Australian Wool Innovation's main marketing strategy is now targeted at persuading cashed-up millennials, who have grown up with cheap, throwaway fashions, to buy much more expensive woollen clothes.
Laura Armstrong, AWI's general manager of marketing communications, says the millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) are wool's "lost audience".
She told last week's AWI annual general meeting in Sydney that millennials were also about to inherit more money than any generation before them.
"They grew up on fast fashions, they grew up on polyester, they are not familiar with wool or Merino wool," she said.
Ms Armstrong said millennials needed educating on the benefits and eco-credentials of woollen clothes while their grandparents needed to be re-educated that wool wasn't the itchy, scratchy fibre of their childhood.
AWI was using social media to sell its key wool messages to millennials who were brand conscious and very picky about where they spend their money.
The company had embarked on 114 upmarket brand collaborations with the likes of Prada, The North Face, New York Times, Boston Globe and adidas to better connect with well-heeled consumers including millennials, she said.
High-end fashion brands were also likely to attract much more media interest which was important because AWI invested little in paid media.
AWI estimated free media coverage for Australian wool totalled $62.3 million last year, a 10pc increase.
"We are looking at social (media) platforms, that's where the younger generations are consuming the media," she said.
"We own eight social media platforms, two specifically for the China market."
The reach of AWI's social media had increased by 62 per cent to 20 million.
As well more than 100 influencers and ambassadors were validating AWI's key messages across sports and eco-industries.
Lingering misconceptions about wool being itchy-scratchy and not easy care along with high price continued to be the industry's biggest challenges, she said.
However, leading NSW Merino stud breeder and woolgrower, Nigel Kerin, warned the strategy could go horribly wrong.
He said the AWI's focus on a market populated by some of the smartest, socially-aware consumers in the world sent a "chill down my spine".
Two different outcomes were on the cards, he said.
Wool could completely lose the market or not be able to supply enough non-mulesed wool.
None of the high-end brands which the AWI was working with would want to be associated with mulesing, he said.
"I think the tipping point is coming very quickly with what's acceptable in this social-media driven world we live in and we have no control over," Mr Kerin said.
AWI CEO, Stuart McCullough, said the company would continue to target high-end brands because they could cope with hefty increases in wool prices unlike the Kmarts of this world.
He said the industry was still selling every kilogram of wool produced each year at good prices.
"We work to sell all wool," he said.
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