YPulse: Authenticity Starts with Us, Stupid

Smiling businesswoman.jpg

Deeply entrenched in the YPulse conference and absorbing the buzz in the air, I feel convicted with the first realization I made the moment I walked through the boughie-ass doors of Hotel Nikko: I'm not dressed properly.

In my G-Star jeans, Boss heels and button-down shirt, I'm wearing the clothes that sent a very specific message when I was in college: Look at me, assholes, I'm business-friendly.

The outfit sends a different message out of college. It says, I am a perpetually business-casual espresso-sucking young professional, and you have Google to thank for the proliferation of my kind.

Well and good for dealing head-to-head with other marketers. But when dealing with teens? Like the suited out-of-touchers, I feel like I should be carrying a clipboard while a tweenie-bopper politely relates every response he or she thinks I want to hear.

We're making the same mistake we made years ago: asking teenagers questions in sterile forum environments and sucking up their answers, as if we can bottle their essences and push them on the market. As if they themselves can actually pinpoint what's cool ("One girl said she likes bright colors on ads," related a nervous post-caffeinated marketer). As if they're really going to share with us what they thought the instant our 15-second interstitial popped up on their torrent at 3 AM on Tuesday.

There's all kinds of talk about how we need to be authentic with our users. But authenticity, like its elusive cousin Cool, is apparently still perceived by elbow-rubbing ad-heads to have a formula. Plug in pop music, mash up two big brands (like Ecko and Skechers? COME ON), throw together a CGM contest, and voila: authenticity a la mode.

Authenticity starts with us, and "cool" isn't a stag you can hunt down and drag home. It's like love (or lust?) - you feel it. You know it when you see it. And baby, look around. We are not it.

Forget about the teens who claim they don't look at ads ("But the ones I talked to said they loved pop-ups!" cries an irate marketer behind me). If we want to hit teens, we need to put ourselves in their worlds - using their torrents, even.

What are the college kids pirating lately?

If I'd seriously thought this through, I would have dressed like the co-ed I still kind of am: with my hoodie and coke-white kicks. And maybe instead of sitting inside a clinical space with a bunch of teens feeding hype to the hype-architects, I'd be at a local spot, getting to know these people.

We'd wax poetic about why Nick Cannon really does have an It factor, argue about why Law & Order is way superior to Grey's Anatomy, and - hell - cornrow each other's hair.

And after a couple of hours, or days, even, of that, I'd be able to walk away and say, I know why you can't just put Ecko and Skechers together and expect a winning synergy.

Ecko lovers hate Skechers.

Written by Angela Natividad    Comments (9)     File: Events     Jul-17-07  
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Comments

Aw Gel,
how many times have we laughed at the douchebag marketers with the clip boards and lab coats. The moment you turn into one of those-- or I turn into one of those it will be time for us to head to the marketer farm and be turned into glue...or marketing execs.

Pd

Posted by: Paul on July 17, 2007 04:33 PM

I hate that you call me Gel.

*kicks you*

Posted by: Angela on July 17, 2007 07:56 PM

A couple of years ago a client of mine and i came up with an idea to demonstrate to one of his clients how "out of it" they were. What we came up with was a questionnaire, directed to 16 to 24 year olds, with lots of categories including: actors, musicians, celebs, movies, TV shows, activities, etc. etc. which also included some product categories including the client's category. In each category respondents were to pick out the cool and the uncool. To populate our lists we sent out little open-ended questionnaires to the youngest people in his firm which, being a start up ad agency, was full of underpaid recent grads and barely paid young interns.

When the results came back even we old crocks could tell at a glance it was hopelessly out of it -- most of the items were not even with it enough to be uncool. (We actually ended up using my then 9 year old daughter and his then 16 year old son as experts.)

Conclusion: one becomes almost instantly out of it when one enters the labor force.

Posted by: Page Schorer on July 17, 2007 08:12 PM

You bring up a good point.

"If I'd seriously thought this through, I would have dressed like the co-ed I still kind of am: with my hoodie and coke-white kicks."

Being authentic does not mean dressing the way they do, talking the way they do... it means being yourself. And I seriously think you MISSED this point even though it was practically beaten into us throughout the entire conference.

Why do teens love customization? Why do teens keep going back to websites that allow them to do what they want, say what they want, etc. It's because they are allowed to be themselves in this space. They know this, want this, and understand this. Teens have no problem with "older" people acting themselves, even if it's stuffy and super business professional... because that is who they are.

A teen marketer's goal should be about trying to get to know their demographic, learn from what works and what doesn't, and provide creative, fun, and innovating ways for teens to interact that benefits the company. Assuming teenage dress and behavior will not accomplish this. Teens aren't retarded, and can smell a FAKER from a mile away... even if it's just virtual.

...and believe me, being fake online is not a good thing.

Posted by: Ranee Soundara on July 18, 2007 01:54 PM

Of course Ecko lovers are unaware that Skechers makes Ecko footwear.

Posted by: 540 on July 18, 2007 02:50 PM

I agree with Ranee whole heartedly. It's also a shame that ad businesses normally only hire University grads and don't engage college or to us in the UK, younger school leavers at a level where they could fill the talent gap, understand youth culture better for their clients and help older ad types to mix and understand the youth ideas, styles etc they perhaps secretly wish to relive again.

http://www.mediastarz.co.uk - Mapping the entire Ad World! Tough gig, but we thought we'd try!

Posted by: Jon Clarke on July 18, 2007 03:00 PM

Hi
A great piece
What are these critics going on about
We all know you're born an original so don't die a copy
Getting young blood in tempered with 'old' skool realism is the best mix of all
Charlie

Posted by: charles salem on July 18, 2007 04:53 PM

Angela:

Is that lovely picture of you? Were you aware that Chris Campos took it and used it in a piece of negative literature in a hotly contested Hoboken election? Did he have permission to use the image?

Michael Lenz

Posted by: Michael Lenz on July 25, 2007 10:53 PM

Hallo Michael,

It's not a shot of me. Unfortunately I couldn't find any images of myself all gussied-up...

Posted by: Angela on July 25, 2007 11:15 PM

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