NEWS ANALYSIS: The age-old problem of comprehending youth - The parameters of the youth market are in a constant state of flux, but that hasn’t stopped agencies from chasing the elusive goal of Generation Y

The growing influence of Generation Y, the internet and adspeak-savvy successor to Generation X, has created greater marketing demands on major consumer brands who in turn are requiring greater innovation from their public relations.

The growing influence of Generation Y, the internet and

adspeak-savvy successor to Generation X, has created greater marketing

demands on major consumer brands who in turn are requiring greater

innovation from their public relations.

Generation Y - roughly defined as 18- to 24-year-olds - supposedly

remain elusive to mainstream marketing and advertising techniques and

instead must be targeted by stealth - anyone wanting to reach them, it

is said, must ’speak on their level’.

’Today’s youth market is undoubtedly the most difficult generation to

target, due to its constantly changing attitudes and lifestyle habits,’

says Kevin Redfern, associate director of Slam, the youth marketing arm

of Charles Barker BSMG.

The importance of this market sector cannot be underestimated. For,

although Generation Y may be quite a narrow age band and its members

have limited income, its tastes and culture have a dramatic affect on

buying patterns on a much larger scale.

’Older consumers will buy products targeted at a younger audience

because they want to think they’re still ’with it’. And 99 per cent of

the time, that just doesn’t work the other way around,’ says Redfern.

’Therefore all brands and products that seek young consumers must

communicate in a language that appeals to young people.’

Slam, together with NOP Family, the youth market research division of

NOP, is currently carrying out research to produce ’y:agenda’ a profile

of what Generation Y is doing, and the reasons why. But is this really

the best way of keeping up to date with Generation Y?

According to Barbie Clarke, director of NOP Family, the project is in

response to requests from clients who want to know what is going on in

the changeable youth market.

But others in the youth marketing field are not thrilled by the idea of

yet more research into young people.

Mike Mathieson, managing director of youth consultancy Cake believes

that research can be deceptive. He cites the example of his client youth

radio station X-fm. Audience figures compiled by RAJAR don’t include

students living in halls of residence, so its audience share may appear

less than it really is - although it should be said that y:agenda is

seeking to provide this sort of insight.

Another criticism is that the twice-yearly research will date very


’Every single day there are thousands more 16-year-olds arriving on the

scene. That’s what makes youth research quite tricky,’ says Mathieson,

who was behind last year’s Pokemon launch.

Chris Ward, MD of youth marketing agency Beatwax agrees. ’If you are

only doing research once over six months, you become out of date every

month after that.’

Ward and Mathieson also both warn of the pitfalls of making any creative

decisions based on market research. ’Research is great for telling you

what people are thinking, but you don’t want the public making creative

decisions for you,’ says Mathieson.

Clarke agrees, but adds: ’We work with a lot of creatives, from

advertising and marketing, and these people rely on basic information.

It can help creative people be more creative, and to know where to

target in the first place.’

But can large well established PR agencies target the youth market in

the same way those specialising in the youth area can? While one senior

staff member at a youth marketing agency posits the theory that those in

bigger agencies are less in touch, ’because they probably take taxis

everywhere, whereas we take public transport’, Redfern obviously sees

things differently.

’No matter how hip and trendy youth marketers think they are, they still

spend most of the day in their offices, and tend to mix in marketing


It’s easy for us to get a false idea of what young people are like, and

actually forget the reality,’ he says.

Creativity was the reason behind the decision to appoint Henry’s House

to handle Absolut vodka. ’Absolut is drunk by a very literate, knowing,

metropolitan audience,’ says Julian Henry, managing director of Henry’s

House. ’It was all about creativity and ideas which hadn’t been done


Absolut’s brand manager Tracy Atherton concurs. ’We don’t define our

customers by age,’ she says. ’With Absolut, it’s about attitude.

Creativity is the driving force behind the brand. Any project involving

Absolut must be groundbreaking.’

The decision to look for a new agency was merely a ’healthcheck’, not a

conscious choice on Atherton’s part to look for a ’cutting-edge’


Atherton says that she was open-minded about the size of agency she

employed, and that it was the strong ideas which Henry’s House pitched

which won it the brief, not the size of the agency nor perceived

proximity to a certain market.

But research can provide information that no amount of clubbing or

creativity can pick up. For example, Clarke says some NOP research has

revealed that while most people in their twenties will use the term

’cool’ it is actually a turn-off for teenagers, as is the word ’naff’ -

essential information when targeting Generation Y, but not something you

are likely to learn unless you spent a lot of time hanging around your

local student union bar.

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