Markets Focus: Where the Guys Are

Elusive? Hardly. They're busy watching TV  online

When we last checked in with pundits about the state of online marketing aimed at 18-to-24-year-old males, they soberly noted the difficulty of shooting at a briskly moving target. They talked about the need to simultaneously entertain and inform, and about how the 18-to-24 crew sees through just about every marketing scheme. They preached the usual tired gospel about media fragmentation and claimed that members of the demographic were never more than 15 yards away from a gaming console.

A year later, the pundits are saying pretty much the same thing, with one big difference: Every other sentence, they drop the words "You" and "Tube," invoking the content portal that holds more sway over 18-to-24-year-old men than anything else right now. Just as personalized e-mail campaigns were once deemed the savior of spam-era online communication, YouTube has been anointed the panacea for all that ails marketers.

Never mind that marketers have produced barely a tenth of a percent of the material posted on the site. They see YouTube as the model for their marketing programs moving forward, with the smartest (and boldest) companies allowing consumers to pick and choose the brand-affiliated content they want to view.

The trend is partly driven by the growing realization that banner ads generate little beyond short-term awareness. "An eyeball doesn't lead to any true conversation," says Darren Paul, managing partner of Night Agency, which has created campaigns for mtvU, Maxim Online and Yahoo Hot Jobs. "For 18-to-24-year-old guys, what companies are more interested in are quality-experience impressions. They're looking for loyalty and time spent."

Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of marketing shop The Geek Factory, says, "The two things that a marketer needs are a call to action and a personal mission. What they have to make this audience think is, 'This is so cool, I'm willing to risk my own reputation by sending it to my friends.'"

That's easier said than done, of course. But while companies bemoan the difficulty of reaching "elusive," "evasive" 18-to-24-year-old males, many execs believe that the task is nowhere near as daunting as it was a few years ago.

For one, most marketers have a pretty good idea where the 18-to-24 crowd is spending its time.

"They're online. Duh. The Web is the new television for 18-to-24," says Sean MacPhedran, director of creative strategy at Fuel Industries, the creative shop behind Sprite's "Dunkface" campaign and the "American Dad vs. Family Guy" game.

"Reaching them isn't really harder, but it is different. Advertisers and media buyers may actually have to think a little for a change. Instead, they talk about 'the hard-to-reach 18-to-24-year-old male' like they're narrating a National Geographic documentary about a mutant gazelle."

 Offline Lives. Other myths about the 18-to-24 audience abound. Yes, young men have a huge appetite for media, but their tastes extend far beyond "Jackass"-type pranks and snarky humor.

"They're more cultured than advertisers and creative people give them credit for. They also like oddities, stuff that's a little off, a little out there," says Tiffany Young, creative director at Smashing Ideas, which has coordinated online campaigns for Napster and Comedy Central's "Dog Bites Man."

"Surfing the Web is not a passive experience for them," says Ira Becker, senior vice president and general manager of Ziff Davis' 1Up Network.

To take advantage of this, Becker and his 1Up peers recently debuted GameVideos. com. The site, which was still in beta form in late July, is positioned as a YouTube for 18-to-24 gamers. For any marketer whose online push or brand image even peripherally involves gaming  and that includes advergames crafted around a product or brand  the site could prove a godsend.

"When something is just announced or is just about to come out, this audience is waiting with bated breath for any information they can get their hands on  images, screen shots, videos, anything," Becker says. Marketers, endemic and otherwise, might want to take this enthusiasm into account, allying themselves whenever appropriate with providers of such content.

"Even the hardest-core of hard-core gamers have lives," Becker says. "They go to movies, they drive cars, they like sweet, bubbly things to drink. Not every product matches this audience and this content, but a whole lot do."

Another type of 18-to-24-friendly content ripe for advertising:

anything involving fantasy sports.

"Why not put your name on some of the extra-step league and statistical tools?" suggests Robb Hecht, a member of the adjunct faculty at New York City's Baruch College School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Experts also recommend anything that stimulates interaction.

"Something that can go out and come back with some kind of response, answer, or hand-raising," prescribes Night Agency's Paul. A good example was Smashing Ideas' program for MTV's Video Music Awards last year. Rather than merely asking emo-band-crazed 18-to-24s to vote for their favorite artists, the firm had would-be voters play a game, linking players' scores to the number of votes the artist received. The game logged considerably longer play times than other comparable online diversions.

 First, Entertain. When it comes to the future of online programs aimed at 18-to-24-year-old males, even the brashest insiders hesitate to make grand proclamations. After all, 12 months ago, nobody had heard of YouTube. Nonetheless, they expect advertisers to develop more original online content, mostly 10-minute-and-under quickie videos. They stress that media and creative shops should either hire more members of the young male demographic or more actively solicit their feedback.

"No matter how hard I try, as a 35-year-old woman,

I'm never going to understand the brain of an

18-year-old guy," Young quips.

Finally, those in the know warn art directors not to indulge their design instincts at the expense of entertainment.

"Entertainment is God; design is not," MacPhedran says. "A 20-year-old guy doesn't care about cool design. He wants to be entertained. Design only matters to some fashionista in SoHo. If that's all you have to offer, [18-to-24-year-old males] will shut you off, and you won't get them back."  

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