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POV: Because They Said So: Advertising to Youth

Traditionally, when marketers wanted to sell a product intended for children or teenagers, they would craft their messages for the parents and place the ad in media that would be visible to their intended younger audience. The kids would see the ad along with their parents and the purchase cycle would be initiated with them endlessly pestering their parents for a new toy or clothing item. The parents would then place conditions: the child would get whatever it is they wanted if they did well at school, helped with the chores, or even just worked for the product in order to earn it.

Back then the youth were reliant on the decision makers and had to earn things; they did not have a sense of entitlement. But following the revolution of digital media, the youth-based purchase cycle is no longer the same and the change in the marketing environment also meant a change in the behavior of all individuals present in it – youth and adults alike.

We all remember the stress of going through high school: gradually realizing that not everyone looks the same, trying to prove ourselves to both students and teachers, constantly seeking recognition, experiencing changes in our bodies, and then balancing academic pressures. But as recently as ten years ago, this whole teenage drama was limited to the school playground and at worst it would extend to the kid’s house where they would discuss it and wallow in its imagined sorrows with parents.

With every single person becoming a mini-publisher, creating content on social media, the troubles of the youth (real or imagined) are broadcasted to scale. Imagine how horrific it would have been if you had shown up to school the first time you got a zit, and instead of only your classmates asking what that projector growing on your face was, a picture of said zit was published on a network of social media where the third cousin of your classmate actually got to mock you, too.

The world became too connected too fast, and parents gave youth access to it by passing a tablet to a 5 year old so they can sit still in the car and get off their case when they’re cleaning the house or entertaining guests. As a result, youth started taking to social networks to vent out. They now become relevant by creating the better content and receiving more likes (even those coming from their third cousin).

What this actually means for brands and marketers is that they have access to extremely vocal young people who have and share an opinion about everything, and are therefore better informed to craft their messaging. They know what content would be consumed by analyzing the content that was created. In an epic role-reversal, they now have to be relevant to and seek approval from the very youth that they normally would be feeding with notions of what was required to be cool or hip.

Today, the biggest failure a brand can face is youth not talking about it; they generate the content that engages their circle of friends and even the older crowd observing in the background. This is why we find brands in Lebanon adopting a more relaxed tone of voice and switching to the Lebanese dialect in order to be positioned in the middle of this sharing process. Here, where the culture is more relaxed in general, brands have the opportunity to be more or less experimental in their approach. The perfect example of the democratization of advertising is the Buzz campaign (an alcoholic beverage produced by Kassatly Chtaura). Their “Masheweh wel Shabeb” was such a hit tagline from their ad that it became a cultural reference spawning thousands of content pieces.

The youth will grow up and move on to a different age bracket, but what they will take with them is their content preference. So the effect of youth culture is neither temporary nor fixed, and brands will have to provide a needed or relevant context for their products and to communicate them in a language that is understood by the young Lebanese. It is the youth who put forth the trends that are adapted and recrafted to the next age bracket, and while idols used to be people of a significantly older age, they have been replaced with influencers who “do it for the Vine” because “YOLO.”

Lama Naimi, Senior Digital Manager - Mindshare Lebanon