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‘Kids Can Smell Fake’: 5 Insights From Marketing Pros at the Massive Summit

The room was buzzing on Friday with talk of data mining, viral campaigns and brand trust at Variety‘s Massive Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought together, at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, industry experts to weigh in the challenges and payoffs of digital marketing, among other topics. Marketing experts agreed that authenticity is the key for younger consumers. Here are a few other insights from the summit:

1. Kids can smell fake

Scott Birnbaum, senior VP of marketing and e-commerce at Aeropostale, shared the story of launching a clothing line with YouTube star and social influencer Bethany Mota. At one point the campaign released photos of Mota that, to her fans, looked overly doctored and caused outrage on social media. “I even got a phone call from my daughter who was supposedly in school saying ‘What did you do to Bethany?,'” Birnbaum recalled. Using this anecdote, Birnbaum emphasized the mantra that kids can smell fake. “Eventually, a single tweet that said, ‘Hey, we think Beth is beautiful too. It was a mistake. It’s going to be fixed in 20 minutes,’ made everything calm down,” he said.

Moderator Jeetendr Sehdev, a celebrity branding authority, read from a study commissioned by Variety that found U.S. teens view YouTube stars to be 90% more authentic than traditional celebrities, 17 times more engaging and 11 times more extraordinary.

Mota, who was also on the panel, said that her philosophy relies on honesty and brand trust. “I will never talk about something or promote something that I don’t actually use and that I don’t care about because with the relationship being so strong between the creators and viewers, they can see when you don’t truly like something. As long as you’re honest and truthful, then that’s what builds that relationship. And the stronger that is, the more they’re going to listen to what you say,” she said.

2. Focus on the content, not the demographic

In a spotlight conversation with Movio CEO Will Palmer about how theaters and studios use data to target audiences, Palmer suggested gender and demographic info may be an old-fashioned way of approaching an audience — “assuming that somebody, the day they turn 36, is no longer going to be interested in ‘The Avengers.’ These films cross all quadrants and cross all segments. So sometimes you have to ignore the demographic information and start looking at the comparable titles. If you focus more on the content and less on the demographic, you’ll likely get a better result,” he said.

3. Help consumers discover what they want without being intrusive

Hulu head of marketing Jenny Wall and Facebook global head of entertainment strategy Jim Underwood discussed the potential hazards of data mining and targeted advertising. Wall pointed out that consumers want to feel like they’re discovering new things, but they need help because there is so much available. In order to give people what they want without creeping them out, Hulu uses a combination of algorithms and staff-curated lists. Wall also said when Hulu advertises on Facebook, the combined data is extremely valuable. “Facebook data mixed with Hulu data is the most amazing goldmine of data possible. And it actually is not really intrusive because they don’t really understand, I think, that we’re doing that… We have a thousand ads, and in real time we’re quickly optimizing and shifting to serve the right ad and the personalized ad to the right person.”

4. Embrace fan-generated content

Sima Sistani, head of media at Tumblr, explained her thoughts on how content producers can improve their digital presence, saying that fans will create opportunities. “You have fandoms out there who are taking the best moments from a movie or show and creating episode recaps or pulling out the best moments into gifs and even creating fan fiction and fan art,” she explained. “One of my favorite things that I saw was the bacon and eggs version of the characters of ‘Parks and Recreation.’ If the ‘Parks and Rec’ Tumblr reblogs that, it’s so meaningful, and that fan is just going to get more engaged and more excited.”

5. Fail, fail fast and move on

Jill Hotchkiss, VP of marketing and creative at Disney XD, shared the mantra “fail, fail fast and move on,” which she uses when brainstorming ways to connect with a younger demographic. “You have got to try new and try different,” she said. “We need to figure out how to be a kids space and do it in a different way when there are a lot of restrictions for us.”

Caty Burgess, VP of media strategies at the CW, used an example of how her network has tried as many avenues as possible in order to be on the cutting edge of marketing. “Our first mobile campaign was little sticker mirrors you could put on the back of your cellphone for ‘Gossip Girl.'”

The research team at a network is largely responsible for determining what will work, but beyond that there is still plenty of uncertainty when pitching a new idea, explained Jamie Cutburth, senior VP of marketing at Bravo and Oxygen. “That 50% of the unproven part is the culture and it is the risk-taking,” he said. “It’s very difficult because you’re going to make sure that it hits every button or it’s not going to move forward. But that’s why we’re able to do a lot of great stuff.”

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