The analysis comes from a mashup of survey and metered Internet usage data from comScore M:Metrics, MediaMetrix and VideoMetrix, which comScore marketing analyst Jen Wu presented during a Webinar on Thursday. Wu said that while teens are often assumed to be early adopters who want to do things like surf the mobile Web and watch video on their phones, they are limited by how expensive those extra features are.
"Over 68% of teens are on a plan where another family member is responsible for the bill," Wu said. "So while they may want to download games and ringtones, or send picture messages, they often need to ask for permission first," Meanwhile, nearly 19% of teens are on a prepaid plan, which offers more independence, but still poses some cost constraints.
Most teens do not have phones with cutting-edge technology, either. In fact, comScore found that the most popular teen handset was the silver Motorola RAZR V3m. Nearly half a million users ages 12-17 have the phone, which held sway with early adopters about two years ago, but was quickly eclipsed by phones with better storage capabilities and faster speeds. Wu said that many teens got the RAZR handsets as hand-me-downs or as part of buy one-get one promotions for family plans.
When they can access the mobile Web and other data-based features, teens frequent the same kinds of sites, or engage in the same kinds of activities that they do on the desktop. For example, teens are at least 125% more likely to visit sites like the WildTangent Network, Photobucket, Gorilla Nation and MySpace--properties in the gaming, photosharing, humor and social media categories, respectively--than the overall population. Similarly, teens were at least 143% more likely to engage in activities like playing games, uploading photos to Web sites, searching for comics and checking their social media profiles with their phones.
Teens are also communication-fiends, as 74% of them used their phones for text messaging and 13% used major IM services like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). In contrast, only about half of the overall population used their phones for text messages, while 9% used IMs. But while they are seeming text-a-holics, they aren't really using or responding to texts as advertisements.
Just 6% of teen mobile users responded to a poll or contest via short code--i.e., voting for an "American Idol" contestant--in the past month, slightly higher than the overall population (4.5%) but still not a critical mass. Even fewer teens responded to a text-message ad (1.6%), in contrast to the 2.4% of overall mobile users. And just 1.5% of teens responded to an offline ad that directed them to text a short code in.
"Teens have been trained so well by their parents to be wary about online ads, spam and people asking for their info on the PC," Wu said. "So that may be contributing to why they seem less receptive to mobile advertising than one would expect. Texting is a short, easy form of communication for them, but it would be disjointed for them to get an ad while they're texting back and forth with their friends."