This week we have a guest blogger – Ritam Ghosh, who is joining us for a week of work experience with our Marketing team. We’ve invited him to write a blog as well as help pick out and create the accompanying imagery. He’ll also be giving us another post later in the week, summing up his time with us. In this first article, (rather articulately we might say), he shares his views on how big brands use social media to engage with younger audiences.
How well do companies attract young people through social media?
When global brands use social media to target and engage younger audiences, success is never guaranteed. However, there are some givens. Instagram seems to be the platform of choice for instance, with 90% of its users under the age of 35. It’s also a visually vibrant channel, allowing brands to easily convey masses of information, even if users only pay attention for a few seconds. Some, such as Nike (with 78 million followers), manage to encapsulate the mood of the youth with exclusive promotions by celebrities such as Neymar, limited releases via influencers such as Sean Wotherspoon, and their involvement with sports charities. Other smaller brands, such as Yes Theory, make use of polls to create personal content. Can big brands learn something from them? How can they keep up with the change?
To me, it seems that one of the brands that has been very successful at making use of social media, is Supreme – especially with its Louis Vuitton collaboration. Supreme has made use of celebrity exclusivity by creating a separate line of clothing just for them. With Instagram posts being circulated by influencers like Justin Bieber wearing the merchandise, the interest in these posts with younger audiences is peaked. This was made apparent when the release in London resulted in massive queues filled with youngsters, as if waiting impatiently in line for an ice cream van. But rather than swapping pocket money for a 99, they were paying thousands of pounds for a red leather backpack, or hundreds for a t-shirt. This of course was not the end of the madness, with resale prices for most popular items at five times the retail price. This shows how social media influenced the audience of a niche street-wear producer, and very quickly turned their product into a hyped and hot commodity. Stories like these go to show how clever marketing can transform the status of a brand. These methods are, of course, not only present in that collaboration, but also in their regular items featuring popular celebrities such as Kate Moss and Mike Tyson. Many of their products seem (at least to me) to have been engineered to be social media friendly. What I mean by this, is that they contain bold graphics and logos that make the pieces easily recognisable in imagery and on social media. I’m sure this has also contributed to hashtags relating to the brand covering millions of posts.
A brand that operates a completely different concept, is Nike. Supreme focuses on exclusivity and hype, whereas Nike commits itself to telling stories through its images and films. These are seen everywhere with their imagery of hard work and struggle, which manage to resonate with everyone, not just young people. This, alongside the impeccable production quality and everyday characters, have allowed for this massive corporation to become relatable to its customers. Its exclusive and innovative collaborations further help to bring its grasp of popular culture to the forefront, as it takes control of the latest talk on the streets with every release. From its one-off collaboration with Tom Sachs, resulting in a pair of shoes worth well over $1,000 on the market – to general releases every month that are available to all.
One the other hand, one of Nike’s competitors, Adidas, has chosen to take a slightly different approach, which has been less successful. They focus on simple images showing their products, which in my opinion does not engage the younger generation. This is because most people interested in their products would have found out what the product looks like weeks before they are announced. A big part of the clothing and street-wear industry now involves online teasers that work to leak as much information about an upcoming release as possible. In recent months this has included retail prices in various currencies, expected stock levels, stockists, relative levels of interest from the public and even potential resale values. As a result, social media posts ‘revealing’ a product are nothing more than a confirmation of what people already know. Although Adidas does share stories through their social media, it often lacks the quality of what Nike does. This is due to two reasons. The first is that they have chosen to focus on futuristic styles this year, which have not been what young people are interested in. This is apparent due to the use of semantics relating to technology, which is in complete contrast to what Nike have done; reintroducing old styles of sneakers, such as the Nike Air Max 97. A campaign where Londoners could design their own shoes, combined with exclusive events for influencers in the street-wear scene, made sure that all new releases were carefully followed by consumers. The lack of similar events and initiative means Adidas has been comparatively abandoned by young consumers this year. The second reason is that Adidas’s Instagram pages lack separation. For most shoe brands, the products which generate the most business are running shoes, which are very different to what the younger generation are interested in. This causes issues for their social media marketing. On one hand, they focus on appealing to the older generation, who buy running shoes. Then they target the younger generation who buy casual sneakers, resulting in mixed messaging that will only ever please some of the people, some of the time. This issue has been more successfully tackled by Nike, who have a main Instagram page aimed at those interested in sportswear, but also many other smaller channels that are specific to different consumer groups, such as those interested in the London street-wear scene.
For many brands, a more casual, real-life approach could be taken to social media. Professionally edited and framed imagery lacks personality in my opinion, and corporate achievements aren’t really what social media is about. A real-life approach works especially well on Instagram, where users can relate to that “in-the-moment” vibe, alongside strategically placed posts that relate to popular issues. A recent example would be the huge uplift and coverage of Pride events by big brands, who want to show their support for these hugely popular, important, and emotive events and news stories. It allows them to get alongside their audiences, and especially younger audiences, who are very clearly motivated and engaged by these movements. Add in a trending hashtag, and they can legitimately attract huge numbers of new people to their brand in a single post.
Therefore, in my opinion, the best way for companies to attract the younger generation is to focus on identifying the trends and issues that they are interested in, and to create content which mirrors the same vibe, personality, and feel.