05 September 2011

OneYoungWorld: engaging youth, or buying influence?

One Young World, a creation of advertising company Euro RSCG, has just completed its second annual conference that drew hundreds of under 25s to Zurich for three days of plenary lectures,  mostly by middle-aged representatives of major corporations.

The companies on stage were mostly past, present and potential clients of Euro RSCG and primarily from industrialised countries. Presentations were by the likes of OPEC Fund, Shell, a Shell-backed NGO, Barclays Bank and HP.

The advertising industry recognises this as a tremendous idea by Euro RSCG to bring commercial interests together with 'key influencers' and to befriend future role models and affluent consumers. One commentator described it is a "wonderful client schmoozing opportunity" - for the organizers (http://bit.ly/ncwebP).

Many of the corporate representatives seemed to appreciate the chance to promote their credentials to 'tomorrow's leaders' and spent their allocated time in transparent sales mode. Lest they query the merits of being lectured to by corporate types for several days - in between bouts of hospitality - co-founder Kate Robertson told delegates that if they wanted to change the world they world they needed to deal with such companies and the issues they represented. But was this the way to do it? More than one delegate was heard to grumble that they felt like collateral in a commercial enterprise.

Does anybody doubt that this is a one-way avenue for corporations to flex their influence? Sure, there is a series of polls, white papers and a forum for comments, but delegates - many sponsored by companies such as Nike, Pepsico and McDonalds - were given very limited opportunity to ask questions from the floor. Beyond the boat cruise mid-way through the opening day, there did not seem to be a structured way for youth to meet one-another; debate with delegates; run their own agenda-setting discussions. There were limited presentations by youth(ful) luminaries and minimal opportunities for discussion and feedback. After two years on the job, the organizers seem more adept at promotion than execution.

With a slick communications operation spanning social media (http://bit.ly/nQq8Ty), OYW has even appointed global ambassadors as youthful sales people, as seen in this Euro RSCG 'prosumer report' (http://bit.ly/pCxyyy). OYW would do well to put youth to the fore. Its current public face is far from youthful (http://bit.ly/qNcYyL) and betrays thinking that is very business 1.0 .

All is not lost. Euro RSCG is determined to maintain this brand year-round, and is using its 'news room' http://www.oneyoungnewsroom.com/ as well as social networking and news media to keep things spinning. Let the chatter continue!