Questions for Greg Livingston of WonderGroup

Teens now spend more time online than watching television, according to research commissioned by Yahoo and Carat North America. The study, based on a Harris Interactive poll, suggests that youth-focused media buyers focused on traditional teen channels like television and outdoor advertising should rethink their media strategies, perhaps making the Web a much bigger part of the overall media mix.

The results come as no surprise to Wondergroup EVP Greg Livingston, an expert on teen and “tween” marketing and someone who has witnessed firsthand the prominence of the Web in young peoples’ lives.

When he’s not conducting focus groups with kids or speaking at teen marketing events, Livingston spends his time developing youth marketing strategies for WonderGroup clients such as Chiquita, Smucker’s, Heinz and M&M/Mars. He’s also the co-author of a 1999 volume on pre-teen social and buying behavior, “The Great Tween Buying Machine,” which will soon be issued in a new edition

Livingston recently took a break from editing book chapters to talk with ClickZ about the fundamentals of marketing to these age groups.

  1. What sorts of campaigns and media buys are your clients interested in? What are you advising?

    It depends on the nature of a company’s products and sales channels.

    We have a customer that sells 80 percent of its product around the winter holiday. They have a few weeks in which to sell everything, so the campaign runs on multiple channels at the same time.

    People come to us because one of the unique things we bring is the knowledge that ad communication is no longer passive. Even when you look at a 30-second TV commercial or a cereal box, you see calls to action. Companies are asking kids to vote on the next flavor of Froot Loops or on Nokia phone covers. There are many opportunities for relationship.

    More and more we’re seeing a blending of many channels. We might run a TV campaign with a promotional component that directs you to a Web site which is also mentioned in the print campaign, and all of it together might direct people to the store.

    It’s not necessarily about choosing the one right channel; it’s all channels working together. Kids might see something online, on TV and in a magazine. Every part connects to the rest, creating an interactive relationship.

  2. What trends are you seeing in cell phone use among tweens and teens? Is there a marketing opportunity here?

    If you look at the U.S., in which there are about 40 million tweens, 18 percent now have a cell phone. That’s a huge number, up from five percent in 1999 and 2000, when we last had similar numbers. There used to be a bigger percentage that had pagers; that group has converted to phones. I think the big jump is primarily due to the fact that the wireless carriers are marketing family plans.

  3. What other changes have you observed in the relationships teens have to personal technology?

    The individuals who are kids now are going to think of technology and communications as dynamic structures. They can change, and that’s not a problem for them.

    I think what will happen first is that kids will have a laptop at school with a wireless Internet connection, but there’s the further question of what the computer will end up being. We’re currently seeing melding of PDAs and cellular technology, and they’re going to be very comfortable with this.

    Last weekend I saw a group of girls taking pictures with camera phones and showing them to each other… not sending them, just sharing. A recent study found that this and next year, carriers will sell more camera phones than the camera companies will sell cameras.

    It’s an interesting trend, a fun gadget particularly for tweens and teens, who will be drawn to it for its social aspects.

  4. The gaming industry is huge, and some marketers are increasingly trying branded games. What are some key influencers of success or failure in this area?

    The generation that is now growing up has spent countless hours playing electronic games — many more hours in some cases than they’ve spent doing homework or anything else. Gaming is part of their culture, part of their life.

    The challenge is it’s a sophisticated market. You give an unsophisticated game to a nine-year-old, and they’ll be bored in matter of minutes.

    Unless it’s extremely dynamic, any game will pale compared to Xbox, resulting in a negative impact on your brand. So it’s a double-edged sword: If you’re not willing to go all the way, you’re better off not trying it. Remember that you’re competing with the gaming companies.

    But gaming, the interactive opportunity of playing, scoring and winning, is key to the process of making decisions, and we’re seeing a lot of people doing gaming promotions.

  5. Are advertisers showing adequate restraint in selling to youths online?

    I think they are, though I’m not sure marketers are showing restraint when it comes to adults at the moment. When you flip on your computer and nine pop-ups appear, it’s just intrusive and it doesn’t have anything to do with either kids or adults.

    I have not seen any exploitation or invasiveness that is youth-focused versus adult-focused. In the youth arena, marketers have overall been very conscientious about marketing in an upfront and positive manner.

  6. Viral’s been the rage for a while. Agencies now exist that only seek to find key influentials in high schools and push products to them. Is this a blip? Isn’t there a big risk of backfire in trying to suck up to teens?

    Yeah, there’s a risk, for example that the group of influencers doesn’t like the product but that just means that the broader market’s not going to like it either.

    However, that group of people will still determine if a product’s cool, if it’s not cool, and whether they’ll tell their friends about it. So I think it’s a valid process, simply because the kids involved still make a determination. None of them are going to promote something they don’t believe in.

  7. Describe a day in the life of Greg Livingston.

    I spent the afternoon yesterday at Dave & Buster’s with 36 kids, talking about how they might improve their products and what kids might like next year. Then I came back to the office and met with another client about a new campaign, their brand and upcoming TV commercials.

    This morning I looked over a research survey we’re pushing to parents and kids, and I am working on the latest edition of the book.

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