Redefining Empowerment-A Case Study About Effectively Marketing To Teens Without Turning Them Off

Redefining Empowerment-A Case Study About Effectively Marketing To Teens Without Turning Them Off

Can we inspire teens to choose to do something with the same method that convinces them not to do something? For example, the same decision-making process leads to teens buying $ 15 Starbury One basketball shoes and not buying the designer $ 130 Nike Zoom Kobe I sneakers? Is there a common denominator in how teens choose to start smoking cigarettes and how they choose not to? Can we as marketers reach them at the pivotal decision-making moment to inspire desired behavior? Denver-based Cactus Marketing Communications thinks they have unrecognized the simple truth about effectively altering teen behaviors by redefining empowerment as a marketing strategy.

I. Background

Youth empowerment has been defined as an attitudinal, structural and cultural process wherey young people gain the ability, authority and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults.

Over the past decade, the word empowerment has become a buzzword in business and youth development, but the word has different meanings for different people. According to the Journal of Extension, "empowering teens" refer to a process through which adults begin to share responsibility and power with young people … It is the same idea as teaching young people the rules of the game … Youth development professionals are helping young people develop non-academic competencies that will help them to participate in the game of life.

Traditionally, most campaigns that employ youth empowerment as a strategy actually encourage social movements through advocacy and activism. They encourage teens to speak out for causes and to rally other teens to join them in activism. This notification has been particularly popular with youth development campaigns such as 4-H and public health campaigns such as tobacco control. Another popular example that demonstrates this notification is Rock the Vote, which encourages young adults to serve as brand ambassadors and activists to encourage other young adults to vote.

II. Redefining Empowerment

In the fall of 2006, Denver-based Cactus Marketing Communications launched a campaign called Own Your C that is redefining empowerment as we know it. Rather than encouraging a public advocacy or activism in their communities, Own Your C aspirations to encourage teens to make positive choices to implement change in their own lives.

Commissioned by the Colorado State Tobacco Education & Prevention Partnership (STEPP), Own Your C is a tobacco prevention and cessation educational campaign targeting Colorado youth ages 12 to 18. Over the past year, Cactus and STEPP have worked hand in hand to produce an integrated marketing campaign with the goal of reducing tobacco use among teens. The following is a summary on the insights gained into the complex world of teens and how those insights led Cactus to redefine empowerment as a marketing strategy with the Own Your C educational campaign.

A. Problem:

1. National tobacco trends:

– According to the Centers for Disease Control, a survey released in July 2006 claimed that a decade-long decline in youth smoking has halted high high school students.
– Ninety percent of adult smokers started smoking by the age of 18.
– Camel's No.9, a new offering that The New York Times called "dressed to the nines," employs fashionable marketing techniques that appeal to young women – from ad placements in fashion bibles like Vogue and Glamor and its name's haunting coincidence to the perfume , Chanel No. 21, and the song, "Love Potion No. 9". Flavored cigarettes, including Kauai Kolada, Twista Lime and Mandarin Mint, also appeal to teens.
2. Colorado is on center stage in the nation's battle against tobacco:

– Decreases in tobacco use rates among Colorado youth have become stagnant in recent years.
– The tobacco industry spent $ 217 million on marketing to youth in 2005, this is more than 200 percent of the funding the state has to combat their efforts.
– Tobacco companies spend $ 4 million marketing to Coloradoans every week.
– Colorado is often selected to test market new tobacco products.

B. Insight:

A variety of research methods were employed in order to understand the complex and ever-changing world of teens, both tobacco and non-tobacco related. The goal was to find a message is universally relevant and important among teens of all ages, ethnicities, genders, income levels and geographical locations.

1) Anti-tobacco campaign effectiveness

Through secondary research, Cactus and their research arm, Market Perceptions, Inc., set out to discover whether or not other public education campaigns to date have been successful in reducing teen smoking levels. What they discovered is that there is a precedent for success with advertising in regards to reducing teen smoking levels.

