10 Youth marketing themes in 2010

I’ve been kicking around some ideas on what I believe will be the dominant youth marketing themes in 2010.  Some of these themes have been evident in youth marketing efforts in 2009, but I believe they’ll become even more pronounced in 2010.

Of course there are many more key themes, but these are just a few that came to me last night when writing this post.

Here are my 10 key themes for youth marketing in 2010:

1. Social Creative

Unless your idea is social by nature, you’re pretty much dead in 2010. Brands need to stop thinking about ‘big ideas’ and think more about being socially creative in how they engage young people. As always, youth are attracted to ideas where they see a new reality or a truth, but now it’s about connecting members of the tribe in new and interesting ways.

2. Influence

Influence will be a key buzzword for youth marketing in 2010. Marketers now understand that everyone online has a platform/amplifier to create his or her own wave on influence. Brands which make members of their communities more influential by way of exclusive content, special rewards etc, will gain traction with young people. It’s all about giving youth status within their tribe.

3.   Culture Mashing

The best ideas always mash together two unexpected cultural elements to create a new reality for people. I’m a big believer that ‘culture mashing’ taps into Gen C’s need for surprising spontaneous experiences that occur when they least expect it. Earlier this year we created ‘Cabbieoke’ for Telstra, where we turned the most painful part of a young persons night (the expensive cab ride home) into the best part, by mashing a free cab ride with a random karaoke performance.

4.   Experimental

Being experimental and taking a few calculated risks every year has to be part of your brand behaviour. Red Bull are the kings of being experimental in how they push the limits of human performance. Their latest idea, Red Bull Stratos is a collaboration with Felix Baumgartner to break the sound barrier while free falling from 120,000 feet. Both Red Bull and Nike both know that not every initiative they put into the market will be successful, but they have a Fail Forward approach and continue to innovate.  Try bouncing two different cultural elements together and build off your brand truth.

5. Intrigue

Young people a huge appetite for intriguing new ideas. Being interesting is important, but being intriguing is critical. Your litmus test for youth is them saying ‘Gees, I’d never thought of that’. Doritos in the US, are continually intriguing American youth through their Hotel 626 and Asylum 626 ideas as part of ‘Snack Strong productions’.

6.   Blurred realities

Whether we like it or not, Alternate reality experiences like Nike True City which use mixed reality to provide customer utility are here to stay. Whether it’s actual utility or purely entertainment value like Adidas’ Originals game, we’ll see brands creating mixed reality ideas exponentially in 2010.

7. Empowerment to Generosity

The ‘you can make a difference’ brand bandwagon has been around for over 18 months and it will continue in 2010 as brands look to empower young people through social media platforms. Already this year, we’ve seen One Young World in London and Pepsi’s Hit Refresh campaign, which is off brand, but interesting nonetheless.  I believe we’ll see youth brands shift gears to a brand behaviour which is more about ‘generosity’ within the community at a more micro level eg: how you can help out your close friends with the help of a brand.

8.   NOW-ism

Young people are the Real Time Generation, living at 100 miles an hour and demanding real time access to information and creativity everywhere they go. Immediacy is a must, they are über connected to everything so demand ideas they can play with and put their own spin on. If it’s not live, it’s pretty much forgotten the next time the Facebook status feed rolls over.

9. Collaboration

The brands who engage young people in ideas which create mutual value will win in 2010. As I said in one of my conversations with Graham Brown from Mobile Youth, marketers need to stop treating people as the bullseye or target destination for their messages, instead it’s all about treating them as partners in production and modulation of ideas. Youth WANT to be the media, make it easy for them to share your message/brand experience.  Collaboration isn’t new, but it will become more mainstream as brands understand the need for youth involvement in all facets of the brand.

10. Agitation

Agitation is my personal wish for youth brand behaviour in 2010. Too often in 2009, brands just went with the status quo and didn’t create culture. Apart from BK’s Whopper Sacrifice and Diesel’s Be Stupid, there weren’t too many brands that really agitated culture. Agitation is about starting something, lighting a fire in culture that gets a fresh conversation going. It’s about taking a look at cultures set of rules, and seeing how you can agitate the status quo. The boys at Crispin are masters of agitation.


