YPulse: Authenticity Starts with Us, Stupid
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.