FOCUS - YOUTH MARKETING: Targeting the bad girls with attitude - With role models from Ulrika Jonsson to Denise Van Outen, the new ’ladettes’ are a potent symbol of 1990s Britain. Youth brands, ever keen to tap into a new market are discov

At the beginning of last month, bedding company DuPont, created a media splash by identifying the latest 1990s style phenomenon ’The Ladette’.

At the beginning of last month, bedding company DuPont, created a

media splash by identifying the latest 1990s style phenomenon ’The


A MORI telephone survey of 506 single women aged from 18 to 34, aimed

initially at finding out about seemingly mundane matters - such as

duvet-washing habits - actually discovered that a significant number of

women enjoy swilling beer, hunting for men in packs and rarely do any


While these findings can hardly have surprised anyone, the DuPont study

does underline the changes that are happening in the youth market


’In yer face’ blondes such as Ulrika Jonsson and Zoe Ball have become

media ’babes with attitude’ icons. Some of the implications of this

trend are rather worrying - such as excessive drinking - but there is no

doubt that single career girls are catching up with much of their male

counterpart’s behaviour and expectations.

Undoubtedly, football is a major driving force and last month’s World

Cup, a defining moment when women joined the cause with a passion. This

media obsession with females and football is now hard to ignore. ITV for

instance has promoted its new sitcom, Babes In The Wood, with its stars

Denise Van Outen and Samantha Janus strutting their stuff in the England

strip. Likewise, ITV Sport is to launch a new Saturday lunchtime

football slot fronted by ex-Sky Sports presenter Gabby Yorath.

But while the term ’ladette’ is somewhat derogatory, marketers are now

tuning in to the large number of young females, who want a good career,

demand a good time and have serious spending power. ’Over the past year

client briefs have changed’, says Talk Loud PR managing director Addie

Churchill. Talk Loud’s clients include Polygram Filmed Entertainment,

for whom it handled the blockbuster Godzilla.

’We used to be asked to target 18- to 25-year-old male opinion formers,

now increasingly we are seeing an even male, female split aimed at 18-

to 35-year-olds.’

But if women really are adopting men’s hobbies and habits, how do you

tread the tightrope of retaining brands’ core male appeal, but with a

female spin? If women drink bottled lager because it is ’laddish’, they

will shy away from any feminising of the branding.

This year, Nintendo took steps to gain support outside the

male-dominated video games media, by joining forces with design label

Red or Dead for London Fashion Week. Fraser Butters who heads the

Nintendo account at Harvard PR says: ’By using realistic computer

generated images from Nintendo’s Top Gear Rally game, the Red or Dead

models glided down the catwalk to the backdrop of a high speed virtual

trip around the US.’

Similarly computer games software company Ocean has tied its Mission

Impossible puzzle game in with the rerun on Channel 4 of the original

1960s Mission Impossible series.

But while, the new ladette is a bonus for traditional male products such

as alcohol and cigarettes, uniquely female brands such as toiletries and

cosmetics also need to match up. The recently relaunched Boots 17

cosmetics range has tapped into the new female bravado by developing the

ad strap line ’It’s not make-up. It’s ammunition.’ Liz Pyrke, 17 PR

manager says: ’We position ourselves as the only cosmetics for girls

with attitude.’

To make the older aggressive message more fun for its teenage audience,

17 has used PR activity such as a rampaging Lippy mobile, a two-tone

pink tank with a lipstick shaped gun. Launch-ed at the end of April,

this has been used for guerilla activity, such as gate-crashing road

shows to hand out free samples and goodie bags. Fronted by Denise Van

Outen, probably the ’safest’ media ladette icon, this initiative has

dramatically boosted sales.

But as the number of channels to reach the youth market grows, so does

the media literacy and cynicism of young people. It is no longer

acceptable to create a big bucks advertising campaign and wait for the

sales to come rolling in. All youth marketing activities have to be

relevant and credible.

Cigarette paper manufacturer Rizla, which has launched a range of subtly

branded female merchandise from earrings to girls’ underwear, has set up

a mobile cafe which is touring all the UK music and sports festivals

this year. Mike Mathieson, managing director of youth PR specialists FFI

who handles Rizla’s PR says: ’The idea evolved from the mud bath at last

year’s Glastonbury festival, where we realised people needed a place

where they could get a decent cup of coffee and chill out.’

