Firms Channel Buzz to Target Teens

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIF. Word-of-mouth marketing has grown in significance in recent years for companies targeting teenagers, but firms must master the psychological nuances of such relationships to harness their full potential.

So said Steve Knox, CEO of Procter & Gamble’s Tremor research division, and Kevin Roberts, global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, at this week’s Institute for International Research Youth Marketing Mega-Event.

Knox distinguished between teen “trend spreaders” and “trend setters.” Spreaders “stay cool by bringing ideas to their groups,” whereas setters “want to set the mark and be exclusive,” he said. Plus, there are 500,000 “mom connectors” who more profoundly influence teen buying than Tremor researchers had expected, he said.

Knox slammed buzz marketing, contending that “amplification” without “advocacy” can have a negative effect. He noted that sales at Carl’s Jr. restaurants actually fell a few years back as the chain aired provocative spots with Paris Hilton, and Reebok’s sales slid 6 percent during its popular “Terry Tate” commercials.

“There is a message [connectors] want to hear, if relevant,” Knox said. “There is a message that the consumer wants to share. And that’s always different than the advertising message.”

Roberts, a former P&G executive and author of the vaunted “Lovemarks” branding philosophy, said the landscape has changed radically since the 1990s: “Now brands have no power. Retailers have no power. People have the power and at the heart of that is youth, shaping all thinking, shaping all markets, shaping all companies.”

Roberts recommended that clients “pass the control. It’s their business, but not their brand. The people who use the product own the brand.” He said agencies must stop testing and debating campaigns to death as “velocity is the new black.”

He summed the market up thusly: “I haven’t got a clue about where teens are going. I just know that they are ahead of every industry.”