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Generation Y Marketing

With an average attendance of more than 46,000 over five events in its inaugural 2005 season, the Dew Action Sports Tour bested the average attendance of every team in the NBA, NHL and MLB with the sole exception of the New York Yankees. How did an action sports tour, long regarded as a niche market, outdraw some of the most storied sports institutions in the United States? By clearly identifying and doing everything possible to connect to their target market – in this case, extreme sports fans in the Generation Y demographic.


From the very beginning, the Dew Tour recognized the importance of communicating with their target market. Knowing that action sports are popular with Generation Y, the 60 million young adults born between 1979 and 1994, Dew Tour officials decided to talk to those consumers about how to make the Tour a success. The team designing the logos for the Dew Tour and each event hung out at skate parks and surf shops, talking to the consumers who would become the Tour’s core audience and involving them in the creative process as sounding boards for ideas and evaluators of drafts.


This kind of tactic is especially useful when marketing to Generation Y consumers, who are a central part of virtually every sports organization’s target market. Not only does this technique ensure that an organization’s marketing strategy, visual design and branding appeal to its target audience, but it also begins the process of creating a community around the product. Studies have shown that Generation Y, who has grown up being bombarded by thousands of advertisements every day, is much more influenced by the opinions of friends and others with similar interests than by traditional advertising.


How can a sports organization cultivate the Generation Y consumer and create a community of fans and supporters? Many marketers try to dazzle the Generation Y audience with slick graphics and flashy websites, but a much more effective strategy can be arrived at by sticking to a few core principles that will help keep a marketing plan focused on meeting the needs of, and therefore gaining the loyalty of, the Generation Y consumer.


  • Understand your audience: Generation Y is a very complex, diverse and often poorly understood demographic. There is no such thing as a unified “Generation Y” point of view – you must identify and understand a specific target segment of the Generation Y population. Make sure that your research includes your target market’s favorite methods of communication (often cell phone or internet-based) and entertainment activities.
  • Talk to the consumer: The only way to be sure that your research is on the mark is to go out and confirm it yourself in face-to-face interactions with your Generation Y market. Don’t send the intern – have the decision-makers and the people who are in charge of producing the product talk to the people who will (hopefully) be consuming it.
  • Be honest: Generation Y is extremely skeptical when it comes to marketing, and will tend to disbelieve any claim you make unless and until they have independently verified it. This means that: 1) you shouldn’t make any claims that you can’t back up with solid facts and evidence, and 2) you should work to become a trusted informational resource on your product and your industry.
  • Use new tools: Generation Y consumers see billboards, television and print ads, and internet banners as annoying clutter. To get your message across, you will have to either come up with something completely revolutionary in the realm of traditional advertising, or you’ll have to find new ways to communicate your message. Branded events, interactive internet campaigns and sponsoring consumer-generated media are tactics that have all been successfully used to connect to a Generation Y market. The trick is to make sure that a clear and beneficial connection exists between your product, your target market and your campaign.
  • Stay focused: Sometimes, the process of creating and executing a marketing strategy can defeat the strategy itself. A great idea gets bogged down in the bureaucratic process, an executive wants to change the plan because it doesn’t suit his or her personal taste, or too many compromises result in a mixed message that confuses and alienates consumers. Generation Y responds to short, focused, relevant messages (think of the popularity of text messaging), so keep your strategy focused on a small number of key points that will resonate with your audience.


The Dew Action Sports Tour connected to teens because it developed a strategy that encompassed the simple guidelines above. Instead of relying on the popular perception that teens are naturally attracted to anything having to do with action sports, the Tour took the time to understand their audience, even using them to check their designs and plans. The Dew Tour sought out new ways to communicate with the consumer, and never lost sight of the fact that the Tour shouldn’t be designed for boardroom executives – it should be designed for the consumers who will ultimately decide its success or failure. Using this model will help any company to connect with their target audience, and the advantage of this model is particularly significant if that target audience includes Generation Y.


Adam Nisenson is co-principal of Houston-based sports marketing firm Active Imagination, the agency responsible for the creation of the Dew Action Sports Tour’s brand strategy and visual representation. You can reach him at or by visiting