Magazine article Marketing

Youth Marketing: Trying Too Hard

Magazine article Marketing

Youth Marketing: Trying Too Hard

Article excerpt

If you think a link to freesports is an easy route to young consumers, prepare to be rejected. Suzy Bashford reports.

The Sprite Urban Games, held on Clapham Common in July, provided a demonstration of how freesports fuse the worlds of fashion, sport, lifestyle and music - and why they are such a powerful way for brands to connect with young people.

Judging by the 11-strong sponsorship list, which included footwear and clothing brand Vans, Microsoft's Xbox games console, mobile phone giant Nokia and skin cream Oxy, marketers are cottoning on to freesports' move into the mainstream. The event included BMX, FMX (freestyle motocross) and skateboarding competitions, but the most popular spot was the B-boy breakdancing arena, which exemplified the diversity of people now attracted to freesports.

At the centre of the B-boy event were the dancers - boys mostly in their late teens, clad in baggy trousers and bandanas, and oozing street cool.

Looking on, spectators included young boys dressed similarly to their dancer heroes and clutching their skateboards, mums accompanying younger kids and handfuls of female groupies adorned in fashion brands in hot pursuit of the urban chic look.

From a marketing perspective, influencing the core group of dancers is crucial, as they lead the rest of the market. Ex-Nike development director Andy Myring, now at consultancy The Brewery, calls this core group 'edgers'.

They build acceptance of brands with the broader group of influencers who want to be first with a fashion trend and who, in turn, affect the conformist mass youth market.

Acceptable practice

To be accepted by edgers, who are traditionally anti-corporate and anti-establishment, credibility is all; big brands will provoke their wrath if they gatecrash these events and declare they are going to 'own' them.

'This used to be the way (Sprite owner) Coca-Cola did it. But brands can't just turn up and take over. If they do, they will never be viewed as part of the culture, but just as a big brand trying to jam its way in,' says Sean Pillot de Chenecey, trends analyst at consultancy Captain Crikey.

Sprite is trying hard to listen to people in the know, hiring urban youth consultant Phil Young to advise the brand on all aspects of its strategy, from its chill-out tent on-site to the wording on the event programme.

As a result of this consultation, Sprite has evolved its brand to ingratiate itself more credibly with the market by, for example, launching cans designed by an urban artist and creating a graffiti-style logo. The soft drink is not alone in ensuring its credibility. Nokia, too, knows it has to be more flexible with its branding if it is to succeed in its new strategy of focusing on the youth market, in a move away from its traditional mass-market approach.

'We're already well-established globally, so now we are focusing on certain age groups and are gradually gearing up our youth activity. In the past we've stuck to the corporate colours and the 'Connecting people' strapline, but we're starting to play with the brand according to the target group, so we fit the colour and images and design to the event,' says Nokia head of marketing Simon Lloyd.

Using initiatives that improve the experience for young people is much more important than gaining exposure for a company logo at the event.

Such initiatives show the relevance of a big brand in the anti-corporate, non-conformist freesports arena.

'There are always going to be people who say they don't want corporate brands involved, but they're now realising that, without them, there would be no prize money (pounds 35,000 for the Urban Games) and well-known international riders wouldn't be competing,' says Young.

Laying foundations

Young explains that Sprite's grass-roots work - such as the Sprite Skate Support Programme that launched in 2002 and aims to improve local skate parks - is crucial to its acceptability at more mainstream events such as the Urban Games. …

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