Opinion: Third Voice - Cause-related marketing fails to attract the young

Clare Glennane, head of i-care, the cause-related marketing division of Iris

McFly's latest Comic Relief record, It's All About You, should be the mantra for brands and charities targeting the youth market. Young people think they will never be old or ill, get cancer or need a donor.

Although it may be a generalisation, most young people tend not to engage with causes because they just don't seem relevant to their lives.

All good cause-related marketing, like all good marketing, is fundamentally about an exchange of benefits. "What's in it for me?" is the first question the consumer asks when faced by a request for support. Young people are no different. The problem being faced by players in the cause-related sector is that they don't understand enough about young people today, what's relevant to them and what they want, so they can't access the individual worlds of teens, talk to them in the right way or even get the nuts and bolts of the benefit exchange right. This results in young people being disengaged from causes that want to target them.

Young people are bombarded with so many messages that they have become very effective at screening them out. Emotive appeals for cash to help strangers will not work - it's a rational request that can't generate compassion because it has no relevance to the hardships, risks, dangers and tough decisions that most teenagers feel they face on a daily basis.

The key to breaking through is to show how the issue, cause or brand directly affects what they care about most - themselves, their image, their family, their friends and their social standing. In return for their support, the charity would then need to provide them with an emotional reward. It could be an activity that taps into a personal ambition, such as bungee jumping off Sydney Harbour Bridge, or a symbol of the support that has the emotional reward of self-definition and allowing them to belong to a fashion trend, such as the Lance Armstrong Live Strong yellow band. It could even be a means that gives them social currency.

Lastly, it's about talking to them as young adults, but in a style that is contemporary, realistic and uses cues from their interest areas. The key to CRM with young people is simple. Understand them first, and then build your proposition around giving them what they want, rather than offering what you need first.

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