Commentary

Go 'Extreme' To Reach Today's Teens

If you’re launching a new product aimed at young consumers, “evolutionary” isn’t good enough. Your new product has to be so groundbreaking, so shocking and so unexpected that it breaks the Internet. With today’s teens and young adults more distracted than ever and likely to tune out paid ads, your product has to be something that they hear about repeatedly across earned media — something that their friends buzz about, and influencers make jokes and spread memes about.

Lately, a number of food and beverage brands have hit the jackpot with successful new “extreme products.” The best example is Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino, which was offered for only five days this spring, yet (according to the Los Angeles Times) made more than 1.3 billion impressions on Twitter, and was hashtagged more than 150,000 times on Instagram. All the social media buzz moved the needle on sales, too: Starbucks’ U.S. sales were up 4% in March, and the chain said it experienced further growth in April, according to CNBC.

Yum! Brands has also mastered the art of the “extreme entrée,” between KFC’s Double Down sandwich (bacon, cheese and secret sauce between two fried chicken filets), Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco Supreme, and Pizza Hut’s Hot Dog Bites Pizza. And Carl’s Jr. has stepped up its game even further, recently introducing a Baby Back Rib Burger.

These extreme products check all the boxes for teens and young adults. They provide a unique, memorable and often limited-time experience. They provide a compelling visual for customers to photograph and post on social media. They lend themselves well to hashtags and memes, and (literally) have all the ingredients to go viral. And their names quickly sum up their Unique Selling Proposition … anybody who hears “Hot Dog Bites Pizza” can immediately grasp the concept.

The QSR category lends itself well to these products: their R&D cost is minimal, they require little retooling, and they can serve as something of a “doorbuster” special that drives traffic into stores and toward other, safer products. However, we also see extreme pickup trucks (Ford F-150 Raptor), extreme packaged goods (Cheetos XXtra Flamin’ Hot) and extreme electronics (pink or gold iPhone). Name a category, and there’s probably an extreme product lurking in it.

What are the ingredients of a successful extreme product, besides lots of calories, and sometimes unicorns?

• They often combine two seemingly unrelated products. Whoever imagined making taco shells out of Doritos, lining a pizza crust with Pigs in a Blanket, or putting ribs on a burger … until somebody finally did? The unexpectedness of the mash-up helps make the product go viral. So look for unrelated products that you can combine in new and creative way

• They look stunning. The physicality of the product is half of what sells it, and the name is often the other half. Seeing an iPhone in pink or gold makes for a “shock and awe” moment, as does seeing coffee the color of a unicorn. Consumers see these photos, have a strong reaction to them, forward them out for others to see, and pretty soon they go viral and make it into news stories and late-night monologues.

• They have a degree of scarcity. They’re often available for a limited time only (the Unicorn Frappuccino), their supply is intentionally just a fraction of their demand (the original gold iPhone), or they’re only available in select locations. The scarcity creates a “challenge” to find the product; there’s often a second challenge in consuming it (good luck successfully eating and digesting an entire Double Down sandwich), and the “trophy” is a photo on social media for all to see.

The next time you’re launching a new product for young consumers, don’t just tinker at the margins … go extreme to enjoy extreme success.

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