One study published in 2005 measured students in 75 major media markets with varying levels of state-sponsored anti-tobacco TV ads and found that students from markets with higher advertising levels were significantly less likely to have smoked in the past 30 days, more likely to perceive great harm from smoking and more likely to report they would not be smoking in five years' time. Additionally, a study measuring the effectiveness of the national "truth" campaign reported that 22 percent of the nation's overall youth smoking decline between 1999 and 2002 could directly be attributed to the campaign.

While the counter-industry theme (anti-Big Tobacco) has been proven successful in the past and once tested positively in the late 1990's and early 2000's, more recent studies have shown that due to the proliferation of it as a strategy (nearly two- thirds of all state campaigns use counter-industry), it's yielding diminishing returns. A study published in 2006 by the American Journal of Public Health reported that counter-industry ads did not significantly enhance anti-industry motivation or lower smoking intent.

Studies have found that ads graphically depicting the effects of living or suffering from the afflictions of tobacco use (as opposed to dying from) rank high in getting youth to "stop and think" about tobacco use. Researchers caution against using messages that inflate fear, which have multiple limitations, and trigger disgust, which some believe to be the single most effective strategy in reducing teen smoking. Ads that employ fear tactics are more likely to be rebelled against, do not break through teens' invincibility barrier, and potentially only enhance the idea of ​​tobacco as the "forbidden fruit," whereas disgust motivates action and correspondences with a lower intent to smoke .

2) Communicating with teens

When conducting a marketing campaign aimed at teens, it's not only important to communicate the right messages to them, but to communicate in the right ways with them. Teens are leading the technology-driven, new media movement, spending more time with computers, the Internet, hand held devices, MP3 players, cell phones, etc.

While talking on the phone is still the preferred communication method of choice (when not hanging out in person), teens' communication patterns go hand in hand with their increased use of new media, with online forums (Instant Message, social networks, etc. ) growing in popularity and changing the dynamics of relationships.

After the phone, teens report Instant Message (IM) as their second choice for communicating with friends. IM breaks down traditional communication barriers, lowering inhibitions and allowing them to say things they would not say in person. The same is true of social networks, where a majority of teens build detailed and in-depth profiles for the entire world to see. Their profiles allow them to project an image of how they want to be seen, rather than their true identity. Their profiles also allow them to build a large network of friends, seeking out like-minded teens with similar interests, regardless of geographic locations. Teens more than any other generation, are closely connected to each other through this virtual community.

In addition to identifying and prioritizing the proper communication vehicles, Cactus and Market Perceptions bought to better understand what brands are effectively communicating their messages to teens. Through the mass clutter of brands today, they wanted to understand not necessarily which brands are "in" versus "out", as that is constantly evolving with this fickle audience, but what makes a brand relevant, albeit just briefly, in the minds of teens today.

Overwhelmingly, brand theorists point out that a brand is no longer a badge of quality or insurance of a safe choice as it is with older generations, however, it is a means to define themselves, to express who they feel they are or want to be outwardly to their peers, family, strangers, etc. It is an interesting juxtaposition of self-expression while at the same time enhancing connectedness to other like-minded teens.

A recent global brand study showed that several US brands are losing favor with teens to more innovative, international brands. Experts argue that the brands losing on teen relevance are those that try to imperson images on teens, rather than reflecting teens' perceptions of themselves. One particularly successful campaign that resonated with youth is the Adidas "Impossible is Nothing" campaign, which spoke to teens optimism and connectedness.

Overall, teens are aware of marketing and "hip to the hype" and they need to feel in control and that they are discovering brands on their own. Teens need to feel as if they are a part of the brand story.

3) Teen decision-making

While secondary research provided an understanding of tobacco usage among teens, Cactus still needed to understand the decision-making dynamic surrounding teen tobacco use, especially when the decision is not to smoke. There was a need to understand teenagers in terms of how they see tobacco within the context of their experience of being a teenager.

Therefore, Cactus and Market Perceptions conducted primary research with the explicit goal of enhancing their understanding of teens through a novel approach that would reveal more about the decision-making dynamics than a teen's perspective. Recognizing that developments in computer technology have transformed the ways in which youth communicate and interact, Market Perceptions built a virtual research space, . This site became the center around which continuous online interaction afforded insight to unforgettable these truths.

