The most obvious example of a product having a lifestyle association with a marketplace is the athletic shoe Converse. Converse, like a retro Sex Pistols t-shirt is considered the quintessential symbol for punk for males and females. Pink, black, white, and red Converses are all demanded equally by both genders. Nike was smart in seizing this coveted marketshare when it bought the brand several years ago. Converse had the enviable position of surpassing its original purpose as an athletic shoe, which most young people don’t even know was its original purpose, and gained cult status as a part of a lifestyle. This is similar to what dark blue Vans meant in the Dogtown era in the ’70s; what Timberland boots meant in 2005; and now SperryTopsiders in 2008 etc. These are examples of brands that consumers have extended beyond their original purpose into new subcultures -whether it was intended by the brand or not–while maintaining cred within their original marketplace.

Being the quintessential element of a culture takes knowing the dynamics of the landscape and a certain amount of luck by attracting crossover consumers and being at the right place at the right time. Add to that the changing and elusive world of youth and it makes this culture one of the most difficult to integrate into successfully but can be exponentially beneficial. Is the effort worth it? Yes. The youth market in America is the wealthiest generation in history with more than $172 billion to spend. Knowing what’s going on within this new generation also gives brands a heads-up in terms of the future whether you actually target 13-25-year-olds or not. (For example, we have many subscribers particularly in video gaming, electronics, and architecture, that subscribe to Label Networks not because they actually target young people per se, but because they use the information for inspiration and future forecasting in their business strategies.) If you want to be a part of this generation and the next, then it’s worth it. And the cost for entry can be far less expensive than traditional methods mainly because effective marketing today means predominately grassroots sponsorship, viral marketing, and use of the internet.

Here are some basic steps for moving into the youth marketplace:

  • Research is knowledge: Learn which events and festivals make the most sense for your brand to be associated with. Don’t overlook grassroots event series for more high-profile events for broader reach with greater interactivity. If your brand is not often associated with a particular audience, understand that coming in with the most high-profile booth or tent-city may not work. Bigger is rarely better in the youth marketplace in terms of festival sponsorship. Creative and interactivity that are cool simple and fun are the most effective.
  • Sponsor an event or start your own: “Learn to ” series are excellent for introducing new sports cultures to potential markets and regions. They also show you care as a brand and this philanthropic component is key to the youth market. Get to know the event before you spend money on your sponsorship. This seems fundamental, but we’re often called in when a brand has missed the mark and they want to know why. Often it’s because they didn’t understand the demographic of the event, nor the ripple effects from those that hear about the event later on. Samples of bad campaigns include booths that are too flashy for the venue, interactive ideas that are too complicated for the amount of time the potential participant has to spend, or the wrong music being played at the booth, or booth workers who don’t fit the demographic.
  • Sponsor an athlete: Up-and comers, women athletes, lesser known male athletes pushing the boundaries and redefining their sport with new cross-over moves shared from other sports, often make great representatives of your product and image. You’re sponsoring today’s new heroes by sponsoring an action sports athlete, or now, someone moving trends into new directions such as dance, martial arts, the resurgence of aggressive inline, street cyclists from the fixed gear movement, parkour tracours among others. They cost far less than a professional basketball player. See who’s doing what where and if they’re the kind of person who will appreciate your support and talk about your brand on and off the competition ramp.
  • Ad campaigns with elements of the lifestyle including use of athletes authentic products, fashion, accessories, pets, and locations of the culture of the sport. This is much harder to do than it seems and takes professional guidance. If the snowboard bindings are mounted wrong, or a surfboard is carried fin-out by the “model”, the backlash will be immense. Get credible research and advice before spending the dollars on something that may only trigger insurmountable brand backlash. Look to the internet for promotions -more young people are influenced by the internet than TV.
  • Use of music and art: Creativity is integral in youth culture. To incorporate your brand and message, use music that reflects the mood of the sport or festival and art, including live graffiti shows, murals, displays that reflect the individuality of the youth market. Incorporate young people into the development of your campaign. And make sure your website reflects the youth market and is interactive -simple sweepstakes and contests keep people coming back to see what you’re up to, but updating it frequently is vital.

For more information about Label Networks’ Sponsorship and Advertising Effectiveness Profile Report 2008, email; (323) 630-4000.