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Be careful in marketing to youth

The youth market has proven itself anything but beyond temptation for marketers. In fact, “Get them while they're young” seems to be the almost institutionalised credo of banks, car manufacturers and, more recently, cellular phone manufacturers and their service providers.

Big-brand vendors are, however, advised to exercise some caution. Companies have to be careful how they market to the youth, particularly when it comes to one-to-one, or direct marketing initiatives.

Very often a direct communiqué becomes spam and invades a privacy the youth are not attuned to yet. There are numerous examples of how mobile content providers aim to, firstly, get the attention of under 18s, and then go in for the kill. Kids, mostly, do not realise these services are costing them money, or tying them into un-opted for subscription services.”

Less exploitative

Companies could go a long way to securing longer-term brand loyalty and more credibility among the youth market if their marketing activities were less exploitative.

Younger children are targeted by radio and television advertising campaigns as it stands. The ‘tweens' market, or those under 13, in particular, are not adult enough to make an informed choice when being marketed to directly. Some care needs to be taken about what is being promoted to this age group, and how.

Email and SMS, for example, can be put to good use to build relationships for future branding initiatives. Direct mailers from vendors could inform kids of specific benefits or what the brand can do for them. A good example would be in the airline industry, where direct communications can centre on safety. This way, you're saying, “We'd like you to fly with us in future.”

It should not, however, follow that because the youth market has easy access to cellphones that they also wish to receive anything you have to throw at them via SMS. Unfortunately, the most attractive products in the youth market are also the ones most open to abuse.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of scope for companies to directly engage with this market. Some cellphone manufacturers and clothing retailers, for example, offer kids the option of joining a club or programme to receive special offers or event notifications. In this instance, the user has opted into the service and wishes to receive information.


Rules should, however, be applied. For example, age restrictions can be imposed and parental authorisations built into the equation before a child is allowed to opt into the service.

Banks can also use direct communication to the youth market for building out their future customer base. Kids might not care who they bank with, but as they grow older a student loan might become important. A well-timed mailer offering informative content during the young adults' matric year, for example, could start to present options of how a bank can assist as teenagers start to enter adulthood.

Motor vehicle manufacturers, on the other hand, could engage with parents, to determine when their children might be eligible for their first car and offer assistance through the purchase, or special offers on driver training, for example.

To reach the youth market, more traditional mail packs are often a better option. At a minimum cost of around R3.00 per mail pack, versus 69c per SMS, companies are far more likely to put some thought into the profitability of the target customer base. With something as quick and cheap as SMS, there is very little concern for who the target market is, and whether they are even of a legal age to purchase your product.

Leave to above-the-line

While there are instances where SMS or email can be used innovatively to inform, educate and add value to a younger target group, convincing kids to buy your brand should, rather, be left to more generic, above-the-line marketing.

The survivability of a reputable brand throughout the lifecycle of its market depends on the brand's ability to engage only where buy-in has been secured. Use mass marketing initiatives until the youth is of an age to make truly informed decisions, ensuring they understand exactly what they're getting themselves into. Also, make sure you provide the medium and channel through which your future user wants to be communicated with.

About Nici Stathacopoulos

Nici Stathacopoulos is CEO of marketing services agency proximity#ttp (, a a joint venture between Proximity Worldwide, The Tipping Point and BBDO SA that focuses on breaking through behaviour changing ideas. She is also a Loeries Awards board member and John Caples Awards country chair. Contact her on tel +27 (0)11 447 7093 or email

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