Projecting from these estimates, children will see more than a quarter of a million TV ads by their 13th birthdays. Add online ads, print ads, radio ads and all other forms of advertising communications to the mix, and many youth are more expert than target.
Should we be so surprised to find that we are struggling to draw youth audiences to our marketing messages? We find ourselves relentlessly pursuing the latest media, devising increasingly novel tactics for our communications.
Research gauging the conscious effect of advertising on youth indicates that they are becoming less receptive to advertising. They notice the ads, but don't act upon them. They see the products on the big screen but claim that the product placement doesn't impact their purchase decisions. Words like "jaded" or "sophisticated" are used by those who wish to attach a value judgment to this diminishing receptivity; however, the things that we say and do within a traditional media context can often wash over Gen Y without making an impact.
The economic imperative to "monetize" the online spaces and places that young consumers inhabit is leading to a multibillion-dollar game of cat-and-mouse, wherein youth seek out new, ad-free environments, occupying them until marketers identify and infiltrate these ad-free havens. We are, at times, moving past a simple receptivity challenge toward breeding hostility toward advertising. This hostility most often erupts at the point where a previously undeveloped environment is opened up to advertising, to the chagrin of its previously unsolicited denizens.
While it's easy to spot what's broken and guess as to why, it's a little more challenging to identify solutions. Asked to tell us what advertising catches their attention and motivates them, teens and collegians revealed a number of insights:
- If you ask youth to describe their favorite advertisement, the majority of what they describe is a television ad that made them laugh. Humor means a lot to youth, and they appreciate anything that tickles their funny bone. Unfortunately, being funny isn't easy, and we've frequently measured ad campaigns that tried in vain to elicit a chuckle.
- Good music is the next most appealing advertising element for youth and, luckily, this is an advertising device that is much easier to deliver upon. Apple's catchy iTunes ads set the standard for how to leverage music to generate receptivity amongst youth.
- This generation is very practical and appreciates advertising that discards hyperbole in favor of clear and simple product information. Similar to the GI generation, which was exposed to the early television advertising of P&G, Gen Y has swapped the Swedish accent of Folger's kindly Miss Olson with the raspy ranting of the recently departed pitchman Billy Mays.
- While humor, catchy music and practical product benefits seems straightforward enough, we were surprised to hear from youth how effective event sponsorships and pre-movie advertisements are in capturing their attention. Both of these advertising environments significantly reduce the clutter of competing messages, attaching themselves to experiences that are both meaningful and relevant to youth.
If you endeavor to be practical, humorous and melodic in an environment where you can attach yourself to a valued experience, chances are that your advertising efforts will be better appreciated by the largest generation in American history.