I’m going to start with a picture of my wife and kids. Because they matter to me more than anything else. There’s other stuff I love too…I have an obsession with great tea made properly in a tea pot. Yorkshire Tea to be precise.I love getting out on my bike. I love swimming –I used to be an international swimmer when I was and can’t lose the habit, despite the fact it gets harder every year. One day I’ll have time to play tennis again too. Agassi was my hero. More on him later.I have a deep and abiding love for an 80’s British band called the Smiths. You don’t love any music as much as the music you cared about when you were young. The Smiths were my band.
But I haven’t loved anything for as long as I’ve loved Star Wars. I was born in the 1970’s, this is not uncommon.
Just as the position of brands in my life is pretty normal too. They just don’t feature that much. Like most people, other things matter a lot more to me. They make life simpler when it comes to deciding what to buy, sometimes I get interested in what they’ve got to say. But they’re not really a big part of my life.
Which is the best starting point for any brand. Despite the claims of brand consultants and other gurus, when you look at the data, most people don’t care about many brands very much.
Most buyers of a brand actually don’t know that much about it.
And they’re certainly not loyal by any stretch of the imagination. Even a powerhouse brand like Pepsi isn’t bought exclusively. Because in real life, I MIGHT quite like the brand I MIGHT prefer the taste, but like most people, I’ll buy what’s available. If there’s no Pepsi, I’ll happily drink Coke and Vice-versa.
It shouldn’t be news to people who work in brand communication but it seems to be. ‘Relationships’ ‘user generated content’ ‘conversations’ or even, god forbid, ‘love’. Much of the approach to brands is based in the false assumption that anyone cares.
Our fundamental challenge is overcoming indifference. Our most precious commodity is attention.
Many brands still persist in firing repetitive messages at people over and over again. Bludgeoning the message into their brains. Which often feels a little like this (more Star Wars, I know) if I’m honest.
But this is increasingly ineffective with the global youth generation for whom digital is a way of life, for whom everything is a click away, for whom the possibilities for entertainment and content seem virtually limitless. Who are getting really good at filtering out the stuff they’re not interested in. They’ll only talk to who they want to, watch what they want and listen to what and who they want. And ignore the rest.
There’s a kind of ‘brand Darwinism’ going on. Darwin quoted that nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’. So are youth markets. But it’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most interesting, the most cool.
But being cool isn’t easy. Especially for grown ups. As anyone who has experienced their Dad dancing at their wedding will know. Somehow you need to find credibility. Which means you can’t turn up in their world with your agenda and just hope they’re going to pay attention. You need to earn it.
In fact, human beings in general spend most of their lives paying little attention to what we do or how we do it. Our over supplied world means we’re always looking for ways to not to think. That was the whole point of brands in the first place. But every now and again we get ‘whole body responses’ where we switch our full attention to something- the moment you wake up in the car to break for a pedestrian. Your pulse races, your muscles tighten, your skin flushes. This is also why sport is enduringly popular. It actually gives us that physical rush. As does great music or a film that captures our imagination.
What we should seek to be creating are those ‘fuck me!’ moments. We’ve all experienced them. The moment when the worlds stands still and you make some sort of personal and cultural connection with a brand.
This is mine. Andre Agassi and Nike. Yes, I wore those pink cycle shorts. But this was about a lot more than questionable taste in fashion. This was about a global cultural flashpoint. Tennis had always been part of establishment, the sport of the middle classes, where, away from the stadiums, the clubs were controlled by elitist, traditional types for whom teenagers were an annoyance. Whom in many cases, frowned on non-white uniforms. Any young person who plays tennis will have come across this at that some point. Nike, with Agassi, made us feel a little braver, strengthened our resolve to enjoy tennis our way. It made tennis feel good to us, it got Nike talked because it got to the heart of how tennis felt to young people.
This is how brands can connect with young people who have better things to do. They make them feel something, they find a way to be credibly part of their world. Not by piggy backing the latest thing. Not by predicting what they’ll be into next, they don’t know themselves. Rather, make a genuine cultural contribution. By resolving some tension or contradiction in their real lives.
And it’s really hard to compete head on with popular culture. You’re not going to be better than Lady GaGa, or even the Harlem Shake
Here’s some stuff happening right now:Youths in the UK are addicted to following celebrity lifestyles, but austerity is making this something we don’t want to admit to
They are also responding to austerity by becoming more materialistic and working harder, driving a conflicting pressure to find outlets and be irreverent.
