Courting Gen-Y: Forget the Hype, Find Street Cred

MARKETING: Designer brands are spending millions on ad campaigns aimed at the Millennials, yet most of youth culture remains unmoved by the efforts.

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NEW YORK — What do Kenneth Cole and Coca-Cola have in common? Both are perceived as the real thing by the Millennial generation, marketing consultants contend.

Achieving such status is a deceptively difficult trick for brand marketers to pull off, since most of them are Baby Boomers or Generation Xers who are too far removed from the Millennial culture to make an appeal that has the sense of authenticity — and relevance to their lifestyles — sought by today’s teens and young adults.

Fashion brands, in particular, have struggled to convey a sense of authenticity to today’s teens and young adults, whose fancies — and funds — are being more readily captured by cars, travel, electronics, entertainment and eating out. Designer brands from Calvin Klein to Gucci to Prada are pouring millions of dollars into ad campaigns aimed squarely at the Millennials, yet most of youth culture remains unmoved by such efforts, observers pointed out.

"It used to be good enough for a designer like Ralph Lauren to do an ad campaign with a particular image, and young people simply aspired to be like that," observed Marshal Cohen, co-president of Port Washington-based market researcher NPDFashionworld. "Today, it’s more about being associated with a larger cause. Kenneth Cole has done this better than anyone in the past 20 years. The brand rates high with teens consistently."

In fact, according to NPDFashionworld, Kenneth Cole leads a list of brands perceived by teens as "prestigious," followed by Donna Karan, Victoria’s Secret, Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, Banana Republic, Jones New York and Ralph Lauren.

A more genuine appeal would enable fashion brands to sell more apparel to the generation, ages 8 to 25, now 71 million strong. Teens spent approximately $170 billion on products and services in 2002, found Teenage Research Unlimited, while college students, ages 18 to 30, spent about $155 billion last year — about $39 billion of it discretionary, according to Harris Interactive research conducted for 360 Youth, the marketing arm of Alloy Inc.

The stakes will continue to climb through 2010, the period in which more people are projected to enter the cohort than leave it. "There are currently more eight-year olds than 15-year olds, so the prospects are bright for youth marketers," said Matt Diamond, chief executive officer of Alloy Inc., a direct merchant and marketer targeting Millennials.
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