Marketing to Generations X and Y is vital, but some find it easier than others to do
Figuring out how to reach Generation X and Y occupies the minds of not only a huge number of marketers, but also the minds of media owners who are facing increasing challenges in trying to prove that the advertising space they are selling is reaching this demographic. And sometimes this leads to something that's even more interesting than observing how marketers talk to kids: observing how marketers talk about talking to kids.
Two recent examples illustrate by contrast. On the one hand, there's MTV Networks International with MTV Sticky, a b-to-b magazine, blog, and newsletter that goes out to selected media, clients, and business partners. It calls itself a "global youth trend feed."
The magazine is a fascinating read, extraordinarily researched, and it manages to avoid using the patronizing language that so many marketers use when talking about youth marketing.
On the other hand, there's the United States Postal Service's (USPS) national study, "Gen X, Gen Y, and the Mail," which opens with the headline: "Mail. Think of it as your 'wassup' to young consumers." Whatever is contained in the rest of the report is unfortunately colored with the borrowed use of a six-year-old tagline from a commercial for a beer that is as mainstream as they come.
Maybe it's picky to dwell on such things, but the USPS has a lot more work to do than MTV in aligning itself with youth - especially with advertisers increasingly turning to media owners for strategic branding advice, not just airtime transactions. Through the $161 billion direct-marketing industry, the USPS is among the top sellers of advertising space in the US, but direct mail has its challenges. Not only is it harder to collect mailing addresses for young people who have a shorter paper trail; it also doesn't have the amplifier that a branded media channel has. A good ad on MTV enjoys a multiplier effect from the MTV brand's cachet, whereas a piece of direct mail must work on its own. The USPS' research is interesting and valuable to marketers, but its image as a media owner needs some work - evidenced by the fact that even savvy marketers talk of "junk mail" to mean direct mail.
Ironically, an article in the fall issue of MTV Sticky by a research director at Sadek Wynberg Millward Brown says that the youth marketing industry is more obsessed with making brands cool to disinterested youth who'd rather just get on with their lives than with simply selling stuff to young people. "Aren't 'youth' just people like us... only younger?" he asks. "Are their needs... so radically different that only a select few people with directional haircuts and a wardrobe of vintage sportswear can explain them to us?" ... Or does all that just happen because an industry has been created which is devoted to making it happen?"
It's an extreme point of view, but the article (read the whole thing at mtvsticky.com) does remind us just how easy it is to get youth marketing wrong. And incidentally, marketers should also be mindful of the fact that disintermediation has made sure that as much as young consumers will hear what you're telling them, they'll also be able to hear what you're saying about what you're telling them.