The Year Without A Marketing Budget

For many of us in the youth marketing industry, 2009 will be remembered as, to quote Queen Elizabeth II, the "annus horribilis." Anecdotes from youth marketing partners and allies depict a very difficult year, marked by contract cancellations, staff reductions, lifelines from private equity funds and a great deal of stress.

With some trepidation, we announced the first annual GennY award, highlighting excellence in youth marketing. Agencies as well as brands themselves offered up what they had achieved in "the year without a marketing budget." The results would have been impressive in a year with ample funding; however, what made this year's submissions outstanding is how much can be achieved with so very little.

An excellent example of youth marketing resourcefulness came from ABC Family, who turned celebrity talent into a roving pep squad that would generate scores of fambassadors at college campuses nationwide to create buzz for shows such as "Greek." One fambassador event held at the University of Florida resulted in over 60,000 attendees!



Similarly, the "m.powerment by mark" campus tour with Lauren Conrad featured a multi-campus fundraising event with best-selling author and Mark spokesperson Lauren Conrad.

A young, edgy, successful entrepreneur, Conrad was an aspirational role model for youth, and her discussions with students raised awareness and funds for Mark's philanthropic campaign dedicated to breaking the cycle of dating abuse and partner violence against young women. Tying a marketing campaign to an important cause was an important "hook" in the year without a marketing budget.

Don't have a legion of beautiful people to shuttle across college campuses to spread buzz? Neither did Penguin Young Adult Reader's Group, which looked to create buzz around the Vladimir Tod series. Its core asset was an author (Heather Brewer) with a keen sense of grassroots development and, subsequently, a highly engaged fan base.

With scant budget, Penguin's agency cleverly leveraged an encrypted language within the series called "Elysian Code." Using Flash, Mess created a desktop application that would allow fans to encode and decode messages within their favorite social networking platform. Messages in Elysian Code started to fly as the Vladimir Tod series climbed to the New York Times best sellers list.

These three examples of youth marketing resourcefulness deserve honorable mention. However, the finalists for the GennY award were not only resourceful but created multi-dimensional, highly effective campaigns that impacted millions of youth on budgets that ranged from "shoestring" to "massive." Here's a summary of what the staff at Ypulse as well as our Youth Advisory Board rated as having the greatest impact across our six judging categories.

Cole Weber / IOC: The "Best of Us Challenge" represented a global social experience that invited young people from around the world to challenge top Olympic athletes and their peers using sport and non-sport talents via an online competition of consumer-generated videos on a dedicated microsite as well as YouTube. Using influencer seeding, video syndication, social media outreach and social media widgets, Cole-Weber spread the message far and wide on a shoestring budget.

Organic / Kotex: The U by Kotex campaign was driven by honest, authentic and educational dialogue about women's health, targeting teen girls and young women. Unlike traditional advertising, digital channels allowed Kotex to tell a larger story and engage teens and young women in a way that transcended traditional advertising. A combination of edgy creative with an overdue need to bring an authentic approach to an important topic resulted in tremendous passion among young females within a product category that hasn't seen this level of interest in a while.

SayNow / ISIS: ISIS created the Say What?!? contest in an effort to expose the kind of sexual health information and advice young people were receiving from the adults in their lives in an effort to create viral sex education public service announcements. Through new media and youth-oriented technology, the Say What?!? contest captured and exposed all of the nonsense 18-21 year olds were receiving and splashed it across the Internet with the help of MTV, SayNow and Funny Or Die.

PayPal: In an example of just how much can be achieved with a traditional marketing budget during a recessionary cycle, PayPal launched an integrated marketing plan that included a Microsite, product pages, SEO strategy, emails, online banners, display and search channels, PR and media outreach plus engagement with influential bloggers and social media channels. In a year when most companies were coaxing their customers to carry the torch on their behalf, this "full-court press" blew the doors off of PayPal's launch targets.

As we look in the rear-view mirror to see the year 2009 disappear in the distance, we can't help but hope for better times ahead. At the same time, let's hope we don't lose the scrappy resourcefulness that, in the crucible of the recession, burned off impurities of youth marketing and revealed the shape of things to come.

2 comments about "The Year Without A Marketing Budget".
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  1. Daniel Coates from Youth Pulse, Inc., May 14, 2010 at 11:24 a.m.

    I failed to mention that the m.powerment by mark campus tour was executed by the stellar team at Barnes and Noble College Marketing. After reading my own post, I wanted to give credit where credit was due!

  2. Chris Vinson from Vinson Advertising, May 14, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    The vehicles have changed but advertising is still the same. You've always been able to advertise without a marketing budget. In the past you got the networks, newspapers or radio to carry a story that would go viral. I remember working with an illegal cable TV campaign. We released to the news that people who had cable TV on without a subscription were in violation of the law and amnesty was offered up to a certain date, no questions asked, and no installation fee if you turned yourself in. The Networks picked up the story and thousands of subscribers turned themselves in. It went viral like crazy. A year later I got an emergency call from the Cable company and a network was on their way over to ask how many people they convicted in over 50 markets after the deadline. As far as I knew, the number was zero except for people caught hooking themselves up. I ran over and did the interview and offered a final extension and more people turned themselves in. Now you don't have to go to the networks but they can really help with hooks etc.

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