Brands need to spread a little low-cost happiness

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Money can’t buy 25-year-olds as much pleasure as it could in the 1980s, according to a study seen by Marketing Week. But brands can restore the feelgood factor by promoting sociability.

Young adults are desirable targets for marketers because their salaries have not yet been claimed by mortgages or children. But according to a new study seen exclusively by Marketing Week, today’s 25 year olds are not only struggling to make ends meet, they are also less happy than people the same age a quarter of a century ago.

The Communications Agency’s (TCA’s) Brand Happiness Boosters report, which surveyed 600 people, suggests that £1 today buys only half as much “happiness” as it did in 1986, in what it calls the “happiness exchange rate”.

TCA planning director James Champ explains: “We have gone through a huge financial crisis and there has been a re-evaluation of priorities for everyone. Suddenly you are talking about young people’s lives never being as prosperous as their parents’ have been.

“Consumer society has been built on the premise of everything getting better. But for the first time, we are realising that maybe it won’t. If consumerism is declining, it is worthwhile questioning the extent to which money makes you happy and what sort of things would make your life as satisfying as possible.”

So why should marketers try to make the happiness exchange rate seem fairer for consumers in their mid-20s? “This demographic is just starting out in the world of work and they are the people brands will need to engage in the next five to ten years,” says Champ.

It is not just marketers who need to be aware of dissatisfaction among young adults. TCA identifies three areas where brands can promote happiness and boost their appeal to 25-year-olds - sociability, where brands encourage social contact; engagement, where people feel truly involved with a brand; and inspiration, where brands are something to look up to.

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Jessica Tye, PR and marketing manager for online outdoor clothing and lifestyle retailer Surfdome, says the brand focuses on sociability when marketing to the mid-20s demographic. Surfdome is working on events in a bid to make it an ambassador for the activities it is linked to, such as skiing, sailing and surfing. It is emphasising the process of taking part, rather than simply pushing its goods.

“We are working on strategies where it isn’t just about the hard sell of the product,” she explains. The strategy seems to be working so far, with the business increasing its warehouse space from 18,000sq ft to 32,000sq ft over the past year.

The importance of sociability and engagement are also familiar to Miles Lewis, senior vice-president at Last.fm, an online music streaming service aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds. Last.fm recognises its listeners’ desire for sociability, as well as free or low-cost access to music, with its ’Last.fm presents’ series of small gigs.

It grants heavy users of the service access to concerts for free or for £5, enabling people to socialise cheaply. “The idea is that if users are giving us their data, why not give something back?” Lewis says.

Champ says TCA’s research indicates that while people of this age say material goods give them a temporary happiness boost, they feel that true contentment comes from less costly or free things such as being part of a movement or community network.

Champ points out that young people’s need to be part of a cause was in evidence recently, when large numbers helped to clear up after rioting in English towns and cities. “Those were the kind of people we had been talking to - the middle class, who are just starting out in working life.”

Facts an figures

What gives 25 year olds most bang for their happiness buck?

66% buying a house or flat
44% buying a new car
40% spending a couple of days in a nice hotel
31% buying a new bed
26% buying better quality food
26% buying a new TV
25% buying a new bicycle

What provides 25 year olds no extra happiness for their money?

60% buying recreational drugs
33% buying designer clothes
32% buying a games console
30% joining a gym
29% buying a new bicycle
25% buying perfume
22% buying an iPod

Source: The Communications Agency

Being part of a positive movement is something brands can tap into. T-Mobile has done this with its Life’s For Sharing campaign, which featured a ’flashmob’ at Liverpool Street station and Heathrow airport, where commuters appeared to spontaneously break into song-and-dance routines.

Champ says that a sense of common interest is also fostered by brands such as British Military Fitness, which runs army-style outdoor exercise classes and social activities. “BMF is taking the trappings of an older society, where there were common social structures that everyone could take part in [such as national service]. What is missing today is common ground. BMF is something you choose to do because it will make you a better person,” he says.

This theme is also demonstrated by the growing membership of triathlon organisations, Champ suggests. Triathlon England and Triathlon Wales have seen membership figures rise every year since 2004. Between 2010 and 2011, membership went up 16%.

Being part of BMF or doing triathlons could be classed as “finding a hobby I love”, which the research finds is number five in the list of the top happiness-givers for 25-year-olds. But wanting to own a home - the most expensive purchase anyone is likely to make - is third on the list. Nearly two-thirds of respondents say they think home ownership is at least five years away.

Miles Shipside, director of property website Rightmove, says: “Our own research shows that of young people who are renting a property, more than half would like to own a home but cannot afford to.” Rightmove’s figures show that first-time buyers make up only 20% of those who will buy a home in the next year, compared with 40% before the recession, in most UK regions. The average house price in 1986 was just under £45,000. It is now around £230,000.

