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
’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.