Games are the cultural glue of the generation now coming of age. To get them, first get gaming.
In 1992, I gave birth to a gamer. I didn't know it at the time. He looked so cute in his Baby Gap togs - who would have thought it? But as soon as he discovered his thumb and index finger, someone slipped a Game Boy in his hands. He progressed to a Nintendo 64, followed by a PlayStation 2. Now he's a full fledged gamer, and an official member of Generation Y.
Generation Y are young adults born between 1977 and 1994. It's the largest generation since the baby boomers, some 70 million people. According to Forrester Research, they have tremendous marketing clout. Those a bit older than my son (late teens to early twenties) spend $37 million per year.
The online world is a vital part of Generation Y's culture. According to Harris Interactive, this generation spends 16.7 hours per week on the Internet (excluding email), compared to 13.5 hours watching TV or 12 hours listening to the radio.
Generation Y isn't going online for homework help. They're looking for fun and games.
Gaming is the cultural connection of my son's generation. Just as TV gave boomers shared cultural references (I'd wager 90 percent of American boomers can sing the "Gilligan's Island" theme song), games are this group's cultural link. Yes, there are exceptions, and I expect to hear from you about them. However, an awful lot of young people frequent game stores to catch up on the latest releases. Even their movies are based on games (Tomb Raider is just one example). They watch TV shows about games. X-Play, a popular techTV show, features two aging Y's reviewing games with all the banter of Siskel and Ebert, back in the day.
Of course, the gaming culture has grabbed many marketers' attention. Gateway and other computer makers throw millions of marketing dollars behind game tournaments. Shoe maker Vans teamed with Microsoft's Xbox gaming system to host the Xbox World Championship of Skateboarding. Sony, makers of the PlayStation, invites gamers to sample their wares at the PlayStation store in San Francisco's Metreon. (It's where the entire teenage population of San Francisco hangs out.)
It's not so much about having games on your site as it is understanding the Gen Y attitude. (In my focus-group-of-one experiment, my son turned up his nose at Coke and Pepsi's attempts at gamesmanship.) What exactly does understanding Generation Y mean? Some tips:
Know why games are cool. Games are interactive and action-oriented. While boomers may have been content to simply stare at a screen, this generation knows there's more. Interactivity is a must for Generation Y.
It's also about girls. Take a look at gurl.com or girlzone.com. Girls use email, search the Web... and play games, too.
"Gamer" isn't necessarily "nerd". Last year, Blockbuster published a full page advertisement featuring its vision of a typical gamer: messy hair, too-short plaid pants and mismatched shirt. It was supposed to be satirical. What it said to 18-24 year olds was, "We don't understand you at all."
Look at companies that get it right. A long list of marketers understands Generation Y. These include: Teen People, Pacific Sunwear, Sony and even - yes- Sanrio's Hello Kitty. (It's true. The 20-somethings in my university marketing class unabashedly hang onto Kitty well into their young adult years).
Yes to social causes. John Burnett, professor of marketing at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business, believes this generation is far more socially conscious than any since World War II. Says Barnett, "They believe in giving, participation in nonprofits, and in donations of time and resources." Obviously, a company that exhibits social responsibility will strike a chord.
No to exploitation. Although they have exceptional buying power, most Gen Y's are still children. So cool it with the high-pressure marketing. Offer something of value for people who are still in the process of becoming full-fledged adults.
Looking to learn more? Do research. Talk to Generation Y's via formal market research, or just go to where teens hang out. Malls are still hot, so are skate parks and game stores. Or give me a holler. I've got an opinionated member of Generation Y right under my own roof.
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.
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