Targeting teens means building buzz

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Call it the "Blair Witch" approach. Call it underground. Just don't call it advertising. Not if you're trying to sell your product to teens.

Edgy efforts to connect with teen consumers have become common among apparel marketers such as Levi Strauss & Co. and VF Corp.'s Lee Dungarees. But similar tactics have begun to invade even the more traditional world of package-goods marketing.

"The new buzzwords for marketers trying to reach teens today are `guerrilla tactics' or `underground,' as mainstream corporate America realizes that smaller brands have started to do really well with marketing strategies that break away from the traditional approaches," said Melisa Wolfson, president of the Creative Couch, Los Angeles, a promotion agency specializing in teen and tween marketing.


Recent examples include Pepsi-Cola Co., which turned to guerrilla tactics for the launch of its teen-targeted FruitWorks brand (AA, Jan. 24). The marketer hopes to drive home its brand message -- "FruitWorks lets you make your mark" -- by focusing initial efforts on grassroots sampling and the Internet. Meanwhile, Nabisco's LifeSavers unit is building its Bubble Yum brand with an irreverent spokesduck character that tells teens to "Blow your own bubble" (AA, March 6). And Ms. Wolfson said Goodmark Foods, which created a wacky character for its Slim Jim brand, is connecting with teens in ads that are "short and funny, and don't talk at teens but rather with them."

(Pepsi has not yet named an agency for FruitWorks, while North Castle Partners, Stamford, Conn., handles Bubble Yum and Slim Jim.)

Nabisco's Planters division is now trying to tap into the too-cool-for-advertising demographic with the first national efforts for its Cornnuts brand beginning in April (AA, Feb. 21). The campaign -- a mix of TV, print, Internet and postcards all featuring a plush one-eyed crow named Winky -- is intended to mirror the perception teens have of the product itself: weird.

"It's almost like an art student mentality: simple, rough around the edges, not polished. It's anti-advertising," said Miguel Norgueras, VP-associate creative director at Planters' agency FCB Worldwide, New York.

The two TV spots -- short 10- and 15-second executions -- will break in May on teen-oriented shows including World Wrestling Federation matches. They appear to have been crudely edited, with jumps in the picture, and feature offbeat music and voice-overs that describe scenes from a fictional "Winky the Crow Show" brought to you by Cornnuts, "the official snack of a weird, weird world."


"One of the tenets of teen advertising is that they don't smell the sell," said Nancy Anderson, senior VP-group management director at FCB. Like with `The Blair Witch Project,' the Holy Grail of teen marketing, the ultimate goal is to cause a buzz.

"You can do amazing things if you live where [teens] live and learn to speak to them in a voice they find appealing," Ms. Anderson said.

Such a strategy is new for Nabisco, long used to talking to moms and young children with only traditional media for their cookies and crackers.

"Teens in focus groups said things about the brand [such as], `It's so different, it's out there, it's weird.' And if we put it into a mold of traditional package-goods marketers, the brand is not going to be as big as we need it to be," said Jacqueline Neal, business director for Cornnuts.

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