Don’t be lame

I’m always getting asked what the Do’s and Dont’s are when it comes to engaging with todays youth. One of the first and most obvious things I always say is…’Don’t be lame’.  Now this probably sounds quite vague and generic, but when you think about it, it’s the most critical part of your engagement checklist.

Brands today trying to engage young people must understand that young people (in particular) have fiercely guarded ‘personal brands’ and identities that they spend years creating (both on and offline) and they just aren’t willing to associate with anything lame. Think about it, they spend hours each week on Facebook uploading pics of the parties they’ve been at, their holidays and life in general..it’s all about showing off online and earning status within their tribe. They are super quick to judge anything that’s lame, so basically ideas only get a short period to ‘sink or swim’..the incubation period for ideas to light up is now far shorter than a few years back. If they aren’t willing to socialise the idea on their own, your pretty much dead. Conversational currency is gold within their tribes.

 I overheard some 20yr olds talking the other at the train station and they were talking about a brand (I won’t name names) who they feel has become totally lame…”XXX has just become totally lame, as if i’d ever associate myself with them in any way..they just don’t get me”.   The ‘they just don’t get me’ is the critical thing here, most brands forget to do immerse themselves in youth culture, beyond the focus group room and really understand the heartbeat of youth culture at that point in time. Rarely are you going to get a culturally relevant insight or truth or understand a cultural code to break, from listening to some kids in a paid environment. You have to strap your backpack on and get amongst it. That’s what I always try and do and I’m constantly judging my work and the creatives I work with on the ‘Lame’ test.Capturing their imagination and creatign a new reality for them is a good place to start.

‘WannaMe’ – the better digital version of my real self.

WannaME culture/Facebragging- uploading the best version of yourself to Facebook

We all know that social media has turbo charged our connections to each other and the conversations we have, this is particularly prevalent when you think of Gen C. The last few weeks I’ve been talking to quite a few 16-21yr olds here in Sydney about their ‘digital life’ and what’s become more and more obvious, is this concept of ‘WannaME’.

WannaMe (a rip off of an Aussie slang word, Wannabe), is when young people build digital personas on Facebook and other social networking sites which show the absolute best parts of their lives. Call it Facebragging, showing off, call it what you will. It’s all about how they meticulously craft their online personas to share with the world, i order to ensure they pass judgement from other members of their tribe.It’s about creating the best version of yourself – as we all know perception equals reality.

Belonging to a tribe is and always will be a primal need for youth, but now we’re seeing youth needing to constantly upload pics, show that they’ve been invited to the right parties/concerts, be seen wearing the right clothes, hanging with the right crowd. It’s all a part of their desperate need to fit in and this competitive pressure to be in the know is overwhelming alot of young people I spoke to. It’s like the 1980’s ‘cool kids’ phenomena all over again, where you were either in or out based on how you dressed. Now it’s just dimensionalised in real time.

When you talk to these teens, you realise that the pics they’re uploading from music festivals, parties, make up about 10% of their life, but on facebook, it looks like they are uber social, connected and little party animals. One guy I spoke to even said he pulls out old pics from last summer and posts them if he doesnt have anything good to contribute to the conversations happening. So they are re-using old versions of their social life to ‘keep up with the Jones’ if you will.

The WannaME culture that has been charged by social technology has definitely also made youth more extroverted. What was unacceptable to share with friends is now completely acceptable, and Aussie kids are trying to one up each other on facebook. Boys are uploading pics of them doing risque sporting tricks eg: jumping off a bridge illegally, whereas girls are being more and more provocative with how much flesh they show. Psychologists talk about the need to highlight the  ‘social risk’ in communications when you’re trying to change a certain ingrained behaviour eg: drinking driving, smoking, drug taking etc. Now it seems that this social risk is being celebrated online.

WannaME culture is permeating through pretty much all youth subcultures, it’s not just the rich urban indie kids, it’s across the board. More than ever young people are carefully crafting their digital personas and brands need to understand this mindset in order to engage with them. Thoughts?

