IS THE MARKETING INDUSTRY FCUKed:
by Geoff Glendenning 2001
The 1990’s was a dark decade in marketing history. It was the decade when our consumer became cynical,
media-literate and empowered with self confidence, when traditional advertising media began to be difficult
to rationalise and brand owners started to question why they were spending so much money, with such a
high level of unaccountability.
The changes that took place in society during this period cannot be ignored because they may spell the
downfall of agencies that are too reliant on a traditional route to market. The key change was simply that a
large proportion of our consumers got bored of traditional activity. The implications of this simple statement
are potentially as damaging to the old school industry, as is the fact that they have been aware of it for a
long time, but seem to have done little to change their route to market.
To fully grasp the long-term implications, it is essential to understand how the change came about.
To begin with; the media explosion across TV, lifestyle related press and the www, has not only bombarded
consumers with information on their lives and the lifestyles they aspire to, but also saturated the market with
advertising. More TV channels encourage hopping between breaks, many magazines might as well have an
editorial supplement so readers wouldn’t have to search so hard for a story, and the net is an intrusive
With this media explosion came club Culture. Youth movements that followed Disco in the late ‘70’s, when
the term ‘house music/garage and Hip Hop first appeared. Dance Culture was alive in the UK underground
during the mid-late ‘80’s and went on through the ‘90’s to become the biggest youth movement in the history
of youth culture. It could also be the youth movement that killed all chances of anything big ever coming
from the underground again, as there are so many media hounds out there scrabbling around to write about
the next big thing, that nothing ever gets a chance to be underground long enough to build long term
The point about dance culture is that it was the first youth movement to truly unite everyone. It even
managed to get men dancing instead of fighting and everything to do with the drug of choice: Ecstasy. It
grew quickly from an underground following to a huge participation and suddenly, for many, the insanity of
crap day jobs was being supplemented with what seemed the total sanity of getting mashed up every
weekend with your mates (45% of 18-30 year olds, in the UK, went clubbing every week!!!)
The mainstream media picked up on the mass appeal of dance culture and suddenly every TV advert had a
thumping dance tune. Street fashion influenced from clubbing and Boardsports has become so mainstream
that three generations of the same family can be found sporting combat trousers for Sunday lunch.
Clubbers who experienced the culture never quite left it behind. Dance culture has been going in the UK for
over fifteen years and yet many brands still haven’t realised the impact this all has on the way they need to
Youth marketing used to be a term associated with marketing to kids. During the ‘90’s ‘youth’ became a
much broader term, which now refers to an attitude rather than any particular age group. It’s about
marketing to a cynical audience, which lets face it, is the way many of our consumers are going to be
The key to effective youth marketing is to gain acceptance within your target markets environment.
Acceptance is crucial because the consumers are cynical and media literate about obvious marketing
activity. So the question must be raised whether the levels of budget allocated to traditional scatter gun type
campaigns is justified, and therefore why brands have not actively sought new routes to market that build
relationships and support areas of youth culture, instead of the hijack & exploitation that is currently the
You can’t build a credible youth brand with advertising alone. Advertising can support and maintain, but the
core of a brand’s credibility comes from word of mouth, recommendation and experience of the brand.
The reason for this is that the credible mass market is influenced from a core age group of 25-35 year olds.
The lifestyle at the core of youth culture has a much wider influence across a broad age range. At the core
of youth culture are the influencers and the opinion formers such as musicians, underground and style press
media, journalists, DJ’s, fashion designers, film makers, skaters, b-boys, Graf. artists, celebrities, stylists,
photographers etc. Moving out you have the early adopters, followed by the credible mass market who are
influenced by youth culture but may not be participants. Finally there is the mainstream mass market, but
this market is decreasing, with more consumers become empowered with self confidence as they come into
contact with dilutions of youth culture, that have them liking the same music as their kids enjoying the same
TV, and often shopping at the same stores.
Many brands recognised the opportunities for associations with areas of youth culture and have made
moves into festivals, clubland, Boardsports, streetfashion and art. However many budgets are diluted
because the incumbent agency is paying a consultant or another company, thus diluting the money which
should be invested into youth culture, which would demonstrate a brands integrity rather than hijack.
Building credibility isn’t very hard to do. The simple formula is to start with a good product, stylish design,
gain endorsement from the key influencers of your target market, the right associations, word of mouth, pr
the associations and support it all with non-patronising, honest, accessible and creative marketing.
The trouble is that the majority of budgets are spent on gaining quantities rather than qualities of a hit. The
niche type marketing required to build effective youth brands is difficult to measure as the grass roots of
youth culture are protective against intrusion from traditional agencies.
Too much marketing is based on a cop out system of traditional budget allocation i.e. a standard allocation
by the usual %. Of-course the advertising industry is going to support mass media campaigns; because that
is the way they make their money and win awards. The retailers want to see large media spends to support
a product before they will commit to an order, and the senior management is nervous of any marketing that
doesn’t give a fully researched, tried & tested, safe route to market.
Too much money is allocated to an industry that needs to spend big and fast. The creative process is still
about the big idea. With media and design, still, often only part of the production process. The big idea is
often focussed on a traditional mass media campaign instead of what is the best route to market for a brand
or product. Credible long-term brands are built with a combination of activity that must have continuity. The
role of traditional advertising follows pre-launch word of mouth, but it should work across a much broader
range of activity than it currently does.
Effective youth marketing comes from:
Knowing your product
Knowing your market
Lifestyle knowledge & understanding
Knowing the tools of your trade
Ideas should range from short films to building local amenities. Activity should look to support grass roots
culture and local communities, as well as build mass-market awareness. Brands spend too much money
riding on the back of big sporting events when they could be allocating a small portion of the budget directly
to the core of the sport.
Brands have put money into grass roots sport and culture, but often it is a short-term venture and is either
not maintained or budgets are diverted annually to different activity. You could actually drop one medium
weight TV spot and for £70k you could build a permanent skate park in association with a local council.
The money involved to effectively target grass roots culture and generate word of mouth is insignificant
when compared to the amount committed to traditional media. The key issue is with the agencies that
control the majority of the budget. Many have changed their names to communications agencies, some
have divided their agency into groups that act as smaller teams who pitch against each other to work on
business. The creative process in some agencies involves a more integrated approach to the advertising
brief, but still the majority of strategies will look to spend far too much through traditional media.
The nation demands a new tone to its advertising, it wants advertising it can relate to, with observational
humour and truisms that make them laugh because they can relate to it rather than aspire.
There is no doubt that everybody loves a good commercial, but in many cases the question still needs to be
asked; ‘does so much really need to be spent to get the message across’.
No-one needs to see a commercial more than 3 or 4 times.
PR is often undervalued, whether that is because of the quality of PR out there, or simply the traditional
method of budget allocation, is debatable. Certainly the gauge for a successful month, in many areas of the
PR industry, is still the thickness of the cuttings book rather than the quality of the cuttings.
With our consumer becoming cynical towards traditional advertising they have also become savvy to
traditional PR activity. The essence of PR is about gaining endorsement, association and word of mouth,
then to maximise the awareness of these associations & endorsements. Unfortunately, associations often
seem to be a paid for ‘your logo here’ kind of activity which looks great on paper, but in reality can come
across as contrived and transparent.
If the future of marketing is about integrity, sincerity, honesty and broader creative consideration: then the
industry is in trouble. Brands need to reassess their market positions and look at other routes to market.
Agencies need to restructure their business, listen to their planners more, broaden the creative resources
and develop a creative process that involves all the elements that are required to develop integrated
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