Targeting Youth Behavior

  |  October 24, 2007   |  Comments

Reaching the most difficult group out there.

Youth is perhaps the most difficult demographic group to communicate with. Not only do they have a short attention span, they're also elusive in media consumption, fickle in brand preference, and simply challenging to engage and entertain.

Marketers spend millions in research every year trying to predict, or anticipate, changing youth behaviors. With the continually proliferating choices of digital devices, not only does this group embrace technology at an early age, it quickly becomes the early adopters of all new trends and convergent platforms. One can argue that whatever youth does today foreshadows what older demographic groups will adopt in the near future. All this makes it extremely difficult to understand and target their behaviors.

To better understand the relationship between youth and technology, MTV and Nickelodeon, in association with Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, commissioned international research to study habits and behaviors of 18,000 young people from 16 countries, across 21 different media and devices, including TV, mobile, IM, and the Internet.

The research, titled "Circuits of Cool," reveals that despite the increasing adoption of a digital lifestyle, most of what young people do today hasn't drastically changed in the last 15 years. Eighty-five percent say the thing they like doing most is watching TV, followed by listening to music (70 percent), and hanging out with friends (68 percent).

The study concludes that while basic human motivation and needs remain relatively constant, communication platforms and social connectivity have evolved significantly as the result of technological advancements.

The Smell of Teen Spirit: Cliques and Clicks

Humans are group animals. For that reason, our inherent need to belong and establish social currency has been and will always be an essential part of our collective experience.

Teenagers are perhaps subject to even more of this need for social validation. Despite technology advancements, then, the motivation to socialize hasn't changed throughout the years. Instead, it's dramatically enhanced and enriched with the explosion of digital communication platforms and social networks online.

"Circuits of Cool" reveals 14-24 year olds have, on average, 53 people they consider to be online friends, but just 6 of those 53 are real-world, close friends; 27 form a wider circle of friendly acquaintances, and the remaining 20 come from online relationships but are considered to be proper friends despite the fact they never met in person.

Young people are now constantly connected to their friends by multiple devices and communication platforms. Friendship formed via IM, e-mail, and social networks are as valid as real-life friends. In fact, 53 percent of the correspondents said, "I get to know friends better through IM."

The interesting insight from the report is that while devices and platforms have evolved, the majority (52 percent) of teenagers still prefer face-to-face communication with friends. Conversation topics haven't changed: gossip, people you fancy, plans, school/work, TV, music, and films are still the core of their bonds, and communication has been naturally enriched by access to entertainment media.

The Tube Isn't Dead

Contrary to common market beliefs, TV remains one of youth's favorite and most common activities. Significantly increased Web use doesn't erode TV viewing; teens have simply mastered the art of multitasking by consuming various media simultaneously.

Interestingly enough, TV is the only medium they use while not multitasking. They still love good advertising and believe the "best ad they've seen recently" was on TV.

A separate study conducted by U.K. TV marketing body Thinkbox echoes much the same finding. Young viewers are more receptive to TV ads than adults. The "Generation Whatever in the Third Age of Television" study finds children and young people are 2.5 times as likely to say they enjoy TV advertising; 50 percent more likely to say they were persuaded to buy a product seen on TV; and 30 percent are more likely to regularly talk about ads they've seen than adults.

The same study also finds this age group tends not to use video or digital recorders in great numbers. They prefer live viewing, and when they do use recording devices they don't usually fast-forward through the ads. Perhaps the attrition in advertising consumption (via DVR and ad-skipping) prevalent among adults is greater among those needing to save time due to increased responsibilities and complexity.

What This Means for Online Media

Young people's relationship with technology is different to what many marketers might assume. Though immersed in tech from an early age, "Circuits of Cool" found the majority don't even notice technology is there, and only 20 percent can really be classified as "tech lovers." They don't use technological jargon such as "Web 2.0" and "social media," as these terms are primarily used by adults to categorize and define the shifts in trends. They simply use "music download" and "connect with friends" to refer to these activities and behaviors.

Linear TV is the critical channel for introducing people to new things they weren't searching for in the first place. TV's word-of-mouth (WOM) effect is definitely complementary to other new digital platforms: 47 percent of youth surveyed IM each other about "what is on TV right now." One can argue that for marketing messages to cut through the clutter, strategies must focus on identifying a need-based behavioral pattern rather than simply incorporating digital technology as panacea.

To effectively behavioral target this group, the platform must expand beyond current online domain to become a true transmedia to match a copy-and-paste consumption of mixing on- and offline media.

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Andy Chen

Based in London, Andy Chen is vice president of digital solutions for Viacom Brand Solutions(VBS) International. Prior to Viacom, Andy was the media strategy director at Carat International/Isobar, which handles global media and digital strategies for Philips, Renault, Adidas, and various other multinational clients.

A true advocate for global integration and strategy, Andy has lived and worked in Copenhagen and Stockholm, where he was a management consultant for the Swedish Advertising Association. He received his BA from University of California, Berkeley; and a MBA in international marketing and global management from Stockholm University, School of Business. Named one of the "20 Rising Media Stars to Watch in 2004" by "Media Magazine," Andy is a frequent international conference speaker on digital and interactive media. He published his first collaborative book, "The Changing Communication Paradigm," in November 2005.

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