So, a company has invested over R2-million in a youth advertising campaign – with flashy TV ads, an SMS-driven competition and catchy billboards – but the whole thing bombs within two months. Meanwhile, Joe Blog films himself doing a silly series of dance moves, uploads it to YouTube and within days has accumulated thousands of hits. Without a prescribed recipe for guaranteed success, many marketers have to explore new ways to navigate the forever-changing terrain that is the youth market.
Young South Africa is more alert and sensitised to media than ever before – making them more demanding and critical of the branded communication they are willing to consume. Many marketers find themselves in a quandary over how to best position their brand in the youth market. Brands that take being cool too seriously are not cool at all – but brands that appear to do nothing more than skim the surface are just as likely to drop off their radar screens.
Fact is, marketers need to be tuned in to the demands of their young customers. South African youth continues to accumulate more clout in the commercial context. Not only do they represent more than 52 percent of the population, but last year they spent almost R81-billion, according to the Sunday Times Generation Next 2008 Brand Preference Study. And, of course, they are the future generation of adult consumers.
In our work with brands, youth market specialists HDI Youth Marketeers, has encountered an increasing appetite for understanding the dynamics of kids, teens and young adults’ purchase, brand behaviour and media consumption habits.
HDI Youth Marketeers is responsible for two large annual research studies that reflect a representative sample of urban South African youth: the Sunday Times Generation Next Brand Preference Study (now in its fifth year) and the Khuza Study (2008 was its third release) on brand communication and media consumption.
At the root of how Generation Y consume media, is their capacity to take control of what, how and when they are willing to consume it. “(One of the misconceptions is that the) youth are easily influenced. (The reality is that) we read through a lot of things and it takes a lot to convince us and even more to keep us convinced,” says Raheema Essop, a member of HDI Youth Marketeers’ Junior Board of Directors (JBoD) – a panel of young South Africans who serve HDI Youth Marketeers and its clients with their insight and ideas.
After all, Generation Y have grown up in a media-rich environment and have acquired highly sophisticated filtering systems that enable them to tune in and out on their own terms. “With technology, I’m able to ignore every single message you send me,” argued 20-year-old social-media strategist Tyler Reed at HDI Youth Marketeers’ Summer School held in September 2008. The two-day event addressed the core concerns felt by marketers about making real connections with their younger customers. “Why rely on someone else’s medium – create your own and keep them as a captive audience,” said Gavin Rooke, MD of Trigger in his presentation. He referred to the success of the Nike Be True campaign which won a Grand Prix at Loeries 2008 for creating a new-media channel for the Nike brand in form of The Gallery on 4th: a pop-up store-cum-exhibition- space that is driven by a set of blogs, Facebook groups and other digital interventions.
The sudden uptake of social-networking mediums such as MySpace and Facebook led many marketers to believe that a whole new channel for engaging teens and young adults had opened up to them. However, this medium is fast becoming a no-go area for marketers because young consumers are not interested in social-networking sites (SNS) for the sake of SNS, but rather because they offer them a relevant platform from which to further enhance and consolidate their friendship circles.
In this case, marketers should rather find a way to position their brand on existing channels like Facebook rather than create their own branded social-networking sites. Young urbanites don’t wait for permission from brands, nor do they take their cues from so-called marketing experts on how to consume their brands of choice. Marketers looking to really impress the youth need to understand the role of each different medium – be it the television, radio, cellphone, socialnetworking profile – in their lives and the nature of the consumption associated with each medium. The Sunday Times Generation Next Study 2008 revealed that television is still king in terms of the volume of consumption.
The one-eyed king
However, TV is frequently a background feature and is consumed in conjunction with other competing mediums simultaneously. For young urbanites, multi-tasking is the norm and so they will MXit their friends, eat their favourite hamburger, download some games from the internet while watching TV. The study, which refl ects the opinions of over 3,000 urban and peri-urban young South Africans (aged 8 to 22), revealed that the television is always on in 28 percent of young South Africans’ homes, particularly during mealtimes. Young urbanites snack on a plethora of media channels simultaneously, which has eliminated their capacity to consume anything that fails to enchant them immediately.
The cellphone has received a lot of attention because of its enormous popularity (86 percent of urban youth claim to have their own) and its perceived capacity to make direct and therefore effective contact with Generation Y. However, many marketers misjudge the importance of understanding the role of each medium irrespective of how popular they are. For example, unlike TV, which is an acceptable background medium, young urbanites regard their cellphone as a close companion and any uninvited communication that appears in its inbox is at risk of being perceived as intrusive, which can have a damaging effect on the brand’s reputation. Marketers must be mindful that the youth are far more territorial about personal mediums (e.g. their cellphone and social-networking profile) than they are towards other shared mediums like TV.
Young minds have adapted to consuming media on a much smaller screen with 43 percent of them regularly accessing the internet from their cellphones. In addition, they are unfazed by the poor production quality of YouTube-style video clips. As long as the clips invoke hyper-reaction, be it shock value or a good laugh, they stand a chance of being a hit. Marketers need to shift their mindsets to see all of this as a much more exciting and stimulating environment to operate in because it requires a lot more insight, intuition and creativity, than it does big bucks.
This brings into focus the importance of using media channels primarily to create a brand experience. “Anyone can have a brand – but an experience is an individual thing and lives with you forever,” asserts JBoD member, Toko Ramapepe (21years).
By developing a platform that offers young urbanites a unique experience, brands are able to engage the youth without relying on traditional media channels alone. “(The youth market) wants to feel, touch, smell, taste and see the brand in relation to them,” says JBoD member Nape Nkadimeng (23 years).
Whilst there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to catering to the youth market, brands that make use of a combination of different media channels effectively have a greater chance of making a lasting connection with the youth. It is clear to us that South Africa’s young city-slickers demand a multi-medium approach to communication, but don’t want to be talked at. They want to be digitally and physically stimulated and engaged by brands – in very entertaining or very engaging ways.
Jason Levin is the managing director of HDI Youth Marketeers. The Sunday Times Generation Next 2009 report will be available in June 2009.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (February 2009).