In the big, grand world of MediaPost conferences, the session that usually proves most illuminating is when we get actual people, who don’t work in this business, on stage. (No, none of us who read -- or write -- this column qualify as actual people; we are overanalytical wonks.) What the people on those panels tell us is what media, devices and platforms they use -- and how, or whether, branding really has any impact on their daily lives.
Guess what? Branding always barely registers. While I’ve seen this to be the case during other times we’ve held this session, yesterday’s version, during our first Brand Marketers Summit, telegraphed this louder, and more clearly, than ever before. It’s important for marketing’s future to note that the panelists were the youngest we’ve ever had: two 15-year-old girls, one 14-year-old boy (who is very closely related to yours truly), and two 13-year-old twin boys, all of whom threw the proverbial glass of cold water on the notion that branding messages are something they seek out when they are consuming media and communicating on digital devices.
That’s pretty damning when one stops to consider that every single panelist seemed to be plugged in some, if not all, of their waking hours -- or at least as much time as their parents and battery life would allow. (One of the teen girls admitted that she switched to the iPad only when her phone was taken away by her parents or because her phone needed charging.) There were complaints about pre-roll ads; one of the 13-year-old boys sung the praises of watching TV ad-free on Roku. Though some of the panelists followed brands, there was generally puzzlement as to why someone would actually follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter. As my offspring said on stage, it’s not as though friending a brand on Facebook is going to improve his day. Or that’s the belief, anyway, probably because few brands think of that as the goal.
While every generation I’ve come in contact with pridefully proclaims themselves immune to advertising messages, what makes these soon-to-be adults so fascinating is their technologically enabled ability to ignore marketing messages at will. I’d argue that a lot of this has to do with social media. Yes, as expected, all of the panelists seemed to devote much of their screen time to connecting with others, through one-to-one technologies like texting and Skype, to broader platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (a platform that the girls seemed rabidly interested in and the boys not so much). Most of those platforms, you’ll note, aren’t exactly overloaded with advertising.
This, of course, explains why marketers are so rabid about figuring out social media and why marketing budgets continue to flow in its direction, even though the kids don’t care. Fortunately, a prescription to cure their marketing disinterest was offered up by one of the girls, who said that if brands asked her opinion and showed they really did care about her, she might pay attention.
That’s simple advice, too often forgotten. From the mouths of teens.