Advertisers shifting from a simple-minded approach

Entertainment still key, but one size doesn't fit all to reach men

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If you query marketers and agency folk about the difficulty of reaching highly coveted young male consumers, they'll first decry the lack of brand loyalty.

After a foray through the social networking realm (which, they'll breathlessly note, is huge), they'll lecture you about the importance of user-generated content. Finally, voices pitched feverishly, they'll break a record for repeated use of the words "media fragmentation" in a 60-second span.

At the end of this burst, sometimes they'll admit what their long-winded answer has already revealed: that they have no more clue how to smartly market to young men than does the average recipient of the messaging.

But as the expression goes, the first step toward recovery is admitting that you need help. And so it is that marketers are venturing away from beer-n-boobs pitches and toward programs and events that simultaneously enlighten and entertain.

"I think it's finally dawned on companies that they need to be talking to young men in a more sophisticated manner," says Anthony Giardina, European brand manager at InBev USA.

To hear marketing types tell it, the fatuous approaches have been spurred by a handful of factors, among them the paucity of male archetypes in mass media. When attempting to reach young women, marketers can draw upon "Sex and the City" characters; no such male counterparts exist.

"We don't know their body/ mind conflicts, so we just assume they're sexual," says Marian Salzman, exec VP-chief marketing officer, JWT, New York. "We don't know their passions and interests, so we assume they're beer and babes. Everybody says, 'Poker is changing the landscape'-but what does that really mean?"


Marketers once operated under the assumption that the "young men" designation encompasses a homogeneous group of individuals. Within the 18-34 demo, one finds a miasma of students, singles, marrieds-with-children and more. If individuals within that tidy demographic bracket boast such wildly diverse lifestyles, then why do marketers insist on a one-size-fits-all approach?

"What we're seeing right now is a massive petri dish, basically," notes Rose Cameron, senior VP-planning director, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "Men are acting out different scenarios and finding out what works for them, so marketing to them can't be a formula. 'Naked woman plus hot car' only takes you so far."

Anybody who has recently spent a Sunday afternoon in front of the tube knows that such approaches have not entirely gone the way of the dodo bird. But there does seem to be a new willingness among brand minions to free themselves from the tyranny of the 30-second spot.

Take Stella Artois. Unlike many of its hop-and-barley counterparts, the InBev brand boasts a negligible Web presence and no US TV ads. Instead, Stella Artois has hitched its wagon to Sundance and other independent film festivals, which afford a range of interaction opportunities. On the PR front, the brand arranged to have its signature chalice glasses delivered to bars in 15 markets via Brink's armored trucks-as if to suggest that the glasses and the Stella suds they would soon house are simply too special to be trusted to prosaic methods of delivery.

Mr. Giardina freely acknowledges that "our marketing plan doesn't look like a marketing plan for beer," yet stresses that Stella's target audience of 21-to-35-year-old males has little patience for conventional methods.

"Getting them to try your product has to be goal No. 1," he says. "That's why film festivals work for us and why events are working for other people. You get them to interact with your brand in a very cool setting. It's hard to replicate that experience and that exclusivity through TV."

Prior to the recent launch of Heineken Premium Light-the first new Heineken brand in 133 years-the marketer charged with directing it arrived at a similar conclusion. "You have so much brand promiscuity among this audience. TV can only do so much," notes Andy Glaser, brand director, Heineken USA.

To this end, Heineken Light was rolled out with a Times Square event featuring magician Criss Angel, in which he escaped from a bolted crate and materialized atop a Heineken Light truck (the stunt will be featured during the May 31 second-season premiere of A&E's "Criss Angel MindFreak"). Before TV commercials debuted on April 17, Mr. Glaser also launched what he calls the "toe-in-the-water experiment" of connecting with beer bloggers.

