OMD, Yahoo! Find It's A Brave You World, Study Reveals Teen Media Habits
The study--a joint effort by Yahoo!, OMD, and consultant Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU)--focused on teens in China, South Korea, Mexico, the U.S., U.K., Germany, Russia, and India--using interviews, focus groups, and statistical measures to paint a picture of the growing role of new media in the teenage world.
This broad ethnographic study suggests a trinity of "core values" embraced by millions of teens who use "new media": "community," "self-expression," and "personalization." Community and self-expression are self-explanatory, denoting the basic human need to feel that one belongs, and at the same time stand out from the pack. Personalization of technology provides the main means of fulfilling both these needs.
"The Net, for example, provides them with bulletin boards and chat rooms that allow them to spend time with other people and feel that they're part of something," according to Dan Drath, Vice President, TRU. "But as much as they're trying to be part of something, they're also looking to express who they are as an individual--to stand out."
The first two "core values" are rooted in an ethical worldview recognizable to most adults, but teens often voice them in ways that older observers may find bizarre or incomprehensible.
For example, the idea of making friends on other continents through online gaming strikes many adults as fantastic, but is commonplace among teens. At the other end of the spectrum, "self-expression" may seem trite when it takes the form of choosing virtual "wallpaper" for the background of a MySpace.com personal profile--Hawaiian print or psychedelic border?--but no one faults a new home buyer for poring over catalogues of paint and rug samples ad nauseam, and the basic impulse is the same.
Welcome to the "Brave You World." Both examples point to the last term of the triad--"personalization." According to the study, personalization is the crucial pivot because it allows an individual to appropriate the symbols of a particular community while also adding personal, self-expressive touches. Thus, one's choice of cell phone ring, MP3 jacket, or music playlist can express devotion to a musician, a sport, a TV show, a movie, a food--literally anything--locating the user in a global subculture, but also distinguishing them from other members of that group.
"They're really personalizing everything," observed Drath. "They love this new digital media opportunity because it allows them to be their own DJs, their own TV programmers--indeed, their own Web designers."
The proliferation of brand names like Nike, iPod, and the Simpsons in this "Brave You World" is, of course, good news for advertisers--as is the study's finding that teens are not nearly as leery of advertising as earlier generations that usually claimed to despise it. Today's media-savvy teens, by contrast, seem to embrace ads--going out of their way to incorporate them into their expressions of identity--showing a confidence, perhaps, that they fully understand the "manipulative" ethos of advertising that their precursors might have found deceitful or underhanded (i.e., "totally fake"). "This generation really does value advertising, in terms of learning about new trends or the new products," agreed Michele Madansky, Yahoo! Vice President, Corporate and Sales Research.
But advertisers also face new hurdles in reaching the newest generation of consumers. Personalization of technology allows teens to dodge certain types of advertising altogether--with radio, for example, suffering badly in comparison to online music programs that allow users to compile commercial-free playlists for use on personal MP3 players. In the same vein, advertisers widely acknowledge that the flexibility of Internet entertainment has seriously undermined television advertising.
What's more, teens don't seem to think of their favorite portable devices--cell phones and MP3 players--as possible advertising platforms. "There's this paradox that we found," Madansky said, summarizing the findings. "The more personalized the medium becomes, the less receptive they currently are to advertising."
Advertisers are also confronted with a generation of teens that is busier than its predecessors. "We asked about everything from sleeping, to eating, to spending time with their families, to consuming online media--and when you add up all the activities, you get a '44-hour' day," explained Madansky. "And the only way to do that is multi-tasking." Not surprisingly, the study found that teens typically engage in three or four other activities while using the Internet, and two or three while watching TV.
The key to targeting these busy consumers in the midst of media proliferation is advertising that "engages" the viewer with interactive or highly personalized elements. This, of course, also calls for an adjusted metric for copy testing, which must now track different types of user response. "In the 50's and 60's, copy testing was mainly about recall--and then in the 70's and 80's, they were talking about persuasion, and in the 90's it was about liking--getting the consumer to like the advertisement," said Mike Hess, Director of Global Research and Communication Insights, OMD. "Now it's got to be about engagement."
So what will engagement lead to, as far as the creative and logistical aspects of advertising? Hard to say. "We don't know what it looks like," admitted Madansky. "I don't think anyone has figured out how this is going to work. I think that's a challenge for us all in the coming years."