In addition, non-competitive brands are realising the value and youth

credibility of working in partnership. This summer, Diesel clothing is

running ’Street Skate’ events once a month, outside key stores with

French bottled-water brand Evian, providing refreshment for the


Similarly, Evian is also working with Diesel, Rizla and Guinness on a

stage called Unification Square for this year’s Notting Hill


But in terms of creating the essential word of mouth that drives youth

trends, Evian has also undertaken some low key activity. This includes a

themed garden in a club in Leeds and a stainless steel waterfall at the

Fluid club in Manchester. Mathieson says: ’You have to integrate

activities rather than thrust them upon people. Evian is providing an

experience that adds to someone’s night out, which helps create a real

warmth for the brand.’

Now that club culture has reached its peak, in 1999 Evian is planning to

move on to bar culture, which it sees as the next big thing.

Indeed the past few years has seen retail bar chains such as All Bar One

make their outlets more attractive to women. Hugh Corbett, who founded

the Slug and Lettuce chain in the early 1980s, recently set up a new

venture, Tup Inns.

’We are offering a user-friendly, comfortable clean and spacious feel

good environment’, he says. ’So it’s a natural knock-on effect that the

outlets are more ’female-friendly’ than most.’ Established over two

years ago, more than 50 per cent of Tup Inns’ staff, including the

management are female. The decor includes elements that Corbett believes

are important to women such as fine art and fresh flowers and customers

have a clear view of goings-on in the kitchens.

In fact it seems that while many brands are cashing in on the media hype

of the ladette, those that address some of the more prosaic aspects of

women’s lives are achieving the best results. It is no coincidence that

Tesco is currently riding high in the supermarket stakes when measures

such as allocated parking spaces for women with babies actually do mean

’Every little helps’.

Likewise healthfood rest-aurant chain Cranks recently received a shot in

the arm by revamping its interiors and menus in response to women’s

demands for healthy food that tastes good. Many of the dishes are 95 per

cent fat-free and the takeaway packaging is bright and fun.

In fact, a recent audit of media sources aimed at 18- to 21-year-olds by

branding consultancy Interbrand Newell and Sorrell, shows that the idea

of the ladette is much more marketing than consumer led. Chris Cleaver,

head of brand innovation says: ’Currently, the ladette is a good

platform to reflect the feminising of society and the wider move to

identities being more fluid.’

In an age where technology such as the internet, increasingly allows an

individual to be who or what they want, brands and their messages are

moving the same way. The future it seems is unisex, with young people

keener to be idenitified by their tribal grouping rather than the

traditional gender divide.

LIFESTYLE CHOICE: Launching Urban Outfitters

In the US, lifestyle retailer Urban Outfitters has been in business for

over 20 years. However, as the company’s core audience is

individualistic 18- to 25-year-olds, it shuns any sort of advertising or

overt PR activity.

It claims to recognise that this market is smart enough to work out what

to do with a product without being told. In fact, despite having around

30 stores in the US, few Americans would recognise Urban as a retail


Aside from a small core range of products, each outlet is unique both in

look and the goods that it sells.

This year, Urban decided to export its shopping style to London’s

Kensington High Street. Alongside voodoo dolls, rubber chickens and

inflatable chairs, there is street wear, a coffee shop and a music shop

run by Ministry of Sound DJ, Jan Mehmet.

To position itself as ’subversive retail’, yet keep its identity fluid,

the company hired Red Rooster PR to handle the store’s opening on 4


’The company is very consumer-led, so wanted customers to discover Urban

for themselves, rather than receiving a set identity on a plate,’ says

Catherine Morris who oversees the account.

As a result, short news items were released to most of the media, but

only the Face, Vogue and the Independent had access to the full


To generate word of mouth and encourage shoppers to visit the store, Red

Rooster undertook some ’guerrilla’ PR activities. In the week leading up

to the opening, a fly-poster campaign was conducted in London’s

style-conscious districts, including Covent Garden, Soho and Notting

Hill and flyers were distributed to London’s top bars and clubs.

On the Saturday after the opening, Urban held a party for staff and key

guests in the vacant warehouse space above the store, sponsored by

leading youth brands such as Chupachups, Evian, and Cobra beer. The lack

of an official media launch gave the party added kudos, with journalists

jostling for invites.

Since opening, the store has become increasingly popular and looks set

to live up to its US image, described by the Wall Street Journal as ’The

Gap’s evil twin’.

