Young at heart: creating a powerful youth engagement campaign

Engaging young people with an important campaign for change can be a tricky business. They’re at the forefront of rapidly changing digital technology, their interests are fast moving, and they’re one of the most diverse demographic groups out there. Yet young people are also an incredibly powerful force – they’re dynamic and engaged, and getting them to take action can mean the difference between campaign success and failure.

Creating an impactful youth engagement campaign really depends on keeping these characteristics in mind – maximising what makes young people different, and what makes them tick. Perhaps most important is the need to foster a real connection between the cause and those being asked to care about it – young people simply won’t engage with something that doesn’t genuinely appeal to them, as reflected in Marketing Week’s recent survey of 15 to 21 year olds.

Young people’s hectic, information over-loaded lifestyles also necessitate making the campaign as accessible as possible – injecting it into their ‘space’, rather than trying to drag them over to a campaign page or microsite. And as Aria Finger, Director of DoSomething points out, the campaign also needs to be both fun and engaging; otherwise “young people will simply not get involved”.

It was these three simple, yet effective, tactics that we used to help international charity HelpAge create their ‘Make it Ageless’ campaign. In recognition of the ‘Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations, HelpAge wanted to launch a campaign that raised awareness of the plight of older people in developing countries. And that encouraged younger people (aged 18 – 30) in Europe to sign a petition that put these older people’s rights firmly on the agenda of the EU.

On the face of it, a young person in Europe has little in common with an older person in a developing country. So our first step was to create a campaign proposition that drew a link between the two – a strong sense of injustice in not being listened to or heard by the people in power, which we captured in the headline message: “The Right to Be Heard is Timeless. Make it Ageless.” Tapping into the incredibly topical, but also timeless appeal of protest (think the ‘Occupy’ movement of Wall Street and St Paul’s Square in London), we then developed a look and feel for the campaign, merging the iconic illustrative style of ‘60s revolutionary posters with hard-hitting imagery of older people in developing countries campaigning for better rights.

A strong message is no good without a platform, so we made sure the campaign was rolled out in the most accessible, integrated way possible. As ‘internet natives’, young people tend to spend a large proportion of time online (a recent Ofcom survey demonstrated that more than a fifth of people aged 16 and over in the UK alone have a social networking profile) – so we brought the campaign to its audience through online channel like Facebook and Twitter – creating pages, pop-ups and adverts, and linking them to a microsite featuring a campaign video and a clear, strong call to action to ‘join the virtual march’.

The Marketing Week survey also revealed that young people are most inspired when a piece of marketing ‘lends itself to legends’ – when it stimulates the ideas and creates the stories that young people will want to pass on. We worked with HelpAge to give the campaign a fun, engaging twist by positioning
DJ Mamy Rock – a UK-based DJ in her 70s– as the ambassador for the campaign, who’s now set to perform a series of ‘Make it Ageless’ concerts throughout Europe.

A month into the campaign, more than 6,611 people have signed up to the virtual march, and the ‘Make it Ageless’ campaign is making its way around some key youth events in Europe. By ensuring that the campaign resonated with its younger audience, and by making it as engaging, fun and accessible as possible, HelpAge have managed to tackle the notoriously tricky business of engaging young people with their campaign. And the rights of older people in developing countries should start to take rightful priority in the development programmes of the EU because of it.