Aussie kids say GFC is a major issue

digital kids

Sat through quite an interesting presentation by Cartoon Network yesterday. They do an annual ‘New Generations’ study of kids aged 7-14, sample size 2000. There was nothing amazingly breakthrough but some interesting statistics which I thought I’d share:


97% of 7-14yr olds have access to a laptop/desktop in the home, 87% have access to a digital camera and 70% to a handheld console. 50% of these kids also have a TV in their room and a whopping 58% have a a gaming console in their room.


Kids are spending on average 17.1hrs a week watching TV, next comes the web with 16.4hrs (defined as fun activities like social networking, chat, gaming) and 11 hours for playing video games. 45% of kids said they wish they played outside more…a worrying trend for the ‘cotton wool’ culture that exists in Australia.


When asked what they’d change about themselves, 45% of kids said they’d like to be smarter, 42% said they want to be better at sport and 26% said they’d change the way they look.


It’s clear that media and parental commentary has a massive influence on Aussie kids, no surprise right!! In terms of the most important world issue, 20% of kids said the financial crisis, 17% said environmental issues.


The GFC has brought with it a decline in kids pocket money, down 5% to 67% of kids getting pocket money. On average, 7-14yr olds get $10.52 a week, this is on an increasing scale with age. 7-8yr olds get $6.51, 9-10yr olds get $8.52, 13-14yr olds get $10.46 and 13-14yr olds get $15.61. For 13-14yr olds this equates to $1353 purchasing power a year which isn’t bad ‘play’ money.


Online gaming is by far the most popular digital activity for kids aged 7-14, it’s actually higher between ages 7-11 than it is as ages 12-14 as kids start discovering youtube and socila networking.


50% of kids aged 11 have a mobile, 76% of 12yr olds have one and a whopping 94% of 13-14yr olds have one. Texting (46%) is still by far the most popular use, with girls sending 10 texts a day and boys 6 texts a day. They start young.


No massive suprises here, it’s Miley, Zac Effron, Rob Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe and the Jona Brothers.


Pink tops the list, not surprising as she’s just done 60 shows in Australia, Michael Jackson comes in at No.2 (on the back of his tragic passing), Taylor Swift is adored by young girls and Eminem is back in the kids good books off his latest album.


WWF star John Cena tops the list for the boys with Darren Lockyer (Brisbane Broncos rugby league star) and David Beckham coming in third.


20% of kids say ‘ME’, which is nice to see that the ‘make me famous’ trends is still alive and well. Paris Jackson and Taylor Swift are seen as the next big things.

So that’s it, just some toplines on what’s happening with kids aged 7-14yrs in Australia in 2009. Thanks Cartoon Network for the insight.

Experimentation is the new Engagement

This is the short presentation I gave at AIMIA (Australian Interactive Media Industry Association) ‘Getting Inside Gen Y’ conference last week. My presentation was titled ‘Experimentation is the new Engagement’ and it was all about how brands today need to continually experiment, play with youth if you will. It’s about creating an interesting brand game, far less about your brands story. It’s about social ideas which spark a rapid mobilisation of youth, and some recent examples of brands that are experimenting with culture – from Red Bull’s Project X (Shaun White secret halfpipe) to Coke’s Expedition 206 to VW Swedens ‘Fun Theory’ social experiments. Enjoy.

10 Principals for Engaging Teens/20 somethings

Here are some principals I’ve been talking about recently in different presentations about the new marketing model for engaging young people…it definitely focuses on digital natives around the world.

