There is no greater challenge than promoting your goods and services to young people. In the past the challenge was to produce advertising that wasn’t too patronising, cringeworthy, or transparently craven.

Recently, as the internet has matured and a generation has grown up with social media, the rules of marketing to young people have changed – and so have the errors. Here are five traps to avoid:

Trap I – Treat all ‘youth’ as one age.

In 2006, today’s sixteen-year-olds were eight, and only just beginning to regularly retain long-term memories. Today’s twenty-five year olds, meanwhile, were a year away from voting age. The lesson is that as you focus on increasingly young audiences, the age difference increases exponentially.

Don’t look at 16-24 as one market – it is a clutch of different markets with different tastes, and the perfect campaign for one may alienate another. Instead, develop messaging suitable for smaller age groups and place and promote this on an appropriate platform.

Trap 2 – Assuming all youth are interested in the same thing.

The phrase ‘this is what the kids are into’ is deceptive – young people’s interests are as varied as those of any other section of the population. Treat them as one homogenous group and you will repel as many potential customers as you alienate.

In the 60’s you had The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and they dominated the charts. An 80s metal head would have avoided a product advertised by Duran Duran; a 90s grunge kid might have shunned anything fronted by Take That. Today the media landscape has changed thanks to the multitude of services and lower cost of producing music.

There is an infinitely greater amount of music available compared against 50 years ago. However, the diversity of kids’ interests has not changed. For instance, while YouTube vloggers such as Alfie or Zoella have enormous and fiercely-committed constituencies, their appeal is not universal.  Consideration should be given to passion groups that are better suited to your brand strategy rather than a knee jerk response to whatever’s mainstream.

The key to success is contextual relevance; getting a young person at the right time with a message for them. The lesson for marketers is to think in terms of interest as well as age. It’s important to identify the section of young people you wish to appeal to, find the interests which best correlate with this group, then select a medium, spokesperson or message tailored to them. One size does not fit all.

Trap 3 – Becoming obsessed with ‘millennial’ media.

True, a lot of young people are on Vine and Pinterest, use Snapchat as much as text message and consume information through phones as much as computers. But this doesn’t mean all campaigns should focus solely on the latest social media channel. For instance, according to Ofcom’s 2013 report into news consumption in the UK, only three in ten 16-24-year-olds said their main source of news was a website or app – less than the proportion who still get their news from TV. This isn’t a reason to abandon your planned Tumblr campaign – but it means that marketing pushes should be integrated across several channels, rather than obsessed with whatever is seen as today’s most fashionable gimmick.

Trap 4 – Being obviously inauthentic.

Today’s youth want to be individuals and appreciate a targeted approach. They are also extremely media savvy. The reason behind this is the relative maturity of the internet – with little effort it’s now possible to uncover people and brands’ online histories, stretching back years. For example, 70s bands such as Chic or Roxy Music managed to cultivate an air of mystery by withholding biographical information and refusing to put themselves on the front covers of their records.

 In 2014 the band Jungle, a modern soul collective attempted roughly the same trick, but internet sleuths had uncovered their identities and backstories within months. For marketers, this means that you cannot simply claim a link or affinity with a person, style or scene without the internet history to back it up – young people will notice, complain, and your campaign will backfire. Do not attempt to repurpose a scene without having been involved with it for years.

Trap 5 – Simply slap a brand name on a product.

In the mid-noughties News International attempted to market its newly-purchased social network Myspace by sponsoring events such as London’s Camden Crawl. No matter how many logos appeared, the website’s slide continued. Unfortunately, attaching your brand to something popular does not mean you automatically inherit that popularity. The answer is to provide a related service, experience or benefit that adds value to the user experience.

For instance, last year Beats by Dr Dre partnered with my firm, AEI media. Their branding on our website was subtle, but they also provided original artist content as a ‘pre-roll’ before the stream began, and a link to the website where viewers could purchase the band’s music. They were providing something genuinely useful, and giving a reason for viewers to like the brand.


Matthew Dicks is chief marketing officer, AEI Media


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