Some unusual experiments are underway in the ongoing bid by advertisers to get the attention of teenagers and twenty-somethings, groups that are confounding traditional media strategies with simultaneous TV/Web use and a blindness to old-world advertising.
"Marketers are increasingly interested in finding unique ways to reach the teen consumer," said Steve Knox, VP of business development for Tremor, Procter & Gamble's experimental teen marketing unit. "The traditional mass media methodologies are providing increasingly less effective."
To meet the challenge, Tremor has established relationships with more than 200,000 influential teens -- people who operate in multiple social circles and are likely to talk openly about the products they use. The P&G unit invites these individuals to be the first to sample a given product or service. Sometimes they are simply given samples of a pre-release product; other times they may be asked to vote on a logo or package design. The idea is that they are flattered and excited to be among the first to get a look at the product.
Sensitive to the risks inherent in marketing to teens in a word-of-mouth setting, the company does not attempt to hard sell its teen members.
"The way we operate is very empowering to teens, who are free to say whatever it is they want to say about the product," said Knox. "All we do is provide the catalyst. That's the first half of our brand promise to them. The second half is we give them a voice that's heard within the companies."
Giving teens first shot at a product and an ear within the company appears to work. P&G's Tremor is now in its third year of operation (though it's been under wraps for most of that time), and Knox reports success in marketing brands both within the P&G product catalog and outside the company. Early campaigns promoted only P&G brands, including Cover Girl cosmetics and Old Spice deodorant. More recently, it has performed work for clients such as Valvoline and DreamWorks SKG, which used Tremor's influentials to market its film, "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!"
When All Else Fails, Pony Up
Another firm, BrandPort, uses a more literal type of incentive: It actually pays young people to watch its ads.
As with Tremor, BrandPort has recruited a large pool of young people with which it has a direct relationship. Unlike Tremor, the company offers direct payment in exchange for eyeballs.
"It's cutting to the heart of marketing," said founder and CEO Kivin Varghese. "As an advertiser, all I ever wanted was a guarantee that consumers would look at my advertising."
Varghese has grown accustomed to dubious looks from potential clients who associate BrandPort's model with failed pay-to-surf plays -- in particular AllAdvantage, whose downfall came when smart surfers learned to scam its system. He insists BrandPort has solved the main problems that plagued that company and its competitors.
"There are two reasons they were ineffective: one, there was no verification of the audience, so one person could set up multiple accounts. Two, there was no closed loop between advertiser and consumer, no guarantee that their message got through."
BrandPort solves the latter problem by posing a handful of questions to each of its members after they view a 30-second ad. For this, they receive small direct payments, $5 for approximately every ten ads. The reach is admittedly small, Verghese said, but the recall rate is through the roof.
"It's clean and simple: If we show our ad to 400,000 people today, you can call them tomorrow and they're going to remember the details of the ad," he said. "Media patterns are changing. Young folks are online much more than they're in front of the TV, and even while they're watching TV, they're multitasking. The vast majority of them have broadband. What we're seeing is a shift, and marketers are looking at ways to combine their TV assets with the one-on-one and customization possibilities [available through the Web]."
Though television spending remains strong, the effectiveness of the TV ad is now clearly being challenged by PVR and broadband adoption, as well as a broad shift in media habits most noticeable among the young.
Companies like BrandPort and Tremor, which create incentives for their recruited user bases to engage with a brand, offer advertisers some piece of mind in the form of a guaranteed share of mind -- something that's only going to get more difficult with traditional methods.
But Tremor's Knox offers a word of caution to would-be clients: don't put all your eggs in this basket. Creating incentives for teens to engage your brand can have great viral marketing results, but it should remain a footnote in your media spend.
"Word of mouth advocacy is part of a holistic marketing plan; it is not the marketing plan. Unfortunately, when new things [like Tremor] come along, people start looking at them as a panacea. Of course they're not. This is a revolutionary tool that works synergistically with other media. People shouldn't consider it the only element of a marketing plan."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
March 19, 2014