In China, there is a tension between the need to be a good citizen and the pull of instant gratification brought on by new economic freedoms
Life is never simple or smooth like research tries to make it. It’s messy. That’s what make so interesting. The more you embrace the conflict the more interesting the work becomes.
It takes you to a place where you naturally do something interesting, funny, cool and different, because you’re right at the heart what THEY care about. You’re adding something rather than following.
Forgive more Star Wars, but if a brand was Darth Vader, Luke’s father of course, he would be able to dance at Luke’s wedding like this
The IPA Databank in the contains decades of effectiveness case studies and finds that ‘fame’ campaigns, those that get talked about are the most effective. Because being seen to lead makes people naturally assume you’re the best, worth paying more for. It makes you cool. And they tend to do by digging right into something in real culture.
How do you find that cultural flashpoints? How do you create these fuck me moments?
Start with culture and work back. Not the brand. Make it fit their lives, not the other way around. Easier said than done. I’m nearly 40. I don’t go out as much as I used to. But the most valuable asset you can is a feel for what’s going in culture. You need to keep your cultural instincts as sharp as possible.
That means hanging out with interesting people. People who don’t do advertising. Hire people who are interesting in much more than advertising. People with their fingers on the pulse. Listen to them. Don’t read advertising books. Read weird shit. Lots of it.
But above and beyond all of this, don’t rely on traditional research it’s mostly useless. That’s about getting people into fake environments and asking them stupid questions they never really think about in real life. Anyone who knows is someone under 24 knows perfectly well they find it hard to tell you how they really feel. No, you have to accept that developing brand communications for young people, any people in fact, is not a desk job. The best research you can do, formal or otherwise, is talking to them in their own environment, where they feel comfortable. Watch, listen, soak up what’s going on. The task of research is not to uncover opinions. It is to uncover behaviour and context.
Put another way, forget the zoo, go straight to the jungle.
As some sort if process, it looks a little like this. Be clear about the business problem to solve.
We’re here to sell stuff. If you just want to make art or entertainment, give Stephen Speilberg a call.
Inspect the real culture around this, what does that look like in real life? Look for an issue or tension you can get involved in.
Then, and only then, find the truth in your brand that can provide an answer
But don’t then look to make advertising. Find the most powerful cultural expression of this. Find an idea then advertise it, rather than an advertising ideaThat might be a paid ad, then again it might not.
Now, these examples are mostly ads, purely in the interests of timeghd- hair straighteners- globalBusiness IssueGrowth opportunity with under 24 women, but straight hair was only one of their style repertoire. We needed to make them care that ghd doesn’t just straighten, is can curl, flick…the lotCultural issueYoung western women under pressure to conform to conflicting societal expectations - the successful career women, the model, the sexually confident temptress and the care giver –at the expense of their own unspoken desires. Brand truthghd instantly transforms how a woman feels about herself and gives her the confidence to be independent, ignore the limits society sets on her and pursue her own desires.
Cultural Expression 1The drama and ritual of preparing for the big night out
Cultural Expression2The pain of “puppy love”
Southern Comfort -globalIncidentally, this ‘identity crisis’ is becoming a male phenomenon too and Southern Comfort encourages men to do their own thing, be comfortable in their own skin
VB AustraliaWhile VB Beer in Australia has a different brand truth -it’s positioned as a traditional, real beer. It’s answer needs to be rooted in tradition – hard with a youth audience!! The answer is to inspire young men to wake up to their increased ‘feminisation’and rediscover true manhood.
Orange UKBusiness IssueIncrease penetration amongst young people through their love of cinemaCultural IssueNot do they find product placement obvious and annoying, they find mobiles in cinema frustrating full stop. In fact, deference for big brands amongst UK youth has disappeared. They need to demonstrate they want to add to THEIR world, not the other way around.Brand TruthOrange exists to use technology to enrich and improve lives – the final cultural leap was to understand that the saturation of mobile phones meant they can also make it worse. Orange needed to be seen to persuade people NOT to use their phones
Cultural ExpressionThe annoyance of product placement blended with the ‘movie pitch’
In conclusion, there is no quick fix to marketing to today’s youth. There are no short cuts. No one owes us a second of attention. You are either relevant or nowhereBut if you can tap into stuff they care about, embrace all those wonderful contradictions and even help resolve them, that’s where the magic happens.
But if you can tap into stuff they care about, embrace all those wonderful contradictions and even help resolve them, that’s where the magic happens.
Put another way, “Engage me, move me, add something, be useful, or fuck off”
Making magic. Creating sparks between brands and today's youth markets
Source: Jenny Romanuk, Byron Sharpe “Where knowledge of your brand resides”