Why V Energy's marketing manager is using both old and new channels to target Gen Z

Energy drink's marketing leader explains his mix of 20th century marketing with cutting-edge test-and-learn across digital

As the marketing manager for Frucor Beverages’ energy drink, V Energy, Craig Harkness’ target audience includes possibly the world’s hardest-to-reach segment: 18-to-24-year-olds.

But when it comes to getting in front of this thoroughly 21st century audience of highly-distracted screen-hoppers, he’s not afraid to admit he uses a pair of decidedly 20th century media as his main channels: Free-to-air television and cinema advertising.

“We are told all the time about audience fragmentation and how difficult it is to reach those target consumers – the 18 to 24-year olds,” Harkness says. “But I’ve got enough data to show over the last three years how well my brand reacts to having a great world-class piece of advertising in TV and cinema.”

The success of his strategy was demonstrated through V Energy’s most recent execution. Extending from the marketing slogan ‘The Massive Hit That Improves You a Bit’, V Energy’s latest campaign featured the character Quicksilver from 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise being replaced by a slightly better version of himself.

Craig Harkness
Craig Harkness

“We had a nine-point jump in consideration and a seven-point jump in preference,” Harkness says. “I would never advocate walking away from big broadcast advertising, because I’ve got the result over the last few years that show we need it. It is incredibly important to our brand health to be on air throughout the year.

“If you buy the big programming, you have everyone watching it. TV is still the number one gadget that people have in their homes, and it is just being smarter about the type of programming you buy into.”

The same goes for cinema advertising – another channel at times derided as being seriously 20th century. “You’ve got a guaranteed audience, and they are usually of the target that you want if you pick the right movies,” Harkness says.

Building a social and digital approach

That said, Harkness says V Energy also has significant spend through digital channels, such as Facebook. Use of that channel has evolved significantly since Harkness joined the company four years ago, when it was being used it to host 30-second adverts.

“We now have to look at what is the two second execution, what is the three second execution, rather than what is the 15 second cut down,” Harkness says. “That is the real challenge we have had to overcome in the last year; that we have to make sure we are serving things at the length that is required.”

Harkness cut his teeth as a marketer working for brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, in Scotland, before moving to Australia in 2008 to launch the 5 gum brand here for Wrigley.

Throughout his career, he has developed a test-and-learn approach to marketing that can be seen at V Energy through initiatives such as an early foray into SnapChat.

And in reflection of the somewhat cheeky nature of the brand itself, Harkness is also trialling a form of ad blocking technology in a campaign dubbed V AdNotes, where users can replace on-screen display advertising with their study notes.

Harkness says the campaign provides an alternate method of student outreach beyond standard o-week promotion.

“It’s a solution to talking to students on campus, but also giving something that was of utility that makes them a bit better at studying,” he says.

“We are only pushing it through Facebook advertising to start with, and will see how it goes. But it is an interesting idea and it is all part of this test-and-learn culture we have in our marketing at Frucor.”

The brand has also moved heavily into music sponsorship through the V MoVement dance music festival taking place across multiple venues in Sydney later this year. Harkness says the goal is to eventually take the program nationally.

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