One man, one summer, a few events, and some key insights into today’s yoof marketing

It’s been a long summer. And thank God it’s officially over, because I now don’t have to attend another event where Midnight Youth are playing. Talking of God, the big man’s disciples have been out in force during this summer of 09/10, with one of the big marketing revelations being the Parachute festival.

I have to confess that I had a preconceived notion of the event. I expected tambourines, hallelujahs and armies of happy clappers trying to convert me. The truth, however, was very different and, unlike the activity at university Orientation Weeks around the country, where ‘Jebus’ had more stalls than FMCG, Tech and Retail brands combined, this was a music festival first and a religious event second. More importantly, it used and abused basic marketing principles without fear or restraint.

That for me has been the most revealing aspect of summer, the divergence between those who target Gen Y with either fear or a complete lack of imagination versus those who get out there and embrace the audience fully.

Coca-Cola got out there. The Bands on the Beach tour could best be described as Disneyland meets Juice TV with sand. Branding was everywhere yet perfectly placed and balanced between brand logo and brand message. Promo staff smiled and played like perfectly trained brand ambassadors. The best part was that I was thirsty. I couldn’t get a Coke at a Coke gig unless I played in their field of ‘Happiness’ – that’s putting it out there. A week after the event Parachute is selling you tickets for next year and knows what you think of the toilet and, oh, by the way, do you want to buy the book/join our club/donate to our charity?

Again, putting it out there!

I spoke with a client this week who spent some time on campus during O’Week. She claimed the students she dealt with seemed apathetic and only wanted free stuff. On further questioning (because that’s what I do), it seemed that sitting behind a trestle table under a gazebo wasn’t cutting it. Shock! However, when they got out from behind the safety and physical barrier of the table and actually engaged and put themselves out there amongst the crowd, guess what? They sold stuff. Bugger me, consumer responds to genuine engagement!

In the age of Facebook and Twatter (sorry, not buying into Twitter but that’s for another article), there is more of an opportunity to engage ‘offline’ as Gen Y becomes starved of real engagement. This spans social issues (again, an article for another time) but also commercial as the assumption grows that a TVC and Facebook Fan page tick the Gen Y marketing plan box nicely.

They are not following you on Twitter. They may check you out and join your club on Facebook and even post comments and enter your text competition but the interesting and exciting activity this summer happened on various beaches on red towels with Midnight Youth playing, in a field in Hamilton with 25,000 kids, and even at Mt Smart with 40 odd thousand predominantly pakeha Gen Y’ers going crazy to two black fellas from South London doing hip hop on the main stage.

We have gone hi-tech and ‘the kids’ are leading the way but this summer taught me something. The good stuff is still face to face, the real connections are still made by generating an emotional connection, creating a story instead of a moment.

I couldn’t shake the comment by Duncan Stuart, my hero, about time and distance generated by stories. O’Week would normally be the last bastion of maverick marketing, the place where it was okay to align your brand with sticking your hand inside a dead sheep or swimming across the sorry excuse for a lake at Waikato Uni, creating campus legends to be retold over burning couches.

O’Week was boring in 2010, seriously boring. I’ve produced research reports that comment on the trend of conservatism that exists amongst the youth market. For the men, their desire to be happy family chappy outstrips the urge to be a successful playboy tycoon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to have fun now.

The Otago Toga Party had people leaving before 9.30pm, sober. Last year it made national news. Of course there is a case for social responsibility and it is arguably commendable of Otago to ban alcohol sponsorship. But does that mean that’s it? Can’t we think beyond the trestle table, branded gazebo and drinking game?

Today’s youth market is no less desperate for brands to engage with them than the youth of the 90’s. While an online component can be great, this summer highlighted the power of the “real world”. Genuine integration requires thought processes that are all too often non-existent, much like good old-fashioned fun at O’Week.

Now there’s an opportunity.

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