The methodology for primary research included Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis and ethnographic components. After spending two months with teenagers, watching their behavior and interacting with them, Cactus learned that teen decision-making around tobacco requires a broader perspective beyond the topic of tobacco. The research unmarked the simple truth that tobacco use, or the avoidance of tobacco use, stems from a dynamic that lies at the root of many challenges that teens experience. They are making a transition from doing what others want them to do towards doing what they want to do – and they are learning to make choices along the way.

What Cactus disclosed is that there are two ways in which teens become non-smokers.

One way looks very much like the decision to smoke. They do not smoke because someone does not want them to smoke. For these teens, we must tell them not to smoke, understanding that we are competitive with others who are telling them to smoke.

The other way is a choice. These teens choose not to smoke. Recognizing that these teens are different from their reactionary peers is important in two respects. First, the ability for teens to make decisions for themselves remains a critical element of resistance to pro-tobacco advertising. These teens crave the control to make choices and be accountable for those choices. Second, making choices creates a demand for information.

The implications of this research, therefore, are clear. There are two segments within the teen population. One segment requires a simple message – "Do not smoke!" The other segment requires a very different message – "Own your choices." While membership in these segments is not static, the movement is generally from the first to the second. As teens learn and grow, they all begin to own their choices. Unfortunately, this means that the message "Do not smoke!" will have less impact as they do so, and will assure their ability to see smoking as a bad choice as they make the transition.

4) Key finds

The research can be boiled down into the following key finds:

– Teens desire to be in control of their lives.

– Teens are pack-oriented and experience self-inflated pressure to belong.

– Teens understand the choices they make today impact their future but, in the moment of decision, they often ignore this and act impulsively without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

– Teens are concerned with their future, but their knowledge of future often goes no further than getting into graduating from college.

– Teens are surrounded by negative messages and want to see things that reflect their optimism.

– Teens have high aspirations and respect brands that reflect this idealized version of themselves.

C. Solution:

Armed with meaningful research, Cactus and STEPP determined that a successful strategy for the mandated public education campaign would recognize youth's desire to make choices as part of making the transition to adulthood and empower them to seek out information and take responsibility for the outcomes of those choices . Doing this, Cactus redefined empowerment as it had been defined by previous social marketing campaigns. Rather than encouraging advocacy and activism, this campaign encourages teens to make positive choices to implement change in their own lives. This empowerment strategy executed through effective vehicles of communication yielded a powerful and impactful youth tobacco prevention and cessation campaign coined "Own Your C" (Own Your Choices).

"Choice" was selected as a message because it is universal to all youth, regardless of gender, geographic location, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income or age. Choice is relevant to all teens since it connects to them on an emotional level. While youth are impulsive by nature, they demonstrate that they are receptive to messages that provide perspective and empower them. Own Your C was developed as the brand because it embodied the empowerment strategy and choice message. A common vernacular among young adults, "own it" means to step up and take accountability for your actions.

To break the advertising clutter in a teen's world, Cactus had to create a bona fide youth relevant brand, not just another public health campaign. The Own Your C brand has to compete for attention not just against other public health messages, but against other youth brands so campaign elements were designed to fit within the current fashions and trends of the youth culture. A fully integrated communications strategy was developed with the experiential Web site as the hub. Tactics include irreverent television spots, a street team, events, cessation tools, mobile marketing, online advertising, and tapping social networks.

The site engages teens in education and conversation on the topic of choice-making as it relates to tobacco. Divided into three main sections of a virtual town called C-Ville, the site include a 'Park area to aid teens in the choices that affect their lives; a 'Downtown' area where teens can be immersed in the Own Your C brand through TV spots, contests and downloads of art, music and ringtones; and a 'Drive-in' area where teens can learn and discuss the implications of using tobacco.

