There are two things you notice when entering the offices of HDI Youth Marketeers – the energy of the place and how young all the staff are. Which is appropriate when you think about it – who better to provide insight into what makes the youth market tick, than the very people who form part of that market.
Filling her business with young people has been part of Liesl Loubser’s philosophy from day one. “Apart from me, all people in the business are under 32 years old, and we have a junior board of directors made up of 60 young people, from kids right through to teenagers,” she says.
Specialising to fill a gap
When Loubser started the business (originally Hot Dogz Inc.) in 1996, youth marketing was a wide open sector. “No one was focusing purely on marketing to the youth and I saw a gap,” she says.
A short stint as a high school teacher confirmed her love of young people and her experience as a marketing consultant provided the ideal skills set. “It was the era of specialisation and I knew, from consulting projects I’d done using the education channel as a marketing medium, that the youth are a primary market for many brands. In South Africa alone, young people are responsible for R80 billion worth of spend a year,” she says.
She should know. Although there are many more players in the youth space than when Loubser started, few of them manage to really get a handle on what is a notoriously difficult and capricious market. HDI Youth Marketeers has established itself not only as a provider of innovative youth marketing solutions, but as a thought leader and IP owner in the space.
The company conducts the annual Generation Next Youth Brand survey in partnership with The Sunday Times, canvassing 5 000 youngsters between the ages of 8 and 23. “It provides brands with key insights, trends and themes regarding the youth and brands,” Loubser explains. HDI also runs the Khuza Awards, a research-based awards programme that recognises youth advertising and communication that works for young people.
Research gathered from both these initiatives informs the youth marketing solutions that the company delivers, and puts it at the forefront of the latest trends and information.
But, as Loubser is quick to point out, it’s an exceptionally challenging market to be in and no one can ever claim to know it all. “It’s a market that’s continually shifting and changing. Young people change dramatically as they move from being kids to tweens to teens and young adults. That’s why our payoff line is Forever Curious – we continually need to be learning and investigating and open to the next thing,” she says. “At the moment social and green issues are very relevant, so we’ve incorporated a division to respond accordingly,” Loubser explains.
The acid test of whether the company’s strategy is effective comes down to one question: how effective are its interventions at striking a chord with the youth market? Loubser points to some examples of how the company fares in this regard.
Resonating with the market
When a major cereal brand wanted to reach mothers by engaging with
children, most companies would have gone for an on-box promotion, but HDI drew on its research. “Recognition is vital to children’s self-esteem, but teachers, parents and society reward only the top performing children. Many kids lack confidence as a result, so we knew that they would respond to being recognised,” she explains.
The Star in You programme was launched, providing teachers and parents an opportunity to attend workshops with emotional intelligence experts and talk about how to recognise and reward children for different strengths. “We uncovered five attributes of successful people – things like confidence and respect – and launched them as new criteria that teachers could use to reward kids,” Loubser explains. The programme changed the way teachers viewed children and the way children viewed themselves.
Drawing on further research that indicated that children need to view other people in a positive light, HDI included the Star in You Kids Award, which today attracts over a million participants a year and is South Africa’s largest youth self-esteem and celebrity choice award.
Leveraging platforms, looking to the future
While projects like these were initially developed for a particular brand, they have become platforms that any of HDI’s clients can use. “Existing programmes are tried, tested and more cost-effective but we also do bespoke projects if clients require them,” Loubser says of the business model.
The most recent was a live event for an international broadcaster for the Ben 10 animated character, which attracted 20 000 parents and children on the first day and highlighted the future potential of live eventing. 2010 will see HDI Youth Marketeers consolidate their recently-opened Nigerian office as the company turns its eyes to Africa. As Loubser says, “There is so much potential and we can’t wait to learn more about the youth of Africa.”