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Online and On Target: 18-34 Year Olds

Janet Sun
Online and On Target: 18-34 Year Olds Janet Sun

Media purchasers all agree that advertising in traditional media outlets -- including television, magazines and newspapers -- is becoming extinct. This leaves many brand managers asking, "Now what?" Over the years, marketers have set their sights on online advertising, such as banner ads. But how effective is this form of advertising, especially for the lucrative 18-34 year old demographic?

We know two key facts about the coveted 18-34 year old market: (1) they are tech savvy and (2) they spend a significant amount of time online. This makes online advertising a compelling medium for reaching young consumers.

Skeptics or not?
These same young adults are more sophisticated about, and skeptical of, banner advertising because they have been pummeled with display ads, interstitials, pop-ups (and just about every other advertising tactic) from day one, posing a very real challenge for advertisers. Still, the market segment, representing more than $200+ billion, is worth the challenge. In an era when brand allegiance is waning, many marketers believe that it is important to influence purchasing decisions early on.

What many advertisers do not realize is that, when it comes to 18-34 year olds, this theory has been largely unfounded, until now.

A recent survey by Experience, Inc. found that the majority of 18-34 year olds (53 percent) have purchased a product or service online, specifically because of an online ad. Furthermore, 41 percent of this same age group said online advertisements resonate more if they are related to the web content they are viewing. This means that content which is engaging and interactive is the right approach for this audience. (Source: 2006 Online Advertising Survey.)

The golden opportunity
Experience also found that young adults generally conduct research online before making a purchase, with the majority (53 percent) spending 1-2 hours researching a product/service. This is a critical component: young adults are clearly seeking information about a particular product before making a final decision. This presents a golden opportunity for advertisers to inform and educate young adults about the benefits of their brand, products or services.

Getting on target
Now that we know 18-34 year olds find online advertising useful, how can marketers create campaigns that are built around engaging tactics, not annoying, disruptive site ads?

One method is to RAVE this audience.
By applying a 4-point methodology to the development and deployment of online advertising, marketers can achieve a better return on their interactive advertising investment. That 4-point methodology is what Experience calls RAVE:

R: Relevant
A: Action
V: Value
E: Entertaining

  • Make advertising Relevant to the market segment;

  • Require users to take Action and interact with the brand;

  • Deliver Value to users; and

  • Entertain them and have fun.

Each factor is assigned one point. Ideally, you should shoot for a total of four, but we know that every ad will not be entertaining (nor should they all be). Achieving a minimum of three out of four is a good rule of thumb and will help you spend your advertising investment wisely.

This 4-point RAVE methodology was developed by Experience after working with advertising agencies and marketers over the past two years. Smart and forward thinking companies like Microsoft, Conde Nast, CareerBuilder and many others came to Experience with the same challenge-- how do you reach the 18-34 year old market? After designing successful interactive campaigns for each of these companies, it was clear that RAVE-ing gets marketers on target with this audience.

How does it work?
Recently, Experience implemented the RAVE methodology for CB Campus, a CareerBuilder.com property. Using RAVE, Experience was able to help CB Campus guide the creation of an engaging interactive marketing program to help build awareness of the CB Campus brand among 18-34 year olds.

The campaign, coined "CB Experience," offered college students the opportunity to win one of three high-profile job shadow opportunities with Reebok. Experience promoted the "Exclusive Experience" job shadows to its network, consisting of more than three million college students through the use of e-mail, site ads and a customized microsite.

CB Campus' campaign met the following RAVE criteria:

  • Relevant: The job shadows aligned directly with the students' goals because those students coming to the site were interested in finding career options and building their resumes by participating in new experiences

  • Action: Students took action by submitting an application that was used to evaluate their candidacy for the Reebok job shadows

  • Value: An opportunity with a premier brand (i.e. Reebok) was desirable because it brought a highly sought after and well-recognized brand directly in reach of the students, which allows them to add to their resume and build their list of professionals for future networking opportunities

  • Entertaining: CB Campus' top 30 entries were displayed on the microsite and students from all over the U.S. were able to cast their vote for the best entry, which engaged all parties involved in the campaign including student entrants and students voters

A significant amount of time and energy were needed to make this particular interactive campaign a success. Though it meant more work to achieve all four RAVE categories, these elements were integral to the success of the program. Ultimately, the campaign experienced significant results, generating over 10 million impressions and 1000+ job shadow applications for CB Campus in only one month.

As we have seen in the CB Campus example, RAVE-ing provides high standards for interactive marketing campaigns to meet, allows for consistency across multiple programs and ensures program engagement and ROI success. However, there are a few words of caution. RAVE-ing may require additional resources including time and energy to develop the type of creativity that is needed to execute an interactive campaign. Additionally, this strategy is very effective for the 18-34 year old demographic and has not been tested with other age segments.

