Published: Monday, October 30, 2006
By Gary Rudman
As Christmas approaches, most marketers and advertisers are focusing on traditional media to deliver messages to teens, a market segment that USA Today recently called “the top of the consumer food chain.” Though the “Flux Gen,” or “Gen Y,” has a disproportionate influence on family spending and more purchasing power than previous generations, teens have never been harder to reach. Having grown up in a digitally oriented world, far apart from the one inhabited by those of us making the media-buying decisions, teens have become a marketing enigma.
To succeed with teens this Christmas—and all year long—here’s what marketers need to consider:
Because teens consume multiple forms of media simultaneously, it’s difficult to break through. In a trend we call Brain Blur, teens will often watch TV while using their cell phones, instant messaging online, playing a videogame and doing their homework. To reach these buyers, a message must play across platforms and must leverage all of these access points. Assuming a cross-channel platform must be the starting point for creative and message development.
Teens are Technomads who have backpacks equipped with wireless laptops, cell phones, PSPs, Sidekicks, BlackBerrys, iPods and digital cameras. As a result, they are virtually always (wirelessly) connected to one another, as well as to the infotainment pipeline. With this move toward everything digital, there is a diminished importance of timing in the delivery of messages. As a result, engaging content is everything. Teens inevitably discover media that is clever, hip, humorous and unusual. Allowing teens to discover something cool and then virally share it with their friends is where the gold lies. For example, the viral power of a clip that makes its way around the Internet is what made YouTube so popular—and why Google paid $1.6 billion to purchase it. Building events or media that lend themselves to YouTube-like clips or viral Internet buzz is a relevant approach to the hearts and minds of teens.
As soon as the final bell rings at school each day, teen society goes virtual. The physical neighborhood becomes the Neighbornet, populated by online social forums including chat rooms, blogs and online social networks such as MySpace, Friendster and Facebook. Beyond the physical world, teens seek to cast a wider net on their traditional quest for social acceptance. As a result, they seek out new friends online and try to gain their approval by acquiring as much social currency as possible and posting it to their favorite personalized site. Popular people on MySpace are frequently visited and their MySpace pages can end up looking like advertisements for their favorite things—music, products, clothing and more. If a marketer plays his or her cards right they will receive beneficial buzz by being associated with cool online teens.
As noted, digital devices have become the foundation of teen social structure. If you are a teen who’s not connected, you’re out of the loop. If marketers are interested in reaching these teens it is important to reach out beyond traditional delivery vehicles. However, it is critical to remember that the message delivered must be suitably incorporated and/or presented so as not to alienate them. Teens are accustomed to seeing multiple ads on sites in exchange for getting the site’s services for free—it’s a price they are willing to pay for free music downloads, e-mail accounts and social networking. But care must be taken in infusing ads into paid services such as cell phone texting. There is a fine line between cool and annoying. Therefore, striking a balance between engaging and intrusive is the ultimate challenge.
Irrespective of the channels, message simplicity is paramount. If the message isn’t simple, clear and wrapped in an interesting and engaging package, the product message won’t penetrate the strong teen filter. They simply will not do the work as their brain bandwidth is already at over-capacity and they will not focus their energy on understanding an overly complicated message—there is just too much competing for the same space.
Teens have come of age in a democratized marketplace where they can customize and virtually personalize almost every aspect of their lives—their clothes, music, technology and even news. As a result, teens thrive in the online environment where—in stark contrast to the offline world—they have ultimate choice and control. Thus, traditional print and broadcast advertising and rigidly structured programming will not penetrate the teen psyche alone. They must accompany customizable, portable, digestible, and most importantly, digital versions to get through.