Where It's At

The year's hottest marketing trends to get your sales sizzling.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Effective marketing is of the moment--yesterday's ideas won't do. So which trends are of this moment? Read on.

Gayle Sato Stodder is co-author of Young Millionaires Reveal Their Secrets (Entrepreneur Media Inc.).

No Kidding

Youth is wasted on the young, and never more blatantly than today. Why? Because the young don't want to be young anymore. They want to be stylish, sophisticated, self-sufficient--and, increasingly, they've got the ability to pull it off.

Just check out the clothing in Brat, a new fashion catalog aimed at pre-teen and teenaged girls. "We've included all the styles popular with this market: skate, streetwear, preppy, glamour and club," says Mike Burwasser, who created Brat for Glendale, New York's Bowe Industries, a licensing company.

Club? That's right. In between the T-shirts and bell-bottoms are little black dresses and skin-tight brocade miniskirts. "A lot of our readers can't go to clubs yet," says Burwasser, "but they're very interested in the clothes."

And it's not just limited to fashion. Today's kids can even invest in their own kid-friendly mutual funds, then track their portfolios on the Web.

Diane Schwartz, associate publisher of Selling to Kids, a newsletter covering the children's market, reports that today's kids are more sophisticated than any generation before them.

"About 65 percent of all U.S. households have two working parents," Schwartz says, "so kids today are assuming responsibility at a younger age. They're also very media-savvy. They're fearless of technology, so they go online. They've got a lot of influence over the purchasing decisions their parents make, and they have [their own] money to spend as well. Kids respond to [products and messages] that make them feel empowered because they feel like they are empowered."

Look for marketing aimed directly at kids: how-to videos, classes and books; "junior" versions of popular adult products and events (such as NASCAR races); and marketing that appeals to the child-sized social conscience.

2000 Or Bust!

Tonga is nearly booked. Expect throngs of celebration-seekers to crowd this tiny island nation, one of the first worldwide to see the year 2000. The enthusiastic are already snapping up "Class of 2000" sweatshirts, while the pessimistic don "Y2K" caps in recognition of the feared technology bug. And in case you've lost track of time, a special "countdown clock" tells you exactly how much of the 20th century you have left.

Make no mistake, this is the biggest marketing event in a thousand years.

John Locher, founder of Seattle firm Milestone Media, which produces the Everything 2000 Web site (http://www.everything2000.com), has identified more than 1,000 trademarks, companies, products and slogans that include the word "millennium" or one of its variants. Examples range from the somber ("The Official Investment Firm of the Millennium") to the silly ("Jocko, Watchdog for the Millennium").

What's all the buzz about? "People love to rally around a moment," explains Locher. "Milestones are very important to people, and this is a big one." Moreover, millennium mania is free for the taking. "There is no organizing committee," he continues. "Anyone can proclaim themselves the `official' whatever of the millennium. And whether it's a joke or not, people pay attention."

As for late-breaking opportunities, Locher suggests there's still time to create commemorative products, launch millennium-related marketing programs and coordinate local events. And since the millennium doesn't officially change until January 1, 2001, one good turn of the calendar may beget another.

Foul Play

Lathering up with a particular brand of shampoo has a woman in one ad so enthralled, we feel like voyeurs watching her. Bus ads promoting one NBC sitcom boldly proclaim "Shoot Happens." And when New Jersey-based off-price retailer Daffy's suggests a jacket to go with your expensive dress shirt, a straitjacket flashes on the screen.

Miss Manners, where have you gone? In the continuous quest to grab consumers' attention, more and more advertisers are pushing the taste envelope. Four letter words (or their stand-ins), double-entendres and sick jokes--from the mild to the raw--have become fair game in the once straight-laced world of marketing.

"So much advertising out there is bland," argues Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, the award-winning New York City agency that created the Daffy's spot. "There's so much eyewash, so much boredom [playing to a nation of avowed channel-changers]. You've got to break through all that."

Meanwhile, the bar has been lowered on public discourse. "It's a society-wide trend,' says Jean Folkerts, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC. "Increasing levels of profanity are becoming normal in conversation; you see it in adolescents' language, sexual mores, even TV situation comedies."

But do consumers buy it? According to Verdi, yes--provided the message has a real edge and not just gratuitous shock. "The hardest work is [to make ads that are] smart and have a strong hit,' Verdi says. "You have to [appeal to] people's brains--surprise them. Otherwise, they don't remember you."

And if you offend people? "It's an indication to us that people are paying attention," Verdi says.

Folkerts, on the other hand, still holds some hope for standards. "At some point, you risk alienating more people than you're attracting," she warns. The trick, of course, is knowing where to draw the ever-shifting line.

Hear Them Roar

If you haven't heard this before, pay attention: The women's market is growing more powerful and independent by the day. The number of single women, for example, is growing--the U.S. Census reports there were more than 48 million unmarried women in 1997, compared to 30 million in 1970. Today's unmarried women are often divorced or otherwise single by choice, professional, ambitious and affluent--willing and able to spend on everything from personal services and cars to travel and real estate.

And women clearly play a major role in all kinds of purchasing decisions, whether they're single or married, says Beth Brenner, publisher of Self magazine, which recently con- ducted a survey of women's attitudes.

Self asked 1,170 women aged 18 to 49 with household incomes of $30,000 or more how well they thought marketers in various industries understood women's needs. Although cosmetics companies fared the best, with a 52 percent positive rating, the overall ratings weren't impressive. The worst offenders: computer/software (20 percent approval), automotive (17 percent), investing (16 percent), home electronics (15 percent), and liquor companies (11 percent).

Your company can score better, Brenner says, if you use these marketing strategies, based on survey results:

  • Be positive. An overwhelming 71 percent of respondents saw an improvement in their self-image over the past two years.
  • Be uplifting. Most respondents (72 percent) plan to spend more time enjoying life. "Women are challenging marketers to appeal to them in this way," says Brenner.
  • Be humorous. "Women said over and over they want to laugh more," Brenner reports. "Some of the most effective ads I've seen are funny."
  • Get real. Respondents spent time educating themselves before purchasing. They were intent on trusting their instincts. They were strong on not accepting imperfections. In other words, they weren't in the market for a snow job.

Contact Sources

Brat Catalog, (800) 598-5264, http://www.bratcatalog.com

DeVito/Verdi, (212) 431-4694, fax: (212)431-4940

Milestone Media, (206) 621-0999

Self, 350 Madison Ave., 18th Fl., New York, NY 10017, (212) 880-7893

Selling to Kids, (301) 340-7788, ext. 2138, dschwartz@phillips.com

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