Thursday 22 February 2018

John McGee: Steve and Rachel being wooed by 'worthy' brands

Ireland's significant youth market offers unprecedented opportunities for companies that can prove their socially-responsible credentials

'Brands with a social purpose built into their marketing efforts, if not into their DNA, stand a better chance than those that don't, said Hyland.' Stock photo: Depositphotos
'Brands with a social purpose built into their marketing efforts, if not into their DNA, stand a better chance than those that don't, said Hyland.' Stock photo: Depositphotos

John McGee

With 22pc of the Irish population under the age of 15 and 25pc aged between 15 and 34, Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe.

However, as every number-crunching anorak knows, there's a flip side to every statistic, and at the opposite end of the demographic spectrum there are more than 550,000 people aged 65-plus, which accounts for nearly 13pc of the population. This is set to rise to 1.4 million, or 22pc of the population, by 2041 according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Over the same 25-year period, the number of people aged 80 or more is expected to rise from 130,600 to 458,000 - an increase of 250pc.

Ageing of this scale is unprecedented in Irish history, and it will obviously present policy-makers with all kinds of challenges for many years in areas such as primary and residential healthcare and pension provision. But that's a different story.

Back in the land of Steve and Rachel (or is it Rachel and Steve?) and their bearded hipster neighbours, friends and extended social circle, marketers are increasingly looking at how they can engage and build brand advocates among this valuable demographic.

While we may not have reached peak hipster (or indeed peak salted caramel) in Ireland, it is a market that offers tantalising opportunities for the brands that get it right. However, it's definitely not one for old-school marketers and their old-fashioned ways.

Not only do they have their finger on the pulse, but the youth market are a cynical bunch and don't take too kindly to being told what to do by an establishment that has let them down before.

As we saw in the UK, where 75pc of those aged 18 to 24 voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum, they are interested in their future and they know what they want and expect, and they certainly aren't fooled by political spin-doctoring and marketing gimmicks.

Speaking at a conference on "mission marketing" last week, Claire Hyland, head of insights at The Youth Lab (which is part of the youth marketing agency Thinkhouse), said: "Young people today are the most socially and environmentally-conscious generation ever. They are hyper-connected global citizens who have never been more informed on, or been more conscious of, ethical, societal and environmental issues.

"Importantly, they are not afraid to let people know about it. In a time when a tweet can start a movement, today's youth audiences are all activists and they seek out and support brands with purpose who operate in a socially-responsible way."

In an industry that likes to segment audiences and slap a badge on them, research carried out by The Youth Lab identified five archetypes among today's 18 to 35 cohort to which brands should pay attention.

These include the Armchair Altruist, who apparently cares about the big issues but is not so sure; the Educated Empath, who knows that someone somewhere can make a change (just not him); and the Committed Convert, who yells in people's social media feeds and knocks on every door when campaigning.

Then we have the more seasoned and vociferous so-called Change Maker, who is not interested in getting the ball rolling, preferring instead to throw it at the status quo of societal norms. Finally, we have the Explicit Extremist, the Robin Hood of Twitter troll culture who is determined to take on the bad guys, while celebrating the heroes, one tweet at a time.

These archetypes - and possibly even stereotypes - pose all kinds of challenges for brands. While the increasing prevalence of technology in their daily lives means it has never been easier to target them, equally it's never been harder to genuinely engage with them.

Brands with a social purpose built into their marketing efforts, if not into their DNA, stand a better chance than those that don't, said Hyland. But it has to be genuine and there has to be a visible or tangible impact, not simply some opportunistic PR stunt.

A 2015 survey by UK consultancy firm Radley Yeldar found that the companies who are getting it right include Unilever, Philips, GSK, Lloyds Bank, PepsiCo, Pearson and Nestle.

Somewhat surprisingly (or maybe not), the lightweights identified by Radley Yeldar included The Disney Company, Apple, Samsung, Diageo and Citigroup.

The survey also noted that companies that have a "brand purpose" also see a clear and demonstrable benefit to the bottom line as well as their other key performance indicators (KPIs).

Of course, it's easy to be sceptical about all of this, but one figure that stands out should concentrate the minds of the sceptics - the estimated $400bn (€359bn) a year that people spend on buying products from brands that have a social purpose.

That alone is a good enough reason to care.

Sunday Indo Business

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