I often wonder how it is that adults can so easily forget what it was like to be a teenager. I think about this frequently, because I frequently see marketing and advertising campaigns, designed to target the 13-20 year-old demographic, that are so completely out of touch as to be damaging to the brand, product, or service being marketed.
One such example is a recent online advertisement for Levi Strauss jeans that attempts to market to skateboarders.
How this marketing gets out I’m not sure. I assume these large corporations hire ad agencies that have meetings, review work, and approve it before money is spent to place it. This would naturally mean that more than one person has seen the advertising in question. And so we are led to assume that not just one, but at least two and perhaps many more individuals are complicitly acting without a clue. Maybe it’s because they’ve forgotten their teenage years, or maybe it’s because those who become advertising and marketing professionals are generally the people who didn’t have a clue about teenagers when they were teenagers.
I believe the mistakes made by advertising and marketing professionals when targeting the youth demographic fall into four areas:
1. Not thinking
2. Failure to research
3. Failure to test
4. Being out of touch
1. Not thinking. Perhaps this is too simplistic, but I believe some advertising people just aren’t thinking too hard about the task at hand, because it seems to me a minimal amount of thought would prevent them from releasing some of the advertising they do. Nobody likes to be patronized, including young people. And yet so many campaigns are released, apparently without anybody thinking “Is our target going to feel patronized by this?”
3. Failure to test. Focus groups don’t always give the right answers. The new Coke fiasco was the result of focus groups. People preferred the taste of new Coke, but Coca-Cola neglected to take into account that people drank Coke for reasons other than the taste. If you’re not asking the right questions you might as well ignore the answers. But if you’re smart about the questions you ask, focus groups can be invaluable, and they’re not as hard or as expensive as they used to be to conduct. Firepoll offers instant focus groups through an online system at an affordable price.
4. Being out of touch.“I used to be with it, but then they change what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what is it seems weird and scary to me.”
Being in touch with youth isn’t just something that comes naturally, it takes a little work. Reading magazines and watching TV don’t necessarily do it, because then you’re just seeing ads that are produced by more know-nothings. You’ve got to be talking to the target, reading what they write, hearing what they say. Online forums and websites like MySpace.com offer places to get in touch.
But it’s true, at the end of the day maybe you’re “with it” or you aren’t, and maybe there’s something that no amount of research will help. If that’s the case, then get out of the youth marketing industry. If you’re in charge of hiring, don’t hire those who aren’t in touch, and get rid of those who fail to prove that they are. Save a child from being patronized today and make the world a better place.