Asked what he learned about marketing to young men during the process, Mr. Glaser responds, "Not to overestimate the impact of what you're doing. There's this impulse to think, 'The world is waiting!' Well, the world wasn't waiting for Heineken Light. This audience sniffs out anything that's positioned as a phenomenon." WPP Group's Berlin Cameron United, New York, handles creative for the launch campaign of Heineken Light. Manning, Selvage & Lee handles public relations.

kung fu release

At the same time, young men remain fairly resolute in their insistence to be entertained. When Fox Home Entertainment looked to hype DVDs of the first season of "American Dad," it gave game specialist Fuel Industries free reign to include characters from Seth MacFarlane's animated hit "Family Guy." The resulting online game, "American Dad vs. Family Guy Kung Fu," spread like wildfire upon its stealth release last month. Its inclusion of Ryu, a legendary character from Capcom's "Street Fighter II" game, added as much credibility among marketing-skeptical young men as did game moves like "burning bra attack" and "Ipecac vomit."

"What you want is a situation where even if you take the brand out of [the game or ad], people still love it. You take the car out of a car ad, there's not a whole lot there, you know?" says Fuel CEO-Chief Creative Officer Mike Burns.

The yearning for entertainment among young men has even prompted traditionally conservative marketers to tweak their approaches. Upon arriving at Church & Dwight Co.'s Trojan condom Web site, visitors are met with sobering statistics about the prevalence of HIV.

Elsewhere on the site, however, Trojan offers a "Pleasure Organ" that lets visitors record a series of orgiastic moans over four prerecorded music tracks (and, naturally, send the final product to acquaintances via e-mail). The brand recently bowed a handful of playful "Trojan Tales" radio spots, one of which features a young Greek warrior asking Agamemnon, "What should one do when loins are aflame?"

"It doesn't matter if you're marketing condoms or something else. Companies need to earn the right to talk to [young men]," says Jim Daniels, VP-marketing, Trojan Condoms.

While humor is necessarily subjective, campaigns that received high marks in an extremely unscientific survey of client- and agency-side experts include an online Verizon video banner ad aimed at males who frequent video sites like (in it, a clueless sort wanders around a city, overpaying for everything); the campaign was coordinated by R/GA, New York.


Burger King also earned raves for its host of whimsical, borderline surreal TV ads. "I'm thrilled to be talking about something other than Subservient Chicken," cracks Burger King VP-Marketing Impact Brian Gies, when told about the response to BK's recent pitches. The commercials, which feature, among other things, the man-child King character superimposed into some of the NFL's most memorable plays, connect because they're different, he says.

"For this audience, it's the era of personalization and individuality. The response [to the ads] validated our instinct to experiment more and not just rely on silly humor," says Mr. Gies. He adds one caveat: "For people who are classically trained [in marketing], what we're doing goes against everything they've been taught. What's exciting for me is that we're all learning together here."

And then there are those successful campaigns targeted at young men that materialize almost by accident, and thus affirm the user-generated-content prattle spouted by slower-blinking marketers. In July 2000, a Nissan Xterra buff invited fellow disciples to meet up in Ouray, Colo.; 54 people in 35 Xterras showed up for what would come to be known as the first annual GOX (Gathering of Xterras). Somewhere along the line, Nissan's marketing team got wind of the get-togethers and, with the participants' hearty approval, started to send a few team members each year.


Buoyed by this sense of community, Nissan in February introduced the "Show Us Your X" campaign. As part of it, Xterra enthusiasts and newbies have been encouraged by print ads, TV spots and street teams stationed at the Winter X Games and NBA All-Star Weekend events to post their Xterra photos and experiences.

"I'd love to say we were the brilliant ones who came up with everything," jokes Fred Suckow, director-Nissan marketing. "Xterra owners are so passionate-we'd be missing an obvious opportunity if we didn't attempt to foster that passion."

Like his peers, however, Mr. Suckow sounds a note of caution about the young male audience. "The biggest mistake you can make is assuming they'll stay with you. We like to think we have a terrific relationship with them now, but the second you take their brand loyalty for granted, they'll know it."
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