Branding your brain

With the biggest advertising day of the year behind us, the AQ’s Laura Brown asks why young people are so obsessed with certain brands    


As people across North America wind down after one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world, some advertisers are tickled pink.

After all, the ads they prepared for Super Bowl Sunday will likely be the most-viewed commercials of the year. That’s why advertisers are willing to pay so much for the limited time slot – 3.5 million for each 30 second commercial, to be exact. It seems unlikely they’ll get their money’s worth.

But actually, with the approximately 111 million Americans and potentially one billion people world-wide watching, the 3.5 million just might have been a good investment.

Especially since people are as influenced by advertisements as they’ve ever been.

“I’m comfortable only buying Canon products. Apple owns my iLife, and Starbucks, let’s just say, hand it over and no one gets hurt,” said brand-loving student, Daniel Cousins.

So, why do we fall in love with the brands we see among the massive, sweaty football players?

Terry O’Reilly, host of CBC Radio One’s “The Age of Persuasion” and “Under the Influence,” speaks on the sociological and cultural impact advertising has on our lives. He said certain brands are more appealing to students for the same reasons “certain brands are especially appealing to, say, mothers.”

“The strategy of that brand is aimed at them,” he said. “The strategy, and the resulting creative work, is developed with them in mind.

“The inverse is true also – when people come up to me and say they hate a certain ad, I’ll often say, ‘That’s because it’s not aimed at 50-year-old women, it’s aimed at 19-year-old boys’ or whatever.”

Instead of attracting a little of each generation, advertisers attract a lot of one. They create an identity for the product they’re selling – an identity that’s attractive to one particular generation. The hope is that the customer will remember the identity, trust it and swear by it.

For instance, Canadians from coast to coast have all been faced with a choice between two brands that each have die-hard followers – Tim Hortons or Starbucks. Putting political differences aside, these two brands have done wonders, creating and encrusting their identities into the public. You feel more down-home Canadian when sipping a Tim’s double-double, while others associate Starbucks with sophistication.

(Or maybe you just prefer one coffee over the other.)

In Carmel Teasdale’s opinion, the younger the consumer, the more influenced they are by consumable products. Teasdale teaches the business of communications at St. Thomas University, and includes lessons on advertising and branding in her classes.

“Most university students aren’t looking into paying for their mortgage, often the first major purchase they’ve made is either tuition or a car,” she said.

“They’re restricted by cost…But if you look at some of the consumable products that are advertised on the Super Bowl, the luxury products that you’ll see, you do have choice, but it’s not a life-or-death choice to make. If you buy a beer and don’t like it, you just throw it away.”

She said many students go with the choice they’re most influenced by. The decisions aren’t permanent, so there’s the freedom to “kind of dabble and figure out what brand it is that you like most.”

Super Bowl advertisers are hoping many will at least “dabble” into their brand after they saw it on the big screen.

Brands successful with our generation include lululemon, Apple, Under Armour, Ray Bans and Nike. These brands advertise the way they make you feel when wearing or using them – Apple encourages you to “Think Different,” and Nike says “Just do it.”

“A great ad, and a great brand, is obsessed with their customers, and knows them extremely well. They talk to their customers, and most importantly, listen to their customers. From that deep understanding, an effective ad is created,” said O’Reilly.

One ad that had people talking well before game day was Honda’s CR-V commercial – a play off the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It features the original actor, Matthew Broderick, taking a day off from acting: “Life is packed with things you have to do, but sometimes you have to live a little.” His Honda takes him everywhere he wants to go. The ad is targeted towards the workaholic who can afford to take a couple days off – and can afford a 2012 Honda CR-V.

Although the two-minute-25-second ad was probably not made with students in mind, it’s one of those ads that got plenty of people chuckling.

“There are cases, of course, when a student might love an ad that isn’t aimed at them, because the ad is just plain good,” said O’Reilly. “But by and large, if you really like an ad, it’s because it was created with you in mind.”

In the case of yoga pant experts, lululemon had a different approach to advertising. The Vancouver-based company has made women – and some men – obsessed with their tight, but stretchy and fashionable athletic wear. You can see the logo – which is supposed to be a “stylized ‘A’ that was made for the first letter in the name ‘athletically hip,’” according to the website – everywhere. But it’s not because of mainstream advertising.

The 14-year-old company attaches itself to yoga studios across the country, getting yoga instructors to wear and sell the items. And they’ve encouraged yoga to be a cross-generational activity, so young and old alike can try it out – which means more people practicing yoga and more need for yoga clothing. It’s worked – the company’s third quarter fiscal results in 2011 were up by 31 per cent – $230.2 million in just 13 weeks.

So, some companies are finding an alternative to mainstream commercials and advertising. Ones who have a customer base that consists mainly of students and young people are especially benefiting because of the social-media boom.

“The big extension of that is hyper-targeting, like you now see on Facebook,” O’Reilly said. “You have a conversation with a friend on Facebook about an upcoming wedding, and suddenly, the ads on your Facebook page are about weddings.”

“It raises a lot of issues, but this is the current wave of knowing your customers well.”

Although there are new ways to get the word out about a product, the biggest seller is it becoming a trend. Yoga wear is a current trend, which means yoga pants will continue to sell until something else interests people.

“For some brands, there is definitely a generational divide that happens because of the trends,” Teasdale said.

“Back in the 80s, that same divide happened with Roots and Beaver Canoe. They were the popular things to wear for high school students and university students.”

So, what will we be swayed by next?