by Herman Manson (@marklives) HDI Youth Marketeers, the youth marketing consultancy, will soon be exiting its teens.

The agency was launched 19 years ago in 1996, then known as Hot Dogz Inc, by Liesl Loubser, a former teacher. By 2003, HDI had expanded its focus from children to include teens and young adults. Jason Levin joined the business as MD in April 2008, from TBWA\South Africa (part of Omnicom Group), the agency that would buy a majority shareholding in HDI in 2014.

R120bn per annum market spend

Today, the agency covers from three-year-olds until early 20s, with HDI estimating that this market has a direct spend of over R120bn per annum of their own disposable income in SA alone. The agency specialises in insight research, education and content (including events, experiential and activations), face-to-face engagement (new mothers in hospitals and clinics), and has a communication and collateral unit.

Jason Levin
Jason Levin

According to Levin, its research division brings in the least revenue and makes up the smallest staff component of the business but obviously drives pretty much everything else the agency does. It also conducts the annual Sunday Times Generation Next brand survey and awards; while the survey identifies the coolest youth brands in the country, it also offers key lifestyle trends and insights for HDI.

This year, Levin has marked how the youth market is expecting brands to invest in communities as well as offer opportunities, such as bursaries and job opportunities, to youngsters. Companies such as Eskom, Telkom and Sasol have been noted for job creation and making available bursaries to students. They also want to see real involvement on the ground and in their communities — Pick n Pay is known for its contribution of free educational content through its School Club. Other brands that stand out in this category include Nike, KFC (for its Add Hope initiative) and Soul City (driven by the Institute for Health and Development Communication).

Third kidney

Levin describes the cellphone as the youth’s third kidney, so pervasive is it in their lives. He still believes millennials will reset the system, better managing its impact upon their lives, and increasing engagement in person. This is part of a trend towards what he describes as conservative values, with family as the focus. Religion also seem to be making a return — he notes church/mosques/temples are places of engagement between people — and away from the virtual.

Conspicuous consumption won’t be going anywhere soon, though. So ‘flash the cash’ still sum up the consumer habits of many youngsters and they make it fit alongside their rediscovery of more-traditional family values.

HDI is also expanding its African footprint beyond SA. It has hubs in Kenya and Nigeria, and satellite offices in Ethiopia and Uganda. Levin says the embrace of mobile money by Kenyan youth is noteworthy and something that is replicated in SA. In Nigeria, local celebrities rule the roost, while young South Africans still look abroad for their entertainment idols. Urbanisation means a more-closely aligned view of the world in city communities across the continent, but this doesn’t translate into similar product preferences.

Rapid growth

HDI client list includes several financial services brands, Cartoon Network, PnP, Nestlé, Danone and Cell C. It employs 65 people in Johannesburg and another four in Cape Town and Durban. In East Africa, it employs 16 people, with another 12 in Nigeria. Another 80–150 people are in the field on any given day, but these are not permanent staff.

According to Levin, the East African market is of growing importance to HDI and it will be exporting platforms developed in SA into these markets. This includes the Pick n Pay School Club, which offers teacher guides, posters and other learner material to schools, and the Generation Next study.

The business is continuing to experience rapid growth, says Levin, doubling in size roughly every three years, and now forms a significant part of the TBWA group in SA. While it spent its first decade convincing people of the viability of the youth market, today it is clear that, in Africa, the youth is the market.


Herman MansonHerman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of He was the inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011 and has, over his 20-year-plus career, contributed to numerous journals and websites in South Africa and abroad, including AdVantage magazine, Men’s Health, Computer World and African Communications.

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