10 May 2006

Marketing to teens

I actually believe ‘Rang De Basanti’ has done an excellent job of reaching out to Indian teens. Yes, the ending is a bit controversial, but the film has been able to connect with teens in India – some of whom have seen the film several times and have memorised the dialogues. Sadly, Indian advertising is way behind when it comes to understanding the Indian teen and creating communication that reaches out to these teens and delivering messages the way ‘Rang De Basanti’ has done.

How do Indian teenagers perceive themselves? Do they see themselves as smart, good-looking, well-groomed, fair-complexioned winners who are instantly found attractive by their opposite sex? Or, do they take stock of their actual lives and, perhaps sigh and say, “That’s not me in that ad. But, I’d like to be?” Or, do they ignore the advertising altogether in preference for the company of their friends and their opinions when it comes to choosing brands they should buy?

Maybe there’s something to learn from what’s happening around the world. After all, advertising is a reflection of contemporary culture and, internationally, advertisers are paying heavily to create images that today’s teen will identify with and help sell their brands.

Why is marketing to teens so important today? Simply because teens have become heavy consumers. Not only are they buying things with their own money, they are influencing purchases made by their parents – some of which are, again, for teen consumption. And, if they have younger siblings who are emulating teen behaviour, then it’s an even bigger market than what advertisers have experienced before.

What’s more, because teens are becoming consumers at an early age, they are also going to remain consumers for a longer time. So, if brand marketers can win them over and get them to spend money on their brands now, it’s likely that teens – as they grow up and provided the brand experience is outstanding – will remain loyal to those brands longer.

So, is there a formula for marketing to teens that works across all brands? Perhaps there is, but I don’t know it yet. I’m a great believer of the philosophy recommended by Josh Shipp (see my 3 May post) – entertain, inspire, empower – which I believe works across nations, languages, lifestyles and ethnic backgrounds. I believe it works just as well in advertising and media as much as in education and counselling. And, it doesn’t have to be confined to teens – whether as people or consumers.

The essence of this philosophy is ‘freedom’ – free speech, allowing freedom to the consumer – which really isn’t a new discovery. It’s just that advertisers have always sidestepped this concept to beat their own chests and shout about how great their brands are over other brands. Today’s teen doesn’t want to be told which brand is great for him or her and, therefore, has very little confidence in brand advertising. They tend to meet advertising with cynicism.

Teens have more confidence in each other and value the opinions of their peer groups. To them, their social networks carry more trust than brand advertising, and they actively seek information and participate in peer-to-peer dialogue. Teens are constantly connecting with their friends (thanks to mobilephones, emails and internet messengers) and hanging out together. Believe me, a lot of brand decisions are taken during those dialogues.

Those brands which have understood this philosophy and have applied it to their brand marketing are the ones who are getting along well with teenagers today. Sony, Nokia, Apple, Pepsi, Nike and adidas are the best examples of this kind of marketing. Teen online communities such as MySpace, Friendster, Tremor (P&G’s teen site) and, of course, blogging have made it all possible.

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