BALANCING ACT: Selling tradition to trendsetter

As youth is no longer about age, but state of mind, brands that rely on

quality and tradition now need to target younger markets. Women

especially, want to buy quality goods as just rewards for working hard.

But how do brands target this new market without selling out on their

core values?

But, to hold onto core brand loyalties while attracting a new younger

market, most big names create different levels of merchandise. Fashion

designers favour ready-to-wear ranges or subtly branded accessories such

as cuff links, belts and bags to enable more customers to buy in.

Family-owned Italian fashion house Ferragamo, started out by

hand-crafting shoes for stars such as Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson.

Today the company makes scarves, bags and ties, and is about to launch

its own fragrance.

Recently, to pull in a younger audience, the label introduced products

such as a pink inflatable ’lilo’ bag. Likewise, its ready-to-wear ladies

range includes combat trousers and shift dresses. Jenny Phillips who

heads the label’s PR team at Aurelia PR says: ’Ferragamo has developed

an identity that appeals to the likes of the ’It’ girls, but at the same

time does not alienate the loyal base of older customers.’

Chanel, the French fashion, fragrance and cosmetics house revealed last

month that it is considering initiatives, which have not yet been

unveiled, to make its brand more appealing to a younger market.

The reasoning behind this is two-fold. Firstly, its perfumes have been

losing ground sales-wise to fragrances aimed specifically at the youth

market, such as Calvin Klein’s cKone. Secondly, it is well aware that

those who can only afford a small piece of the Chanel ’experience’ may

well one day afford to buy its suits and handbags.

Increasingly, PR agencies are launching new services for these top of

the range clients needing to target new audiences. In March, Talk Loud

PR set up Talk Luxury, following its involvement with top London tailors

40 Savile Row, who now offer bespoke tailoring to women. Everybody it

seems wants to clinch a bit of the new found female pound, from

jewellers to travel companies.

While not specifically targeting women, over the past four years car

manufacturer Volvo has been moving its key values of family, reliability

and safety onto fun, fashion and performance. Its latest C70 model, is a

joint venture with Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) and comes as both a coupe and


’We have not walked away from what we had before, but we wanted to

appeal to a modern and younger market.’ says Volvo Car UK public affairs

manager, Roger Ormisher.

MARKET RESEARCH: Experience can equal understanding

The youth market is notoriously fluid and fickle. As styles and

attitudes change, so a whole new generation of 15-year-olds enter the

equation each year. In addition, ’oldies’ at the other end of the scale

continue to hold onto their youthful past, while taking on more

traditional responsibilities from career moves to children.

So amid this confusion, how do youth marketers keep up to speed on what

is really happening in the market place? Where does an ageing

20- to-30-something professional turn to understand the attitudes of a

16-year-old All Saints fan or football freak?

Traditionally, research has been the key. Through questionnaires and

discussion groups, brands have sought to understand the perceptions of

their target audiences. The tracking study Roar, for instance,

commissioned by the likes of Kiss FM, advertising agency BMP and

Guardian Newspapers has followed over 1,000 15- to 24-year-olds for the

past three years.

To date this has identified eight youth sub-cultures, ranging from

’Cooling Britannias’ - jaded clubbers and pubbers - to ’New Modernists’

- free spirited trend setters.

Recently however, a new generation of youth marketing specialists has

started to question this approach. Instead, they are advocating the use

of ’translators’, such as DJs, clubbers and journalists, who are

actually living the youth scene. At its most extreme, this entails

strategic input into campaigns from the 19-year-old clubber working in

the postroom.

But even as a cultural signpost, this method is fraught with


’Experience is definitely a fantastic measure,’ says Alison Hall, head

of planning and research at the Guardian. ’But the youth market is not a

homogenous one, so one person’s lifestyle can only add flesh to the

bones of what you already know.’ However, where she thinks research can

fall down is in its ability to relate to respondents. She says Roar

avoids this problem in its qualitative work, by using the suit-free,

youth specialist research agency, Murmur.

But for a really sharp picture of the market, the best approach is

almost certainly a combination of good research, translators who drive

market changes and experience.

Mike Mathieson of FFI, takes clients, such as Nike and SmithKline

Beecham on weekend trips to ’do’ the youth scene of cities such as

Bristol and Manchester.

Similarly, as FFI handles PR for many of the UK’s music festivals,

Mathieson thinks it is a real eye-opener for clients to attend events

such as this year’s V98 at Leeds and Cheltenham, although he admits: ’I

stay in a nice comfortable hotel down the road.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in