The majority of UK students belong to mainstream culture rather than a quirky sub-group, according to new research seen exclusively by Marketing Week. This means that students are attracted to brands that offer value and convenience.
YouTube is the most popular brand rated in The Beans Group’s inaugural Youth 100 list, followed by Wikipedia, Cadbury, Google and the BBC. The company spoke to more than 1,000 students aged 18 to 24 who then rated a shortlist of 220 brands based on their feelings towards them, to provide the eventual list of the 100 most popular. Finally, a focus group of young people provided commentary on the brands in the list.
The Beans Group head of youth strategy Luke Mitchell argues that the list is proof that most young people belong to the mainstream rather than a particular sub-sector of opinion. Indeed, the top 100 is predominantly made up of common household names, with popularity split across a wide range of categories including food, retailers, leisure and technology.
“For too long, marketers have been concerned with the tribes and sub-cultures within youth,” says Mitchell. “Channel 4 did some really interesting research a couple of years ago that broke the youth market down into Emos, Chavs, Trendies and Rahs among other groups. But when it came down to it, the biggest tribe, or the majority, was basically described as mainstream. I think when you look at the Youth 100, that is what is celebrated in this research.”
Value for money
A good example of this mainstream response is seen in the comparative performance of Primark against American Apparel. While Primark achieves a ranking of 52nd place with 36 per cent of those surveyed saying they like the brand and 29 per cent saying they love it, American Apparel does not feature in the Youth 100 at all, despite being in the overall sample of 220 brands.
“Young people love brands that are good value and decent enough quality,” says Mitchell. “With American Apparel, one girl in our focus group said: ‘It’s really expensive and all they do is Lycra’. So the idea that young people are influenced by what’s cool is misdirected. They see through that and just look for clothes they can put on and wear every day and that won’t cost them a fortune. They don’t really care so much about where they buy them.”
There are plenty of other notable omissions from the Youth 100. For example, neither Pot Noodle nor STA Travel – two brands commonly perceived as made for students – make it onto the list. Mitchell argues that young people have moved on from the dated stereotypes that some brands represent. “Often if you go into a [marketing] agency they’ll say students love Pot Noodle,” he adds. “They don’t: they love Innocent smoothies and healthier food.”
The list features a number of healthy and upmarket food and drink products: Innocent is ranked 49th and Kettle Chips comes 16th. On the travel side, Mitchell points out that while STA failed to make the cut, National Rail came 57th, suggesting domestic travel is becoming more popular among young people. “STA is associated with backpacking whereas these are mainstream kids go on a summer beach holiday or maybe a city break with their mates,” he says.
Yet not all of the results tally with this idea. A breakdown of the categories shows that Kopparberg is the most popular brand in the beer and cider category, easily beating the more established Stella, Guinness and Strongbow. Kopparberg is either liked or loved by 68 per cent of the students surveyed, against just 28 per cent who said the same about Strongbow.
Kopparberg UK head of marketing Rob Calder explains that the brand’s ethos is to position itself as being outside of the mainstream – and that this is central to its popularity among 18- to 24-year-olds. “When the UK cider category was all about apple flavours, Kopparberg took a chance first with different fruit varieties,” he says. “We’ve benefited from that approach of doing things our own way.”
Kopparberg has emphasised this alternative approach through edgy, underground marketing promotions. For example, this month the brand ran its Un-established event in Manchester and London – a series of workshops, exhibitions, screenings and talks designed to promote “DIY culture” and “convention-prodding talent”.
“In the early days when the brand didn’t have much budget, a lot of our brand support was spent on backing new exhibitions, galleries or bars set up by like-minded individuals,” explains Calder. “There’s obviously a lot of doom and gloom in the world at the moment and jobs for young people are especially challenging. So the Un-establishment is revelling in that spirit of having a crack at something and doing something your own way.”
Of course, it’s possible that a brand can be alternative and mainstream at the same time. Luke Mitchell at The Beans Group says the popularity of Kopparberg reflects the fact that it is now one of “the default drinks to have on a night out”: a symptom of the mainstream drinking culture among young people.