Marketers can take their online campaigns to a whole new level by applying the RAVE approach, which will ultimately help build their brand and relationship among the 18-34 year old audience, a lucrative $200+ billion market.

Janet Sun is marketing guru through and through. Not only does she define and implement Experience, Inc.'s market strategy, she helps clients brand their products and organizations by developing RAVE-ing campaigns. Sweet tooth aside, she is particularly passionate about helping clients get their piece of the $200B pie.

Labels are misleading, and sometimes just plain lies

When was the last time you purchased a new food product and didn't look at the nutrition facts? From packed foods at the grocery store to items on a fast food menu, we often take comfort in reading about what's in our food. But you can't judge a book by its cover: For every four products that contains nutrition labels, one will be inaccurate. This is because the FDA allows for numbers that are up to 20 percent off the real calorie count of the product.  

You see, it's all about perception. The serving size notation on labels is notorious for fooling people: When you read that an item has 11 grams of sugar, make sure you check to see how many servings are in one package. Chances are you'll be taking in more than just those 11 grams if you eat the entire thing.

Another way that your food's packing misleads you? Beware of items that are marketed as "natural." That's a vague term, and with good reason: There are no FDA regulations as to what constitutes a "natural" food item. The parameters they do give require that these products not contain things like "artificial flavors," but again, this is a very loosely-defined phrase. Sometimes items with ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup are even allowed to be marketed as "natural."

Fast food advertising is primarily aimed at the minority and youth populations

In a study sponsored by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, many discoveries were made about the ways in which advertisers target their fast food marketing. They focus on children and teens, especially those in primarily Hispanic and black communities -- who are already at a greater risk for obesity.

The technology that we use also comes into play: Smartphone apps and social media have created an interactive, in-your-face marketing experience for those tech-savvy teenagers who would prefer to spend their allowance on burgers and fries while on-the-go. And while there are some restrictions on marketing towards young children via commercials, the fact remains that kids and preteens alike are now handy with smartphones and tablets, and can easily access the same ads that you or I can.

You're not usually getting what you paid for

Not only are we lied to about what's in our food, but the fast food industry has been known to greatly exaggerate the size and content of its products. One blogger did a side-by-side comparison, and the results were underwhelming, to say the least. So while fast food is thought of as getting more bang for your buck, chances are you're not really saving in the end by avoiding dine-in restaurants -- and you're certainly not getting a better deal than you would preparing food at home.

While much of this marketing is aimed at children, it can affect them for life

You know what they say -- teach 'em young. The bad habits that kids learn when they're growing up can follow them into adulthood, and become much harder to shake the more years that go by. This absolutely applies to poor eating. In a study from Prevention Institute, it was discovered that even five years after exposure to fast food advertising, children were less likely to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables, and more likely to head for the junk food and soda.

What's worse is that as these children grow into adults, our nation's health as a whole will continue to decline. If we continue on this path, by 2050, one out of every three adults in the U.S. will have diabetes. And even sooner than that, our healthcare will be affected: In 15 years, the cost of your healthcare that can be attributed to unhealthy eating and lack of exercise may range $860 billion to $956 billion, and account for one of every six total dollars spent on healthcare.

It's not just in commercials, either -- junk food marketing is everywhere

Even if you stay away from most digital advertising (good luck with that), advertising is all around us. For instance, you might be able to regulate what your kids see at home, but there are promotional signs all over their schools. Here are just a few examples of marketing messages they might see:

  • The labels on vending machines

  • Donated classroom materials (math/reading worksheets, book covers)

  • Company-sponsored programs like "Bucks for Books," "Box Tops for Education," and "Labels for Education"

  • Food fundraisers featuring cookie dough, pizza, etc.

  • Signs at sponsored events, athletic activities, etc.

  • T-shirts and athletic uniforms featuring company logos

There are some regulations in place, but they have a number of loopholes

Presently, industry practices are not where they should be, writes Healthy Eating Research, a national program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For instance, current restrictions are for programs and products aimed at kids age 11 and younger, but a better goal would be to change this rule so that they're applicable for children under the age of 15.

And these guidelines only apply to the marketing of individual products, such as a specific snack item. This allow for a number of brands to use other means of advertising -- including toy giveaways, social media, and marketing within schools -- to market to young children. Creating regulations that address these loopholes would prevent this from happening.

Becca Bleznak is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"Cute little Latin girl eating a hamburger and looking up towards copy space" image via Shutterstock.


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