The power of multi-messaging

Close to a kid marketer's heart, you'll find a silver bullet. This 'bullet' is the one message around which marketing strategy and brand development is based. It is the answer to that ultimate question: How do I best advertise my product to my audience? The problem is, a silver bullet is not the best answer in today's youth marketplace, where you're dealing with not one audience, but many.
July 1, 2002

Close to a kid marketer’s heart, you’ll find a silver bullet. This ‘bullet’ is the one message around which marketing strategy and brand development is based. It is the answer to that ultimate question: How do I best advertise my product to my audience? The problem is, a silver bullet is not the best answer in today’s youth marketplace, where you’re dealing with not one audience, but many.

In years past, there were basically three types of youth: those who would buy your product regardless of advertising (independents); those who would simply not respond to advertising (rebels); and those who might respond, given the right message (trendsetters). So the strategy was pretty obvious. Marketers simply picked the single most effective message–the silver bullet that resonated with ‘trendsetter’ kids–and fired away in TV, radio and what little youth-oriented print existed.

Today’s kids aren’t as cut-and-dry. With the Internet explosion and a proliferation of youth-targeted media and activities, kids have become more multi-focused. In today’s Millennial generation, kids are involved in a wide range of activities, none of which really dominate their lives.

Being multi-focused also means that Millennials are exposed to many different messages through many different media. This is a generation that has grown up with cell phones, cable television and computers. Not only have Millennials been conditioned to absorb the multitude of messages forced upon them, they expect it and are a particularly media-savvy group. A message not relevant and credible to them is lost in the clutter of thousands of other advertisements and not given a second thought.

While the number of kids that can effectively be reached through marketing has grown along with the propagation of new media platforms, the number that will be affected by a single message has decreased since the multi-focused mindset has given birth to a plethora of different psychographics that extend well beyond the traditional three groups. The alternative? Multi-messaging. If the single message strategy is a silver bullet, then the multi-message strategy is a cache of gold nuggets.

Multi-messaging works on the premise that different product aspects appeal to different psychographics. Take a popular microwaveable pasta dish. Some kids like it because it tastes good; others are interested because it can be rapidly prepared; lack of necessary parental supervision appeals to yet a third group; and older kids like it because it’s not a ‘kiddie’ offering like Chef Boyardee. One product, four attitudes, and four messages–none of which alienate any one group of kids.

With the difficult task of unselling patterned behaviors, social marketing campaigns like those of the ONDCP and The Partnership for a Drug Free America have actually pioneered the use of multi-messaging in advertising. One case study to which I can speak firsthand is a regional anti-tobacco media campaign called R.A.T. (Reject All Tobacco) targeting six- to 11-year-olds. Just as there are a wealth of reasons kids buy a particular brand of sneaker or ask for a certain brand of pasta, there are just as many reasons why kids start smoking. R.A.T. addressed these reasons by employing several messages under a single brand: primary health messages, secondary health messages, lost potential and refusal skills.

Numbers bear out the success of this multi-message strategy. In just under two years, the campaign achieved a 94% brand awareness and an 87% message recall among its target audience. Smoking in this group decreased by 30%, and the number of smoke-free homes in the region increased by 70%. (R.A.T. advertising executions can be viewed at

By focusing on a single prevention message, a large portion of the R.A.T. campaign’s audience would have found the advertising irrelevant. As kids and teens become even more multi-focused, multi-message strategies will increasingly become more successful than the single-message approach.

Assume your particular brand holds a 35% market share. By employing a multi-messaging approach, you might be able to capture an additional 5% in a psychographic that was previously untargeted. Does a 5% gain in market share warrant spending an extra US$500,000 for two more TV spots with two more messages? Chances are your bottom line will answer a resounding ‘yes.’

Unwilling to holster the silver bullet so soon? Don’t dive in headfirst. Take a product line, take a test market, and experiment with multi-messaging. When you see how much it increases both brand awareness and sales, you’ll be exchanging that silver bullet for a bag of gold before you know it.

Timothy Mask is an account planner and youth marketing specialist with Jackson, Mississippi-based ad agency Maris, West & Baker Advertising Communications ( He can be reached at 800-440-4320 or via e-mail at

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