Indeed the focus group comments reveal a general approval of the brand – “Kopparberg is a drink girls can enjoy”; “Kopparberg provides a better variety of flavours” – rather than a clear allegiance to its edgy ethos. This shows that while a brand may develop its reputation on the basis of being different and cool, its enduring popularity comes from its absorption into the mainstream.
Mitchell says the same is true of shoe brand Converse, 12th in the list, with 83 per cent of students either liking or loving it. “I was a bit surprised to see a brand such as Converse doing so well,” he says. “In some ways it is a classic youth brand: almost like a clichéd youth brand but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would come out really well in this research.”
Mitchell suggests Converse has now gone over a “tipping point” and broken through into the mainstream. “That’s what Apple did a few years back,” he says. “Converse’s heritage is in skate culture and basketball but it’s now a default shoe for young people to wear.”
The Youth 100
|Brand||% Like||% Love||Total % of love & like|
We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground
Vice-president of Europe
Spotify (number 39 on the list)
We tap into a combination of this age group’s big passions: [one of them being] free music to the world and that is obviously something this age group is passionate about and we deliver it in a way they are very familiar with – through mobile devices and PCs or laptops. This generation has grown up in a world that is driven more by access than ownership and we suit that need.
By ensuring our product is as good as it can be, we generate a lot of referral and word of mouth to enable people to discover our service. We also integrated with Facebook last year and have seen a huge take-up since then.
We try to make our product available in as many different ways as that age group, and others, would like to find it – whether that’s from the results we’ve had from our play button on other websites through to our integration with Virgin Media and Facebook.
We don’t know all the answers when it comes to reaching this age group. But I would suggest that you have to talk to any demographic in the terms and voice that they understand. Don’t patronise and create a service they like and want to share.
Head of marketing
Kopparberg UK (number 45 on the list)
What’s relevant to our position in the Youth 100 list is our work this year confirming us as an energetic brand. We talk a lot about potential and doing things your own way rather than relying on the old established ways and that appeals to young people.
If you look at our advertising, it’s clear we’re a brand that doesn’t follow. Three or four years ago, cider advertising was still all about orchards and apple trees, so Kopparberg knew it had to do something different. That’s where the ‘Find Kopparberg’ campaign came in, which was about taking cider into a more underground, slightly more edgy environment that didn’t rely on the same old product cues.
We’ve continued with our Un-established concept this year. With a proposition like that we’ve challenged ourselves to keep doing things our own way. We don’t want to be a brand that is just about TV advertising because we don’t have the budget that a lot of our bigger competitors have.
Instead our growth on Facebook has been organic. People are interacting with it and we are working hard to make sure that the response they get is a genuine one from the brand and not something that is handed over to a PR company to do.
Those principles are important to the brand: it’s not owned by a multinational corporation, it’s a family-owned brewery in Sweden and we bring a lot of that through in the way we talk to people.
Social media executive
Odeon (number 58 on the list)
Cinema is obviously a popular leisure activity for young people and students and we use a lot of social media to promote the films that are aimed at this market.
This year, for example, we knew that everyone was engaging with the film Ted on social media so we upped our content strategy around it to get people to buy tickets and communicate the idea that seeing the film at the Odeon was better than seeing it at a competitor. We tailor the strategy around the films that are coming out and make sure we’re targeting the right people. I’d say that’s clearly working if we’re in this list.
At the same time, the film itself is hugely important. If the movies are more tailored towards an older audience next year, we might not do so well in this list.
So it’s definitely worth bearing in mind that the film slate over this year has been geared to this age group with films such as The Avengers, Spider-Man, Ted and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. We’ve capitalised on that by making sure our brand is out there through the relevant channels.
Facebook is huge for us – it’s our main channel. We only launched on Twitter this year but it’s growing rapidly because people love talking about film.
You can’t do too much ‘sell, sell, sell’ in social – it’s about getting people talking and working with film distribution companies to get exclusive content that we can use. So maybe we’ll have a special clip or an interview with one of the stars from a film that we’re promoting. As a brand, getting that coverage and association with the films is a big benefit for us.