M&M Global's blog on Project Reconnect


Back to the overview
Wake up and smell the Silicon

When a group of teenage students start talking about marketing and advertising, it can be both fascinating and frightening. During the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) Global Marketer Week 2012 in New York, a group of high school freshmen got together to talk digital habits and presented a fascinating insight into how they engage with brands and brand messaging. You already know that Generation Y does not watch any TV; is online 24/7; and that you cannot target them by simply sticking celebrities (even if it is Justin Bieber) on brands.

–But did you know that they really don't want an ad to feel like an ad?

Read on to find what this group of 15 year old students had to say about marketing and their love for Old Spice and Chrysler.

Time spent online

It will come as little surprise to know that these consumers of the future spend most of their time on Facebook, and the ubiquitous 'homework sites' –Google and Wikipedia. Add online gaming sites to the mix for the boys.

And obviously they “never switch off.” The day in the lives of these students begins with checking Facebook status; laptops at school; and evenings spent with smart phones or tablets.

And why Facebook? It has become the shorthand for social media and most say that they use it because their friends do the same and not because of their affinity for the brand. In an age where we are all surrounded by information and everyone can get to it (most of the time for free), this savvy set of teenagers recognise that they can get information from each other whenever they want. They care about their own community and what they have to say or endorse. “A lot of times Facebook is about boosting your self-esteem” said these teenagers, referring to how teenagers today are having to measure up to the constant status updates, 'happy' looking photos and friends' tallies.

But these kids also added that there is a misconception about how kids use social media and that it is not just about status updates or playing games online. Quite often Facebook is used for home-work and as a “more direct way of asking questions from friends.”

Not a set of loyal customers, these teenagers said that are not shy about going elsewhere to seek information or be in touch with their friends if their peer group were to do the same. And for a generation so used to easy access for information for free, this group will not continue to use sites such as Facebook, if it were to charge users. Responding to recent rumours that Facebook could start $3.99 per month, these teenagers said that they will stop using the site. “I could accomplish the same thing (interacting with friends) elsewhere and there will be no point in paying for it,” said one. The sentiment was echoed by others suggesting that they would go wherever their friends went, even if it meant leaving a popular social site in favour of another. Remember the rise and fall of MySpace? Or as one teenager so eloquently put it: “I did not know Yahoo was a search engine.”

Privacy and the art of serendipity

Too much advertising on sites, too many pop-ups and any sort of intrusion is not something that the teenagers want to put up with either. Hence the reason why Yahoo does not even register on their radar but when asked about following brands on Twitter, they all agreed that they would not mind doing that because Twitter is more “creative” and “subtle” when trying to sell. These teenagers said they would all happily follow Nike on Twitter, but do not want “annoying” ads on YouTube to disrupt their viewing experience.

All this participating, engaging and absorbing in this digital world does not mean that these kids are looking for something specific online. Instead there is an element of serendipity that they all want, and an experience that enhances their engagement online. “I'm online not because I've been looking for something but sometimes I come across stuff, for instance if someone has posted a song and I happen to find it,” said one. Another cited the example of the popular game Call of Duty, which is littered with brands but because it all happens to be seamlessly integrated “It's fine cos it doesn't mess with the game play.”

SMS marketing is however something that they all said they were uncomfortable with. “Companies are not my friends. I don't care,” one expressed. The mobile phone is a private channel for contact with friends, not to be 'hijacked' by brands.

Privacy is one issue that concerned them. They all adjust their privacy settings on Facebook and some used words such as “nervous” and “scared” when talking about how much Facebook knows about them and how they would not want their details to be sold to a third party. Some of these teenagers added that they don't use their own pictures on social websites and sometimes not even their real names.

They value more targeted advertising if it adds to the online experience but the line is clear: they don't want very personal information to be stored. One girl said “if you think about how many people they are actually doing this to, it's not really like a name, it's more like you're a number so it doesn't really affect me.”

What is a brand?

A question that keeps most marketers awake at night, especially when defining brand and branding in the digital age. Should brands be about utility, do they need to entertain, should marketers be building brand platforms or should brands be about a higher purpose in life?

For the 15 year olds, the answer to the question was surprisingly simple. Procter & Gamble's Old Spice is a brand. The other brand mentioned%u2014Nike. And Chrysler. Chrysler? “I used to think of Chrysler as an old people's car but I watched the Super Bowl advert and re-discovered the brand.” This year's most discussed Super Bowl campaign, the two minute Chrysler advert featured Clint Eastwood pitching for “made in America.”

And brands that these generation admires? Old Spice, again. Why? “Because its marketing is fantastic, funny, humorous and memorable.”

For all those marketers obsessing about cause related marketers worth reading what this group had to say about it. Cause related marketing mattered to the girls but less to the boys. If the company wants to “better the world, be green or donate to somebody, I'll take action,” said one girl “because I feel like I'm really connecting to the world around me”. Another claimed she would buy a pair of Toms shoes because of what they do for African children even though she doesn't really like them! “I think adding incentive for the product is really important”, said another

“I'm not going on the Internet to search out something because it's for a good cause,” said a male respondent. “A dollar goes to pandas in China? Alright, that's fantastic!” But it's nothing more than an “added bonus” he added.

But do brands matter? Only when picking clothes or buying sports brands, it seems.

Advertising, a dirty word

“We don't want advertising.”
“I only watch ads during Super Bowl.”
“Advertisers will always say they are great because they want me to buy into it.”
“Celebrities in ads don't interest me.”
“The word advertising has a negative connotation, because if you say advertising then we don't want to know.”

Generation Y takes a cynical approach to advertising. They prefer it to be subtle, preferably woven into content and able to give them something back in return. It needs to offer an experience, something new. Anything that interrupts them, intrudes into their world or is perceived to be irrelevant or annoying is dismissed out of hand. “Don't interrupt or force us to watch it. We will discover it in our own time,” said one.

So how does a brand approach these kids? Offer an incentive; stand for something. Be engaging, funny and relevant. And, of course, ideally come recommended by friends.

- Sonoo Singh
Editor, M&M Global

To watch videos of the focus groups, please visit the Project Reconnect site.

Sign up to monthly WFA news