get better at giving consumers meaningful opportunities to be heard. Give them a platform to help direct the brand and take that feedback to heart. After all, Gen Z grew up in an iTunes world, not Top Hits radio.

Cheers, mm
Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant

P.S. Once brands know what their audience finds relevant, discovering a content match among what’s new in the realm of webisodes, film, games and TV can be challenging, especially when a lot of North American content deals are brokered in the U.S. To that end, strategy has partnered with Playback, our sister pub covering Canada’s film and TV industry, to launch a platform to help brands find new projects in development from Canadian producers, with an eye to hooking up on branded content deals. BCON Xchange is in beta mode, so be in touch if you’d like to be part of it.