Going to extremes

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Everything from cheeseburgers to jeans is being dubbed "Xtreme," as marketers use "X" to get to Y -- Generation Y, that is.

Gillette Co. just rolled out Right Guard Xtreme Sport deodorant. Pfizer's Schick edged into the trend by introducing the Xtreme III razor. Clairol turned up the color with Xtreme FX and Burger King Corp. beefed up its product line with an X-Treme double cheeseburger.

Extreme sports have boomed since the early '90s, but branding experts said most marketers only recently have realized the power the word "extreme" holds for teens.

Those same experts also said advertisers are way behind the cool curve if they're only now introducing Xtreme products.

"By the time it becomes mass, it's no longer a trend and kids are on to the next thing," said Alan Adamson, managing director at brand identity consultancy Landor Associates.

FIVE YEARS BEHIND

Bill Carter, president of Fuse Sports Marketing, agreed. "Madison Avenue is about five years behind, so a lot of brands are just now getting involved with [alternative] sports," he said

Still, with U.S. teens spending more than $100 billion annually, according to Mr. Carter, Main Street marketers want to strike while extreme sports are still hot.

According to Fuse Sports, participation in alternative sports is up 35% since 1995, and still growing. The teen population is also increasing; Fuse Sports estimated the population of 12- to 17-year-olds will rise 10% to 25 million by 2010.

"Researchers are telling clients, `You better get involved, because the demographic is exploding. You better get involved now because five years from now could be too late,"' Mr. Carter said.

The extreme-theme newcomers follow the early success of teen-oriented products in the soft-drink and athletic shoe categories.

Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew became the drink of a new generation after it embraced adrenaline athletes, both in its edgy advertising and event sponsorship. Shoemaker Vans, in turn, became the name sponsor of such events as skateboarding and snowboarding.

LIFESTYLE APPEAL

While the pervasive new catchword is rooted in the popularity of alternative sports, marketers are drawn to it because it lends itself to a teen's entire lifestyle.

"Teens are naturally impelled to test limits," said youth marketing expert Julie Halpin of WPP Group's Geppetto Group. "Something extreme pushes the pre-existing boundaries and appeals to that part of a teen who fancies him or herself on the very edge of what the rest of the world considers normal."

With the extreme trend, more conservative brands -- some tying in with extreme sports, while others are just leveraging the term -- are using the label to give products a rebirth.

Clairol will brighten up its offerings next month with the launch of Xtreme FX hair color. The new line -- targeted at 13- to 24-year-olds -- comes in shocking shades of Blue Denim, Hot Red, Penetrating Purple and Smoldering Orange.

Even deodorant doesn't have to be a drag. Gillette recently gave its Right Guard brand a face-lift with bold neon packaging, a reformulated citrus scent and a new name: Right Guard Xtreme Sport.

"We got into this based fundamentally on demographic trends," said Bernadette King, Gillette director of global business management for deodorants and antiperspirants.

She cited the rapid growth of the teen population and the soaring participation rate in non-traditional sports as Gillette's impetus to go extreme.

Michael Wood, VP at Teenage Research Unlimited, said marketers such as Gillette are utilizing the term extreme because "it's safe but powerful."

"One of the biggest challenges is to get a message across to teens in a way that's relevant without talking down or trying too hard," he said. "Words like extreme or intense are safe and at the same time very descriptive."

But Mr. Wood warned companies to proceed with caution. "Teen-agers have a built in BS meter where they can tell if a company is trying too hard, or if it's an advertising gimmick."

INFLUX OF X'S

There might also be a danger of dilution. Marketers are lopping off the e in extreme in an attempt to emulate teenspeak in huge numbers. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Directory lists 296 filings for brands and products that include the word Xtreme. In this excess of Xs, there are even more popping up on the Internet and lining store shelves, including Xtreme American jeans and Xtreme Power Bars.

Branding experts advise an integrated, teen-oriented marketing approach for products even to be considered credible by their target market.

"If you don't layer your marketing plan to reach the grass-roots, core audience at the same time you reach the masses, your brand is going to get killed," said Fuse Sport's Mr. Carter. "You'll have millions of kids bashing your brand, saying it's not authentic."

In the case of Right Guard, Fuse Sports marketing helped the brand link with music festival Warped Tour and gain a presence on the Warped Tour Web site.

"No kids are going to go to a deodorant site to find out about sports, music and culture," Mr. Carter said.

Gillette anted up $61 million in a Right Guard Xtreme Sport marketing effort that also includes sponsorships of events such as BMX racing and snowboarding.

TEAMING WITH GREEN

In an attempt to reach a broad teen audience, Right Guard's advertising features over-the-top MTV comedian Tom Green. The ads are running on youth-skewed programming such as "Angel," "Charmed," "Dawson's Creek" and World Wrestling Federation matches.

While marketers are investing millions to feed a teen's need for all things extreme, many experts said that's a risky proposition.

Marketers "think by picking up a word or idea that's relevant they can catch the wave, but this is the worst form of marketing. This could actually damage a brand because it's so me-too,"said branding expert Mr. Adamson. "The first [company] out wins, the second one does OK, the third doesn't see a change and for the rest it's wasted money."

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