Brands must stop behaving like a drunken dad dancing at their daughter's wedding
The youth market can be a valuable hunting ground for brands that get it right, as Jane McDaid explains to John McGee
Jane McDaid, the managing director of the youth communications agency Thinkhouse, is still blushing after she learned that she was to feature on the Innovator 25 list - featuring some of the most influential people in marketing communications professionals in Europe.
Compiled and published by The Holmes Report, a leading publication for people working in the communications industry, she features alongside the likes of Alexandra Dimiziani, the global marketing director of Airbnb, and Cecelia Weckstrom, the global head of Lego.com.
Coming only months after being named one of the world's leading independent agencies by Campaign magazine, her delight is understandable.
"When things like this come along unexpectedly, it's great to take time out and acknowledge what great work the team at Thinkhouse is doing," she says.
Meanwhile, back on terra firma, it's business as usual for McDaid and her 40-strong team that makes up Thinkhouse, which has specialised almost entirely on the youth market since it was set up 15 years ago with her partner David Coyle.
With offices in Dublin and London, clients include the likes of Ben & Jerry's, Sure, Dove, Magnum, Surf, Heineken Orchard Thieves, Desperados, Coors Light, Electric Ireland, William Grant & Sons, Otterbox and Expedia.
"We specialise in connecting with the 18 to 35 year olds. Most of the work we do falls into the 18-to-29-year-old demographic, but often we work to help brands connect with people, over and under that - depending on the brand and category," she says.
As any marketer will testify, the youth market today can be an extremely tricky one to target and differs substantially to the youth market that existed 10 years ago.
"Young people today are smarter, more worldly, more creative, more sophisticated and influential than they've ever been," she says.
"They think and act without borders, as they have been influenced and shaped by global internet culture. When it comes to marketing, they just get it. Brands that know this and respect it, deliver strong, considered, personalised, experience-driven campaigns that youth audiences want to be part of."
The marketing industry is renowned for its use of badges or labels used to describe them. It all started 25 years ago with Douglas Coupland's book, Generation X. Since then we've had millennials and Generation Y. Thankfully, we've now reached the end of the alphabet with Generation Z which, in case you didn't know, is the generation creeping up behind the millennials.
Unlike many others in the industry, these are labels McDaid abhors. "We in Thinkhouse, and indeed young people themselves, reject outright all forms of badging and we avoid all marketing jargon," she says.
So, how do brands and marketers connect to this much sought-after but difficult-to-reach audience - without coming across like a drunken dad dancing at a wedding?
"To connect with youth audiences, it's essential that marketers know exactly what they're doing. All too often, cringe-inducing marketing campaigns are deployed without expert advice and without collaboration with the audience themselves.
"We start with insights. The Youth Lab, our insights division, unlocks insights that form the bedrock of our creative work. Then our strategic and creative teams work to develop bold ideas that our youth audiences want to be part of.
"Then, we activate those ideas with effective social, content, peer-to-peer, design, sponsorship, PR, advertising and events," she adds.
But given that the youth market is supposed to be leading the charge when it comes to things like ad blocking, do they really want brands and advertisers engaging with them?
"Nobody wants brands butting into their lives, desperately trying to engage with them. The emergence of ad blocking has thrown down the gauntlet: it's game on. 'If you serve up crap, I'm out of here.' But ad-blocking technology isn't something to be feared. It's a wake-up call to the beige advertising that went unchallenged. It's consumers demanding better and bolder.
"There are incredible branded ads and content being loved and shared by youth audiences and campaigns that they genuinely want to be part of. The important thing for marketers is to identify the difference between beige and bold," says McDaid.
Translating all of this into success can be tricky, she says.
"The key to success is enduring commitment. Brand marketers that are genuinely committed to connecting with youth audiences, are ambitious when it comes to recruiting for their brand and are committed to future-proofing their brands, are the ones that are winning.
"They are constantly curious and invest in expertise and innovation while breaking away from convention and push for brave and bold work - the kind of marketers we always work best with," she concludes.
Sunday Indo Business