has never faced as many challenges as it does today, and
when the audience is young and hip, the job doesn't get
any easier. Here's how some Kellogg alums are staying ahead
of the cool curve as they try to appeal to some of the most
today's marketers plunge headlong into a sea of new media,
new competition and unprecedented consumer power, they may
be tempted to long for simpler decades when cable channels
numbered in the mere dozens and "Google" was not
yet a verb.
soon they forget.
a 1990 piece about the far-reaching ramifications of U.S.
novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace described the late-century
marketer's scramble to hold the interest of remote-wielding
everyman, Joe Briefcase:
VCR, with its dreaded fast-forward and zap functions, threatens
the very viability of commercials. Television advertisers'
entirely sensible solution? Make ads as appealing as the
programs. Or at any rate try to keep Joe B. from disliking
the commercials enough that he's willing to move his thumb
to check out 2 1/2 minutes of "Hazel" on the Superstation
while NBC sells lip balm."
marketers in the 1980s and early 1990s took pains to command
the attention of fickle Joe Briefcase, 21st-century marketers
really have their work cut out for them with Joe Jr. —
Joe Backpack — a younger, savvier version with even
more media to choose from and an even shorter attention
span than his forefathers. Young Joe, who may for marketing
purposes be 15 or 35 or anywhere in between, has the Internet,
a personal digital assistant, a cell phone and, thanks to
gadgets like TiVo, more commercial-zapping power than ever.
And like Wallace's Joe Briefcase, young Joe and his peers
"have no memory of a world without such electronic
can, in other words, be pretty tough customers.
is at an all-time high with this group," says Kellogg
School Marketing Professor Julie
Hennessy, noting that in addition to being inundated
with advertisements since before they could speak in whole
sentences, members of today's golden youth demographic have
grown up with a staggering array of consumer options.
2004 best-seller, "NBA Ballers"
to a March 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, average
young people (ages 8-18) spend 6 hours and 21 minutes a
day consuming media — that is, watching television,
listening to music, playing video games, using the computer
recreationally and reading for pleasure. Sixty-eight percent
have television sets in their bedrooms and 51 percent live
in homes where the TV is on almost constantly, regardless
of whether anyone is watching.
the media-saturated young person's world, traditional methods
of gaining exposure and loyalty for a product are running
out of steam. No longer does the snappiest TV commercial
(likely to be zapped or ignored in favor of some other immediately
accessible medium) or even the most tenacious Internet pop-up
ad (now universally despised and filtered) necessarily win
hearts and minds.
has to be more subtle," says Hennessy, and more narrowly
focused. As evidence, she points to the success many companies
have found in opting consumers into the product development
process. Where once there were twice-yearly focus groups,
there are now 24-hour online feedback centers.
say they don't like advertising," says Hennessy of
the youth demographic, "but if it meets their needs,
they ignore all that." Consider the smashing success
of Apple Computer's breakthrough portable MP3 player, the
iPod, whose advertising campaign has been such a hit that
even the iconoclastic, thrift-store-frequenting Adbusters reader can be seen sporting the iconic white
earbuds in public.
of these people complain about the marketing of the iPod,"
also don't complain about advertisements from Urban Outfitters.
There are none to complain about. Urban doesn't do commercials,
billboards or pop-up ads, says Teresa Lee '02, the
company's manager of strategic planning. In fact, Urban
doesn't advertise at all outside of its Web site, its opt-in
catalog — of which there are more than 10 million
in circulation — and its retail stores. So what's
the firm's secret?
don't think it's any one thing that you can really point
to," Lee says. Above all, though, she emphasizes the
importance of forging an emotional connection with the customer,
which she says the company accomplishes through a number
of means. For example, Lee says most of Urban's marketing
research takes place not in clinical focus groups, but right
in the stores, where the marketing team sends representatives
to help with big projects like display design, to observe
the ways customers experience the environment and interact
with store employees and to engage the customers directly.
least with fashion, [marketing] is a little bit different,"
says Lee. "You have to listen to your customer, but
you're also informing the customer."
the boutique may be an irreplaceable institution of the
cutting-edge fashion industry — the only place a hip
youngster can find the right fit and color scheme prior
to purchase — the Internet has begun to loom menacingly
over retailers in other industries, threatening to displace
them if they fail to harness its power.
Koulogeorge, vice president of marketing at EB Games,
a chain of video game retailers, is well aware of the challenges
he faces: "The Internet allows consumers to quickly
find the cheapest price for everything," says the 1992
Kellogg School grad, "[so] why should a brick-and-mortar
store even exist?"
Koulogeorge contends that the physical store is a crucial
component of EB Games' success, another way to build credibility
and foster loyalty with young consumers. It's important,
he says, to run the stores for the target audience —
the kids — as opposed to their older family members.
