Move Over Boomers, Here Come Your Kids!

They zoom past in Corvettes, Beemers, or huge SUVs. Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Carly Simon, or, more likely, Sting blares through a great stereo system. As an advertiser, you know them well. Hell, some of you even fall into the group. They were the most coveted market — ever. They’re baby boomers.

Until now, no market surpassed them. Well move over, boomers. Here come… drum roll, please… your kids! Approximately 88 million kids were born of 85 million parents. These 13- to 23-year-olds are now the largest market in the country. They cruised past their parents’ generation in size and impact. And guess what? They spend over $150 billion annually. Gulp.

Before the dollars signs in your eyes cloud your vision, take a step back. They may be the boomers’ kids, but they sure as hell aren’t boomers. They’re a different breed altogether. For starters, these kids were born with technology. They don’t fear it, they embrace it. They’ve been dubbed the Net Generation (N Gen).

Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation,” by Don Tapscott, is an excellent primer. In it, we learn these 88 million children of the baby boomers in the U.S and Canada are combining demographic muscle and digital mastery to become a force for social transformation. There’s no issue more important to parents, teachers, policy markers, marketers, and social activists than understanding this new generation.

In a nutshell, because of their access to digital media these young people learn, work, think, shop, and create differently than their parents.

Here’s what I’ve learned about these kids:

  • The Internet is a fact of life. It’s hard to “wow” kids online.

  • They view the Internet as their parents viewed TV.
  • They don’t just observe what goes on online, they participate — heavily.
  • The Internet empowers N Geners. They’re not afraid to research, reach out, and represent their peers online.

Here’s what N Geners want:

  • Freedom. N Geners feel they can reach the world via technology. If they have something to say, they want to be heard.

  • Customization. They like the freedom of picking and choosing where and how they want to surf while having the ability to alter fonts, arrange icons, and select preferences regarding content, display, and messaging.
  • Trial. They want to try things — see samples of products, download a music track before buying the CD. They try it before they buy it. They like freeware, shareware, and trial products.
  • Accessibility. N Geners want to get their hands on every piece of technology — hardware, software, WAP applications, and the like — via the Net.
  • Honesty. These kids are smart. They don’t want to be tricked into something. They want advertising to be up front. They don’t want to be preached to. They despise many antismoking, alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancy ads.
  • Entertainment. There’s a fine line between entertainment and cheesiness to this group. They view TV as intrusive. Don’t make the same mistake online.
  • Diversity. The Internet imposes no boundaries on N Geners. Online identities are formed without regard to age, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Consider and respect N Geners’ love for anonymity.

But authenticity counts. Michael Wood, vice president at Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) told Business Week, “Too many people try to be cool in ways they have no business being cool in.”

N Geners love advertising, if done right. The trick is figuring it out. Bottom line: When advertising to kids, talk straight and make sure all your ducks are in a row.

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