TV Spots. The television campaign is a series of three television spots that drive home the message that choices define you. "Cecil the Seal" is a tongue-in-cheek play on government-sponsored public service campaigns and introduces the campaign concept: C is for Choice. "Haunting C", based on a thriller suspense movie, reminds teens their choices may come back to haunt them. And "Omnipoteen" centers on a teen superhero who has the power to choose and the consequences associated with his choice. These PSAs are designed to appeal to teens and create a buzz, while driving them to visit

C-Ride. A branded ice cream truck, the C-Ride serves as a "C" brand ambassador, building buzz and generating excitement at youth-oriented events statewide. The truck features a back-lit chrome "C" hood ornament, airbag suspension and custom rims, custom lighting and sound, and a freezer for distributing ice cream and treats. Cactus commissioned an artist from the UK popular for his offbeat character illustrations to design the truck's exterior. Equipped with a street team, the C-Ride extends the brand to urban, rural and mountain communities and serves as a distribution point for tobacco cessation materials.

Promotional Items. Cactus commissioned artists from around the world to express what "owning your C" means to them. Choice-inspired designs from artists in Thailand, the UK and the US have been parlayed into t-shirts, winter hats, stickers and magnets, which are distributed by the C-Ride street team.

Quit Kits. Cactus created discreet quit kits for teens to quit smoking or chew tobacco. The kits are encased in anonymous encyclopedia sheets with hollowed interior space to store a quit journal, gum, stress balls and alternative-to-tobacco mint snuff pouches.

D. Preliminary results

Since Own Your C launched in the fall of 2006, it has been acclaimed as a relevant youth brand and has created a remarkable buzz among the advertising, design and interactive communities. has been heralded as one of the world's top Web sites targeting youth and has competed for industry awards in the company of Nickelodeon, Curious George, Gillette, Adidas, Altoids and Nike, to name a few. The site has been honored with recent accolades including:

2007 The Webby Awards Winner in Youth category

2007 The One Show Merit Award in Non-profit category

2007 South by Southwest Web Awards "Best in Show"

2007 South by Southwest Web Awards "Gold" in the Business: Green / Non-Profit category

2006 Favorite Web Site Awards "Site of the Year" third place

September 2006 "Site of the Month"

January 2007 CommArts "Site of the Week"

According to ad industry blogs:

"Denver agencies Cactus and AgencyNet have created a visually stunning, bang on strategy online campaign for the state of Colorado … But marketing the value of choices is a strange thing I hear you say educating teens about the health effects of tobacco. Its completely non-preachy form of communication is refreshing and the perfect tone for speaking to teens. " – Tait Ischia, marketing student, Australia

"OwnYourC takes a form conclusive to internet-saavy teen visitors-an interactive world, full of animation, green-screen video, 3D characters, stop motion animation, sounds, etc. The campaign conveys this message artfully throughout the site, and the site creators are starting to see that kids are 'becoming the voice to extend the campaign.' "- Josh Spear, trendspotter, writer, designer, Denver.

What's more important, the campaign has been well-received by Colorado teens. The Own Your C street team has visited 115 schools in 40 counties since December 2006. The Web site has had over 310,000 unique visitors since the campaign launched last fall and it has nearly 7,000 C-Ville "citizens," or registered site members, that receive updates on events, contest information and monthly newsletter.

It seems that Colorado youth has responded positively to the campaign message. They appreciate that Own Your empowers them to make smart choices and does it without preaching or talking down to them. They also seem to like this campaign does not solely focus on tobacco use, but rather overall positive decision-making for the game of life. According to Colorado teens:

"I think that this is really cool, fresh way to get kids to relate how their decisions effect their future."

"Thank you for not lecturing me on information that I know about tobacco already."

"I'm amazed that someone came out to our school to talk about positive choices."

"I've made a lot of bad choices without thinking of the repercussions, and the outcome.

The C-ride program has also been lauded by Colorado schools. The branded ice cream truck and the C-ride street team have visited 120 counties in 40 counties, traveling over 8,700 miles since December 2006. On the road, the street team has distributed thousands of t-shirts, hats, stickers and magnets to teens across the state. Additionally tobacco quit kits and posters were distributed to local community health agencies and about 1,000 urban and rural middle and high schools in Colorado. Feedback from students, teachers and other anti-tobacco organizations has been positive.

What's next for Own Your C? The campaign has national potential for expansion. Five state health agencies from across the nation have expressed interest in bringing the youth empowerment campaign to their states. The State of Colorado is currently taking requests from other interested states.

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