To that end, the company only hires store managers and employees
who are fanatical about the games they sell, and it encourages
them to display any tattoos and body piercings with pride.
we made that decision, says Koulogeorge, "we clearly
sacrificed those moms, dads and grandparents," but
the company gained valuable credibility in creating a space
where its young patrons would be comfortable.
says that for all the marketing energy that goes into the
retail stores, there is an equal push on the Internet. In
addition to maintaining a fully serviceable online version
of its retail store, the company uses the Internet to obtain
feedback from its most loyal customers, who are rewarded
for their time with early access to new games.
says respect and open communication are the surest paths
to his customers' hearts: "If you have a good relationship
with this age group, they'll let you know if you make a
he adds, sometimes "the language they use would flip
Fresh Ink division, overseen by Lottie Chestnut '91, uses
bright colors, slick designs and sharp wit to entice members
of the e-generation to send three-dimensional greetings.
Liu TMP 1999, also in the business of video games as
manager of strategic planning at Midway Amusement Games,
is less focused on the Internet right now. "We do advertising
online," he says, "but it's still not a big chunk
of our dollars. Without a doubt, the biggest portion of
our budget goes to TV." Liu points out that most teenage
boys — long the most avid video-game players —
still watch plenty of TV and don't have fancy ad-zapping
gadgets in their bedrooms.
dates back to the video-game equivalent of the Stone Age,
when single games occupied machines as tall as members of
the company's former customer base — the grown men
who owned the arcades.
it's a completely different ball game," Liu says. Getting
young people interested in Midway products is "almost
like [marketing] a movie or any other form of entertainment."
and maybe not quite as grueling: "It's one thing to
make cheese exciting, right?" says Liu. "But video
games are kind of the in thing right now."
Earle '99 has a somewhat more unusual take on the "in
thing." As president and founder of River West Brands
LLC, he is a brand revivalist, a man whose job it is to
find a product that used to be popular but has dropped off
the radar and then restore that product to its former glory.
Since its inception, the company has acquired and redeveloped
a number of once-hot brands and rekindled the flame beneath
good brand may hibernate," Earle says, "but it
over old brands for new audiences can be tricky business,
but when it comes to attracting the young and skeptical,
Earle says there's no substitute for authenticity.
are typically far more knowledgeable and sophisticated than
they may appear at first blush," he says. "If
you talk down to them, it's all over.Š they can sniff out
condescension in nanoseconds, and you've lost them. If you're
not authentic and sincere, you're wasting your time. In
the context of brand revival, this matters, because a brand
with a rich track record, by definition, is authentic and
not some kind of newfangled scheme."
cites (surprise) video gamers as a good example. In 2002,
his company began to acquire the rights to Coleco, a venture
that brought some of the first arcade games into the living
rooms of tech-savvy teens in the early 1980s via the ColecoVision.
younger members of 'Coleco Nation' were not even alive when
the ColecoVision and Donkey Kong were sweeping the nation
in the early 1980s," says Earle. "But you'd better
believe that many of our young Coleco fans know that the
brand was really the pioneer, the innovator that paved the
way for today's Xbox and Playstation."
says many of RWB's brands actually rate higher in consumer
awareness surveys than newer products, a fact he attributes
to the explosion of new media outlets. "When you essentially
had three national TV networks plus Time and a short list of
other national magazines, it was pretty much standard operating
procedure for the marketer to advertise and gain national
awareness. Today, with a thousand cable channels, the Web,
TiVo, and so on, which is both the cause of and outcome
of shorter attention spans, building awareness for new brands
is harder to do, if not impossible. In this context, I'd
much rather be a dormant brand with a track record than
a new brand starting from scratch!"
Chestnut '91 also spends her workdays putting a new
twist on an old favorite. She markets greeting cards —
paper ones that require envelopes and postage stamps —
to the e-generation, ages 18-39.
who has been working with Hallmark since graduating from
Kellogg, recently took over the company's Fresh Ink division,
which produces a line of cards aimed squarely at an age
group whose members grew up with e-mail access and animated
virtual greeting cards. She says it's important not to over-think
cards are hip and original without trying too hard,"
she says. "Our creative team keeps current through
formal research and also through daily observations and
staying in touch with everything around us. We attend comedy
clubs, go to movies, read tons of magazines and shop."
addition to understanding our consumer, we try to [sell
cards] at the places our target audience already visits
— college stores, bookstores and 'alternative zones'
within Hallmark stores."
so many of her youth-marketing peers, Chestnut emphasizes
the importance of knowing her customers: "Being in touch
with the intuitive side, with human nature, is just as important
as quantitative research. To be successful with consumers,
you have to know them inside and out."
this kind of attention to detail — the direct engagement,
the constant feedback — suggests an attempt by advertisers
to mitigate what Wallace called a "shaky détente with
the individual viewer's psyche" or something more innocent
and genuine, only the young skeptical consumers will tell.
They will decide with their wallets and their head-flipping
language, just as their parents and grandparents did.
Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," 1990. First
published in Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1993,
later included in Wallace's essay collection, A Supposedly
Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. BACK