x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Dubai youth marketer Y2M has 200 brand ambassadors

The Life: Y2M, a marketing agency that engages youths to promote brands, says it helps develop communications skills among the young people.

Tareq Abuissa's company offers street programmes such as guerrilla marketing, roadshows and influencer marketing. Pawan Singh / The National
Tareq Abuissa's company offers street programmes such as guerrilla marketing, roadshows and influencer marketing. Pawan Singh / The National

From his 18th-floor corner office on Sheikh Zayed Road, Tareq Abuissa is just a few blocks away from his alma mater, the American University of Dubai (AUD).

And, demographically speaking, that is the direction that Abuissa, 29, looks in when he contemplates the local world of marketing.

"When I came to Dubai in 2004, I realised the youth did not have the same opportunities here as in the United Kingdom," says Mr Abuissa, who had transferred to AUD from a UK university that year. "I wondered how to create that platform to enable the youth to interact with the real world, and thought the best way to do that was through a marketing platform."

His advertising agency Youth to Marketing, or Y2M, offers street programs such as guerrilla marketing, roadshows and influencer marketing. But it also trains youths to interact with customers and improve communication skills.

Youth marketing, which came of age during the music channel MTV's early days, is not so popular in the UAE as in the United States or Australia, says Ian Michael, professor of marketing at Zayed University.

"Once companies understood that youths are a wealthy group of consumers, marketers became serious about this group, using them as brand ambassadors to make sure their peers are using the brands," he says.

Mr Abuissa says that today's youth have more autonomy and decision-making power than ever before.

"They are sophisticated young adults who see thousands of ads a day and know what marketing is and when they are being bombarded by ads," he says.

"They are more vocal today about what they want and only choose brands that they have a connection and a relation with; we help bridge that connection between youth and brands."

At Y2M, Mr Abuissa engages 200 young people in the age group 16 to 25 from more than 30 nationalities, including Emiratis, as brand ambassadors. They come from 12 universities and colleges across the nation.

"Currently they do marketing and promotions within friends and social networks," Mr Abuissa says. Since its launch seven months ago, Y2M had had Dh5 million invested in it and now employs 13 people.

Through its two relationship managers, both fresh graduates, the company connects directly with the youths and engages them through their websites and social media such as Facebook. Once the interested young people apply for a position, they are called for an interview where the company assesses their skills.

Once recruited to be ambassadors, Mr Abuissa says the youths get training on presentation and communication skills.

While the ambassadors do not get monetary compensations for their work, some of them have received credit vouchers from Al Futtaim Group, Samsung tablets and Sony mobile phones during brainstorming sessions at the office for coming up with fresh marketing ideas.

The brainstorming sessions offer "communication development and training, problem solving, presentation skills, strategy and implementation," Mr Abuissa says.

"A lot of people are outgoing, who can work at promoting a brand, and some others are quiet and shy but usually they are the creative ones."

The company teams up people from both these broad groups and shortlists the ambassadors for brands according to the interests of the youths. The current categories are fashion and arts, sports and gaming.

"We sort by hobbies and interests," says Mr Abuissa, a Qatari national whose family runs the IT solutions provider Omnix, where he still works in business development.

"There is a lot of interest among the parents and we get a lot of phone calls from them," he says.

Y2M has received applications from Jordan and Egypt through social media.

The company is also looking at creating a programme where, based on performance, it would recommend ambassadors to work as intern for three to six months at clients' local offices.

While Omnix is the only client Y2M's young ambassadors are working for currently, it is in talks with other potential clients in the food and beverage, IT, fashion and sports sectors.

One of the challenges Y2M faces is making people understand "what we are about", Mr Abuissa says. Some people are hesitant, he finds, while others are familiar with the idea of youth marketing and open to its potential.