In doing research for a feature article on “Cool Hunters”, I cam across a white paper on “Understanding Youth:. What Works and Doesn’t Work When Researching and Marketing to Young Audiences”, by By John Geraci, Peter Silsbee, Sarah Fauth, and Jennifer Campbell (2000). Although 5 years old (so don’t rely on the stats), its still an excellent read for anyone involved in connecting with young consumers.
The “do’s and don’ts” are great.

From the article:
The Generation Y cohort is clearly an essential and lucrative market. This is because of their buying power and their influence now and because, in a very short time, they will be making adult purchasing decisions. They may not be buying life insurance yet, but they will be. The advertising they see now could have an impact on future consumer behavior.
We have reviewed six of the most common mistakes made by marketers and market researchers among this segment. The balance of this paper will briefly outline some of the knowledge gained as to what works. Now, in retrospect, we can all develop theories about why the Harry Potter books or Pokémon trading cards were a sure-fire hit. In reality, scientifically identifying the determinants of successes such as these may prove impossible. However, there are certain core truths that should be heeded when researching and reaching youthful markets.
First, consider tried-and-true advertising positionings. Advertising agencies are in a constant struggle to create new appeals. Fortunately, when working in youth markets you are dealing with an audience who may not recall some of the most legendary (and successful) pitches from the past. Rather than engaging in a constant search for a new creative angle, consider adapting a classic youth campaign.
Further, in this same vein, there are some elements of growing up that never change and are nearly universal. Everyone goes through the first day at a new school. There is also the first report card, the first dance and the first kiss. As we get older and new rites of passage such as marriage, the birth of our first child, do not occur with the same generational simultaneity that they did when we were young. Youthful rites of passage and the emotions they evoke can be used to build campaigns that have incredible longevity.
Keeping campaigns contemporary is a challenge, but with a solid foundation you are more than halfway home.

Avoid the formulaic. If you have ever watched Saturday morning cartoon commercials in the U.S., you may have come to the conclusion that all kids, even babies, wear sunglasses. It has become a kind of nervous tic of advertisers who, apparently, have come to conclude that wild, blaring music, non-stop action, and kids in sunglasses constitute the be-all and end-all of coolness. Although this cohort may sing the jingle or remark to their friends about how wild the commercial is, unless you have been able to show them a good reason for buying it, coolness is not the only criteria for purchase. Do not forget, depending on the price point and the age of the young person, they may need parental buy-in for the purchase. Just because something is cool does not make it a must-have product or service. By the way, there is nothing that becomes fossilized faster than campaigns that use the latest slang.
Treat youth with respect. Young people know they are being marketed to and understand companies are trying to get them to buy things. They have an appreciation for smart or unusual marketing campaigns. Growing up in a world where advertising has greatly contributed to the urbanization of consciousness. The average young person has been exposed to thousands and thousands of marketing messages by the time they are five. They are savvy, they know their way around. They are not merely consumption machines interested in having only the latest, the fastest, or the coolest stuff. You have got to give them a real benefit for spending their money
Be funny. Young people love to laugh, they love to share jokes and funny stories. It is hard to be funny, but if you can do it, they will remember your product and your punchline. If you do it right, they may even try your product or talk about it to others.
Don’t forget to brand your ad. Too many times young people will remember a humorous advertisement or a new character but are unable to attach this memory to the brand. The brand needs to be central to the message; the concept of branded memorability is particularly important with youth.
Extricate yourself from presumptions about the segment and view it objectively. The Generation Y cohort is rebellious in the sense that they are not tied to the past. They look at new technologies and new trends. They examine them for utility and interest, adapt what works for them and discard what doesnt. This does not mean they reject their parents values. Many Baby Boomers make the assumption that because they were viewed as rebellious when they were young, that all young people are rebellious in the same way.
Consider yourself a cohort marketer rather than a youth expert. Generation Y represents a loud echo boom that will age over time and whose needs will change. Consider growing your brands with them over time. This will truly become a dominant cohort.
Research it right. Simply because young people are the subject of a research project, does not mean shortcuts are permissible. Doing a few focus groups may be fun and informative but they are not definitive. Asking a few kids some questions via email might yield some interesting, insightful information but it does not constitute rigorous research. Tapping into a trendsetter panel has appeal for new product ideation and preliminary concept testing but do not forget to reach to the mainstream before launching the product of concept.
Also, just because a marketer (or consultant) is fresh from a successful product launch does not mean research is not necessary because they will automatically be as successful with the next youth campaign. Some marketers do put together amazing streaks because they do have an intuitive feel for this market. And this intuitive feel can be nurtured. But it is important to remember that all streaks come to an end.

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