While some advertisers despair of ever reaching young men who won't tear themselves away from the PlayStation long enough to consume a decent number of ad impressions, others are simply making adjustments. There appears to be no doubt that gaming is up at the expense of TV, but it may not be disastrous.
A recent Nielsen Entertainment study commissioned by Activision concluded that while TV viewership is down among male gamers 18 to 34, the 8 to 17 set appears unaffected. What has changed is less easy to quantify. According to Jim Poh, media director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky Advertising in Miami, the young male is as media savvy as he is media wary, not to mention highly selective.
When Toyota launched its Scion line of cars, the idea was to lure younger men into Toyota dealerships, which they'd traditionally avoided. So, Scion assembled a marketing plan wildly different than the traditional roll-out. Brian Bolain, national sales promotion manager for Scion, says the measure of success lies in the figure of 80 percent, which is the number of Scion owners who'd never before owned a Toyota.
"We like to give the consumer the idea that they found us," Bolain says of Scion's "Drive & Ride" program. "We scout cities where we know there's a preponderance of our target audience, and we'll set up in front of a music store with three or four vehicles. They can stop, sign up, and get a 10-minute test drive, as well as some merchandise. It's a very non-threatening environment. In fact, it's their environment."
Scion's grassroots focus also includes a traveling art show, dozens of sponsored nightclub events, and promotions featuring amateur DJs and rappers. The brand also buys space in laddie mags. TV, however, is not forgotten.
"One of our beliefs is not that they're not watching TV, but that they're not taking away messaging conducive to a buying decision," Bolain says.
Before zipping off to the club in his Scion, a young male may also give himself a quick spray of another hot product: AXE body spray. When Unilever launched the product in the summer of 2002, it not only had to promote the brand but also to convince young men that they needed it.
Like Scion, Unilever employed a gamut of media to achieve its goals, and it paid attention to research aimed at understanding the spritzer. Fittingly, the company takes a page from "The Matrix," taking the unknown "red pill" to describe its marketing approach.
"AXE has a mantra: Live by the 'Red Pill,'" says Allison Harmon, senior manager at Unilever Marketing Communications. "We do this by questioning the norms of marketing to fit our guys' behavior, making sure we keep the AXE guy at the center of everything we do, taking time today to know our guy, so we're on target tomorrow."
By paying attention to its audience through research, grassroots marketing, and traditional buys, AXE achieved its first $100 million in sales more quickly than any other retail brand, Harmon says. And it's not slowing down.
"AXE has been featured in video games like "Burn Out 3" and "Def Jam: Fight for NY," Harmon notes. It has been a sponsor of numerous celebrity parties including Outkast's 2004 post-Grammy bash.
When it comes to partnerships and marketing to the young male, a top player is Activision. One of the first to incorporate branded content into a video game, Activision counts some big guns among its partners: Jeep, Coca-Cola, and Puma, to name a few. The idea of introducing product placement and branding within games is relatively simple, but the execution is not, according to Dave Anderson, senior director of business development at Activision.
"The young men think it's cool, but you have to remember that every game is not a good fit for product placement," Anderson says, noting that you'll never see a character in "Rome: Total War" sipping a Coke. But given the suspicion of being marketed to, it seems like a slippery slope to get them to accept branding within their pastime.
Anderson says it just has to make sense. "All focus group testing has concretely told us that as long as the products and the brands make sense for the type of lifestyle or culture within the game itself, then the demographic wants to see it."
Beyond gaming, traditional media still plays a part in reaching guys through the sex and humor known to appeal to them. While networks like Comedy Central and mags like Maxim are favoritess, attention must also be paid to other programming, since you never know where they'll show up.
Ford, for example, recently started advertising its trucks during ABC's hit "Desperate Housewives." Scantily-clad, sexy women will always attract 18 to 34 males, and the show now trails only "Monday Night Football" in popularity.
Crispin's Poh sees the future of marketing to young males as an increasingly integrated approach focused on content. "We have to create things that will attract their attention, rather than tracking them down and laying some heavy-handed marketing communication thing on them," Poh says.
The pitfall with this kind of marketing, Poh cautions, is doing too much of the same thing. "People love good ideas to death. These young men, they don't want to be insulted with the marketing."
The other hurdle, he says, is getting advertisers to relinquish some control of the message. "It's a fine line," Poh says. "Advertisers sometimes hate to do it because they want so much control. But it has to be as organic as possible."