1. It’s not just about the BIG IDEA anymore, it’s about TRIBAL IDEAS – ideas which spark a rapid mobilisation of youth via social media, they can be big or intimate, they just have to get the tribe connecting with each other QUICKLY

2. It’s about interesting and provocative BRAND BEHAVIOURS, not brand statements or promises, it’s about DOING NOT SAYING

3. Youth are not a destination or target for your messages, they are your PARTNERS IN PRODUCTION and modulation of ideas

4. Think about CREATING CULTURE not mimicking it, provide an interesting lens into their world, rather than putting a mirror up to their lives

5. COLLABORATIVE CREATIVITY is the new platform for engagement, they want to participate in brand ideas, put their own spin and co-develop brands..they know your brand better than you do

6. Spark CONTINUOUS CONVERSATIONS NOT CAMPAIGNS, ban the word campaign from your marketing plan, think about what conversations in social media you are stimulating, fostering

7. CULTURE JAM with youth, be subversive and disrupt the status quo, find something for the tribe to CHANGE

8. INSPIRE THE SWARM don’t try and talk to individuals as decision making is a team sport

9. Ideas have to be FLUID and evolve, youth are chameleons and interests/passions change on a daily basis, so your ideas should morph and evolve with what the tribe wants

10. Have a clear and compelling reason to why youth will FOLLOW YOU

If you can apply a couple of these principals to your next conversation you have with youth, I reckon you may have some success..Word.

BOYS VS GIRLS….the social differences

I’ve been doing some thinking about the key differences in the way young boys and girls socialise. My research is based on talking  directly to about 20 boys and girls aged 7-13 in Sydney..so essentially the tweens and early teens. Here are some thoughts on the differences I see in how they interact with each other and the psychology behind it.


Younger boys hang in larger groups less structured groups, they seek validation by surrounding themselves with 4-5 friends all the time. They seek out less intense relationships, happy to see those buddies once or twice a week and hang out at the skater park. Their conversations are very ‘light on’, they never go into much detail, they are starting to develop their masculine side and it’s seen as weakness if you talk in lots of detail with your buddies about stuff…no conversations on a topic last more than 5 minutes. A key part of this is the word ‘MY’ – all the young boys I spoke to saw themselves as the centre of their tribe, even though they clearly weren’t J. They are very much into ‘my crew’ mentality and seek belonging within these mini tribes which exist typically at a locational level in where they live.

In contrast, young girls of the same age display duo or ‘US’ behaviour, in that they seek intense relationships with 1-2 other girls.At this age,   rather than spend time organising to ‘meet the girls’ (this kicks in around 15), they are far more into the 1-1 dynamic,  where they can dive deep into stuff in their lives: pop stars, boys at school, dance, etc, etc. At school they are very much defined and classified by who their ‘bestie’ (best friend) is. Whereas for boys, it’s more the collective of 6+ close friends.


Boys are more mechanical in their interactions with their buddies, their connections typically revolve around ‘playing sports’ with each other, hanging at the skate park, playing xbox, going down to the beach. There’s very much a ‘side by side’ mentality and the tween and early teen years are all about finding what you’re good at. It’s a time of constant discovery and experimentation.

Girls are into ‘face to face’ time, it’s about more intimate dialogues, online or offline. For them it’s about ‘getting to know each’ other and they are starting to develop their nurturing and supportive personalities.


Competition between males is part of our DNA, and kids/tweens start exhibiting this behaviour on through ‘dares’ and ‘physical challenges’. The boys I spoke to were all about ‘daring’ each other to do tricks in the skate park, jump off logs into the creeks. It’s all about status within their micro communities and achievement. They are starting to master their body and this then builds as they get into more competitive sports at school. In the virtual world this competitive side also comes out through the games they play, typically fantasy and war games, so they are also displaying more ‘aggressive’ personality traits than previous kid/tween generations.

If boys are about ‘competition’, girls are about ‘CO-OPERATION’. For them these years are about exploring relationships, the need to constantly connect and seek validation about their personalities, their likes and interest. Today kids are seeking immense pressure in how they manage their online personas, how they are perceived on facebook, bebo etc.

Marketers looking to engage kids aged 7-13 need to think about these gender differences between young boys and girls and the psychology behind their interactions. Obviously, BELONGING and developing their self identity via interactions with other kids is part of growing up, but it is interesting to see the fundamental differences between the sexes which continue to manifest into later teen years and early adulthood. I’m going to do a similar study on 14-18yr olds and to see wha