Marketing: It's time to tap the chav pound, innit

Long the butt of jokes, chavs are now wooed by advertisers
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The Independent Online

They are pilloried for their "teenage pram-pushing" and "council house chic" and are the butt of middle-class jokes. But, thanks to their spending power, chavs are the new target market for advertisers in the pre-Christmas retail rush.

Chavs have found new champions in publications such as The Sun and Max Power magazine, which know their markets and have identified the commercial benefit of embracing a group that was formerly ostracised. The Sun's editor, Rebekah Wade, takes the issue rather seriously - even ordering executives to pack their finest "chav" outfits for the paper's "brainstorming" session in Alicante at the weekend (the fashion desk was despatched to provide her with the best attire).

The mobile phone company 3 is at the forefront of the rush to reach this group of young urbanites who are known to "wear their cash". 3's in-store advertising features a South Park-style cartoon turtle wearing a Burberry-type cap, a gold tooth, an earring and a medallion. The company says it is targeting those with "money to burn" on accessories.

Ben Carter, news editor at Marketing magazine, says the step is significant for its "very specific customer segmentation and targeting". "It is tongue in cheek, but definitely a play for the chav market. It is depicting what they know and love - jewellery and designer clothes. Chavertising is just about saying, 'Hang on, we're not taking ourselves too seriously.' It is slightly risky, but that's what 3 wants to be known for."

The cartoon "critters" are supposed to emphasise that the mobile network is "young and fun", according to 3 spokesman Ed Brewster. "We're saying, 'You've seen chavs. You've seen all their accessories. Now look at our accessories.' This group is a big market for any accessories. But it is not particularly serious commentary."

The recent move of the chav into the media and marketing mainstream is something of an about-turn in fortunes. The term of abuse has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Brands have been keen to distance themselves from the more criminal elements of the chav tribe. Burberry admitted earlier this year that it had failed to shake off its chav image and UK sales were "subdued". The clothing brand Stone Island, which has suffered from a similar association, says it is "unfortunate that so much publicity has focused on a single section of Stone Island fans with such a negative reputation". Hackett, which recruited Jonny Wilkinson in a move to put ground between its undesirable customers and its status as a quality label, declined to comment, but the message is clear: these people may buy our products, but we haven't asked them to.

Nowhere has the reclaiming of chavdom been more loudly proclaimed than inThe Sun's "Proud to be chav" campaign. Features have included a "Guide to chav body language... Innit!" and "Good chav or bad chav", which helpfully sorts your Asbos from your Ayia Napas.

Max Power magazine has also entered the fray, presenting spoof Welsh rappers Goldie Lookin' Chain with a souped-up motor, or "chavalier", painted in a Burberry-type check.

Ben Raworth, deputy editor ofLoaded, which has been reporting on the chav phenomenon for two years, wonders what all the fuss is about. "Now every men's magazine is talking about chavs and herberts as if they are some new, strange, quaint species. It's all tosh: the herbert is simply the latest identifiable sub-group of youth causing horror to the masses."

But 3's advertising campaign and recent press coverage are a recognition of the spending power of the group. Companies are now willing to associate with the chav in an ironic but sympathetic way. The bottom line with any advertising, though, is will it work? PR consultant Mark Borkowski is sceptical. "There've always been tribes to be parodied - right back to the teddy boys," he says.

"It makes sense to play to the market and this is a very funny, current joke. Bandwagons move on very quickly, however. Usually parodying this kind of thing is an indication it hasn't got long to run. The next bunch of advertisers who jump on to it will be the brands and products that are are struggling, leaping on any idea to give themselves a bit of oxygen."

Ultimately, the Christmas sales figures will establish whether chavertising "has legs" or will simply burn itself out in a parody-fuelled nova. It may be that the chav fails to live up to his own - and everyone else's - hype.