Current economic figures also make grim reading. Unemployment statistics released in August show that nearly 2.5 million people are out of work - an increase of 38,000 on the previous quarter. Almost a million people under the age of 25 are out of work.

Pitch creative viewpoint
By Seb Joseph.

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TCA’s report highlights sociability, engagement and inspiration as key areas marketers can tap into so they can have “happiness” associated with their brand. While this seems obvious in theory, the fact that none of the respondents identified any brands that did make them happy suggests that businesses are struggling to find the right balance.

In the 1980s, advertising was far more concerned with presenting an inspirational lifestyle for young consumers to aspire to. Fast forward to today and the campaigns that gain the most traction with young adults are those they can experience and then talk to their friends about afterwards.

Indeed, this year’s O2 Academy YouTube Channel by Archibald Ingall Stretton (AIS) and pd3, which showed live gigs alongside content sourced by fans, is a good example of a brand and its agencies going to great lengths to find out what young adults are talking about and then creating authentic experiences around their interests.

Geoff Gower, creative director at AIS, explains: “Brands have got savvier at understanding what drives the audience. Rather than trying to create new behaviours, they are looking to help and facilitate.”

Brands aren’t going to affect national levels of happiness with their work, but by being more thoughtful and genuine, they can certainly make an impression on 20-somethings.

See Mark Choueke’s leader column here

With so many young people finding it hard to obtain a salary, marketers need to be sensitive about how they promote goods to this group. But by offering some services free of charge and emphasising the sociability element, marketers can keep young people engaged with the brand, regardless of their income levels.

Nike has done this with its Run London event, with north Londoners competing in a 10km race against their counterparts living south of the River Thames. “That was touched with genius - it wasn’t just the fact that everyone got together [to run the race] but there was a further element of solidarity brought in with the north versus south competition,” Champ says.

Brands must not be overtly pushy with this age group, he warns. In TCA’s research, 25-year-old consumers never mentioned particular brands making them happy.

“Trying to fake it won’t work, but if you have got something embedded in your company’s architecture that comes out in the brand, that will have an effect. Brands that can do this will get inside young people’s hearts as well as their shopping carts.”

Last.fm’s Lewis agrees: “We have some very vocal users and on an average day, globally, we get around 10,000 emails, either from people complaining about the site, telling us they love it or informing us that we have tagged music in the wrong way.

“What that tells us is that the audience of 18 to 34-year-olds is fundamentally engaged. They don’t mind brands but they don’t want to be told ’you will buy this product’. They will make up their own minds.”

Agencies’ views on how brands can communicate happiness

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The TCA’s findings published in this week’s ’Happiness Exchange Rate” feature bring to the fore the level of dissatisfaction that many young adults feel with brands. Marketers from some of the world’s largest companies are ramping up their focus on creativity to deliver stronger campaigns. Seb Joseph asks M&C Saatchi’s chief executive of sport and entertainment Steve Martin and Archibald Ingall Stretton creative director Geoff Gower for their views on the biggest challenges in developing market communications for young adults.

M&C Saatchi’s Martin explains: “Ads have played a big part in making people happy over the years, especially the under 25s who are far more brand savvy than those that were the same age 25 years ago.

“Some of the work we’ve done recently, particularly the Coca-Cola ’History of Celebration’ campaign last year, where we asked the public to upload their own version of celebration to YouTube, has been consciously tied to happiness.

“We’ve always pushed to have sociability, engagement and inspiration in our work and most recently the three are evident in the Castrol Edge film, ’Tested to the Limit’ we produced starring Christiano Ronaldo. The documentary features Ronaldo undergoing a series of scientific tests to explain why he is one of the best players in the world. We’re providing a unique insight through these videos, which we hope will foster a strong element of sociability for fans.”

AIS’ Gower adds: “I don’t think young people are behaving any differently or engaging more. I just think brands have got savvier at understanding what drives the audience and rather than trying to create new behaviours they are looking to help and facilitate.

“O2 Academy TV for example has a channel called Fan Cam where gig goers can upload gig footage and O2 will edit that content together and put it to the live track from the sound desk. This process turns poor quality snippets into a single, entertaining memory of the live experience for fans to revisit and share and of course all contributors get a credit.

“Increasingly, what a brand says is far less important than what it does. A promise above the line can be undone in a second with poor customer service or a bad experience in a store. Experiential activity gives a brand a chance to actively engage in a relatively controlled way and hopefully create a positive buzz that spreads far wider and hangs around longer than the event itself. That’s where supporting activity like O2 Academy TV comes in, extending and amplifying the experience.”

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