The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have not significantly dampened young Americans' purchasing plans, but they have made them more cynical about advertisers' intentions, according to several surveys.
Young people wield considerable buying power. There are 15.6 million students in two- and four-year colleges and graduate schools in the United States who have a combined purchasing power of $268 billion, according to Student Monitor, a market research firm that studies the college market.
Research on the effect of the terrorist attacks on this market was conducted in late October by YouthStream Media Networks, a media and marketing services company that specializes in the youth market, and Euro RSCG Worldwide, a unit of Havas Advertising. YouthStream surveyed 1,000 college students, while Euro RSCG surveyed 1,000 Americans of all ages and also interviewed a panel of 50 young adults from 18 to 24.
Two-thirds of the college students participating in the YouthStream survey said the mood of the country would not affect how they celebrate the coming holidays, while more than 85 percent of those surveyed said they were more likely or just as likely than they were before Sept. 11 to buy clothing, jewelry, computer hardware and software, concert, theater and event tickets and home electronics in the three-month period starting in late October.
Despite their spending sentiments, 40 percent of the YouthStream respondents said the terrorist attacks had caused them to "reorder their priorities or change their core values." In addition, although 80 percent of the students said their attitudes about the future were positive before Sept. 11, only 51 percent said they were positive about the future after Sept. 11.
Students in the YouthStream survey were divided about whether references to the attacks were appropriate in advertising. On a scale of one to five, with one being not at all appropriate and five very appropriate, only 17 percent gave such campaigns a rating of four or five, while 44 percent gave them a rating of one or two. And almost one-fourth of the students said such advertising would make them "much less likely" or "somewhat less likely" to buy the advertiser's products or services, while only 13 percent said this advertising would make them "much more likely" or "somewhat more likely" to make such a purchase.
"These students' values have shifted; they don't know where they will end up," said Dennis Roche, YouthStream's chief operating officer. "During this period, as students redefine who they are, it's important that advertisers continue to talk to them."
Mr. Roche said it was vital that advertisers "evaluate how edgy their advertising is."
"Although advertising to youth has been edgier, raw in the last 10 years, advertisers need to figure out how to change their communications," he said. "They have to make sure the tone is still appropriate. This will vary widely by consumer and product."
Similarly, Marian Salzman, global director for strategy and planning at Euro RSCG, said the agency found that the attacks "made young people more sympathetic and more willing to work for causes and to raise funds to help those who are less fortunate."
"However, the flip side of this is that teens and college students are extremely dubious about companies that do good works simply to get good public relations," she said. "Working men and working women are the new style setters. Today brands like Old Navy and Timberland seem more appropriate than Diesel and Prada."
"In the 10 weeks since Sept. 11, we have seen enormous examples that patriotism is the new thing," she added. "The Bush rallying cry to make a difference, one at a time, seems to have permeated the teen mind-set and to have motivated a suddenly very committed generation, who think community is like family and religion, cornerstones of modern life."
Ms. Salzman urged advertisers that are aiming campaigns at young consumers to "be real."
"Consumers are searching for brands they can trust, brands that are successfully coping with events of 9/11, not taking advantage of them," she said.
She also said these advertisers should "can the hype and provide a sense of connection." One example of such a campaign, she said, was a promotional spot created by ESPN that includes news footage from the attacks, pictures of rescue workers and video of baseball players for the New York Mets and the Arizona Diamondbacks, all accompanied by the national anthem; she said college students in particular found the ad to be "cool and effective."
"People are feeling vulnerable and unsure," Ms. Salzman added. "They want concrete information provided in a straightforward way. Now more than ever, consumers want the sense of security and community that comes from emotional linkages with a brand. Let them know that your brand has always been there for them, and always will be."
Media companies and advertisers catering to the youth market have already adopted some of the strategies recommended by the market researchers. For example, Cosmo Girl, a magazine for teen-age girls, is running an article in its February issue written by one of its editors and a reader whose father died in the World Trade Center. Atoosa Rubenstein, editor in chief of the magazine, said the reader was part of "a community of girls who want to empower each other."
In addition, MTV has created several initiatives to address its audience's emotional needs in the wake of the terrorist attacks, said Brian Graden, president of entertainment. These include roundtable discussions immediately after the attacks and videos of celebrities expressing their reactions to the attacks; the company also did a promotion with Levi's earlier this month that featured a jacket with an MTV flag logo, with proceeds from its sales going to charity.
Longer term, Mr. Graden said MTV had still not determined how its programming would be influenced by the attacks. "While we know the attacks will have an impact on this generation, it's premature to believe we know exactly how this is going to play through," he said.
Jane L. Levere, The New York Times. November 27, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.