Monday, September 15, 2008

Why Paris? Y Not?

They've watched their parents buy into the "Go to College, Get a Job" scenario and know it doesn't work. At least not for them.

They see a job or career as more than just a paycheck. They demand a lifestyle to go with it. Their idea of a "workplace" is anywhere with Internet and cell phone access.

They are Gen Y. Hear and watch them roar.

They are social; embrace technology; have alarmingly short attention spans (compared to who?), with zero tolerance for hype, shallow advertising and will march in the streets to protect the environment. A walking paradox, Gen Y (arriving from 1979 to 1994) are notorious for having their cake, eating it, and then asking for seconds. These millennial hyper-taskers simultaneously grab burgers, surf the Web, text, watch TV and listen to their iPod while considering this behaviour "normal". Having been filled with a lifetime quota of advertising saturation by the time they reached Grade One, they are smart, savvy, and hyper-quick to reject "impostors". Not only reject, but they now have the power to turn the marketing gun around, pull the trigger and blast something back.

Case in point:

John McCain got people talking when he aired an ad comparing Barack Obama to style-over-substance celebrities like Paris Hilton; but the conversation really picked up when Hilton fired back with an entertaining rebuttal at the comedic website "Funny or Die". And this video retort has gone mainstream.

You can see the entire Paris Hilton rebuttal to the "white haired dude" at

While this episode goes down as a minus for the McCain camp, the other side of this brand equation sees the Obama campaign conducted with a near perfect understanding of how to appeal to those increasingly influential Gen Y's. Not only is he winning more of them over, he is actually motivating voter turnout. According to Advertising Age magazine, "Obama's success, it seems, is a result of both product and the branding behind it. The qualities he projects -- a cool, smooth aura, the communal values of hope and unity, his teeming crowds and his campaign's seamless graphics -- are the essence of appealing to millennials".

And if McCain thought he delivered a fastball with the Hilton comparison ad, Obama turned and hit it out of the park as far as Gen Y was concerned with his remark, "Is this the best you can do?" In other words, he "gets it". And as far as Gen Y is concerned, he "gets them".

What branding lessons might be learned from Barack Obama?

He is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand. His rising-sun logo, complete with an inviting, captivating portal is comparable to visual icons such as Pepsi, Apple and Starbucks. Mastery of cutting-edge social media through the site (known internally as "MYBO"), is another key element of the brand strategy at work. The back room strategists correctly understand that Gen Y demands control in their brand relationships. They want discussion boards, photo uploads and other interactive elements. These are some of the tools that create today's brand ambassadors.

Why not consider how this story applies to you and your brand? Does your brand make an emotional connection with these Gen Y customers in a way that aligns with their lifestyle? And how do you know for sure unless they are part of the discussion? Are there elements of your brand strategy that could be pulled out of the social media toolbox?

Like never before, your brand belongs to people (including Paris Hilton) who vote with their hearts, wallets and web applications.

"Innovation is the distinction between a leader and a follower" STEVE JOBS

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