Ad Infinitum

Considered a target market since birth, members of Gen Y have been exposed to an avalanche of advertising. Based on Nielsen Monitor-Plus / Nielsen Media Research audience data from the 2004 television programming season, a Federal Trade Commission report estimated that children aged 2-11 were exposed to 25,600 television advertisements a year for a total of 10,700 minutes of commercial messaging in 2004.

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.

11 comments about "Ad Infinitum ".
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  1. Paul Otis from MOB Media, November 13, 2009 at 11:29 a.m.

    The comment that youth don't act on ads, is a bit overstated. MOB Media's primary direct response work is to reach the youth of America and to get them to go to college. I can assure you we are producing an avalanche of interested Gen Yers who will call, go online or even mail-in their inquiry.
    While music and humor may work for some things, we find our consumer base likes the truth. We show them real successful graduates talking about their experiences. Talk to them with someone they can identify with (someone like them) and you will garner the trust you need to keep the phones ringing, despite their familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.

  2. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 13, 2009 at 12:01 p.m.

    Paul Otis

    You couldn't be more wrong. The writer hit the nail on the head, we do NOT RESPOND to advertisements because we breed a mentality that "you, the advertiser," are ignorant to any problems or "pain points" I have because you are pitching to me with an intent - interrupting my problem solving process. I guarantee that our generation does NOT respond to ads in the traditional space. If you ask us why, our generation will tell you

    "It's because we're smarter than you."

    Not meant to offend "you." But advertisers present information with an agenda - the fundamentals of MOST ad models rely on interruption. But our generation is independent from the message, and we consume multiple messages in order to gauge credibility. You are attempting to sway Gen Y without an expressed interest. Your consumer base likes truth - that doesn't mean he or she NEEDS it.

    Your example is mute.

    "MOB Media's primary direct response work is to reach the youth of America and to get them to go to college."

    Getting Gen Y to go to college is not a product or service. You're like a public announcement service that was already considered by your "consumers" well before you ever reached them.

    The reason why Gen Y won't respond to advertisers is because search dictates time + pain point. In other words, an advertiser approaches me, trying to mask his or her intentions. At that point, my consumption of his/her marketing message is MUTED because at any given point along a consumption curve I can research for myself the solution to my pain point.

    Yes, we like to talk to people we can identify with - enter social media. NOT MOB media, or any other advertising agency. The moment you mask your identity and intentions is the moment you lose any credibility with us.

  3. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 13, 2009 at 12:03 p.m.

    I'll sum it up, if you don't understand what I'm trying to say because I'm rushed to write right now;

    You will never "garner" our trust. We just check your message against everyone Else's message.

    Not that it matters, because you're not marketing a product or service, you're just reinforcing consumption behavior that's been going on way before you guys ever got your first client.

  4. paul myers, November 13, 2009 at 12:26 p.m.

    Congrats Dan.

    Other shops may have success with their specific niche of the Gen-Y demo. But we have been successful in reaching youth via action sports and music related events and channels since long before 540 was incorporated in 1994.

    As long as brands support their lifestyle and areas of interest in an authentic and credible manner, they will have success in reaching the youth market.

    What keeps us in business, as leaders in our field, is the fact that most others have no clue how to integrate their clients/brands into the youth lifestyle in an authentic and credible manner - especially when it comes to action sports.

  5. Paul Otis from MOB Media, November 13, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

    Nelson, I assume you mean my example is "moot", not mute? If you knew what we did you would be dangerous. I don't want them to "buy" MOB Media, I want them to see themselves with a better life by attending college. Yes, traditional media does tend to interrupt, but a media buyer worth their salt knows how and when (media plan) to do so.
    We are not reaching the Harvard prospects; we are trying to reach the nearly 72% of Americans who don't have a college degree! Those with families that have never attended college or even thought about it. Our job is to get them to realize the benefits of college by showing people LIKE THEMSELVES who have succeeded because of it. Don't assume because you are one, that you know what EVERYONE wants, Nelson.
    And don't guarantee they don't respond to traditional advertising. You know not what you're talking about. We use TV, Print, Direct Mail and yes online and social media to get tens of thousands of interested Gen Yers and others to contact the various schools we represent. We don't mask our identity, we represent our clients and consumers in a respectful and professional manner and I suggest you do the same.

  6. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 13, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.


    You misread my tone.

    First and foremost, you don't market a product or service. You're curbing a consumption behavior without a brand. Unless you represent ONE school and then that's marketing.

    Second, I never make assumptions - which is the school of what marketers do. When I say "we don't respond to traditional media" that's fact, not my personal assumption. If you say they do, that is an assumption, because like you said, marketing in traditional media is INTERRUPTIVE, and by nature LARGELY unmeasureable no?

    You didn't talk about my opinions about "trust." Your argument was that marketing agencies can reach Gen Y by getting their trust. And my argument was that our generation sees a marketing and automatically perceives the message with an intent; IE no trust.

    Your response actually supported what I was trying to say.

    Refer to this line in my response.

    "But our generation is independent from the message, and we consume multiple messages in order to gauge credibility."

    So when you say you utilize both traditional and online media to reach an audience, what you're really saying is that we do 10 different things to reach an audience and all ten of them work.

    Actually. let's back up, you totally missed what I was talking about. I wasn't talking about the medium like the author of the article. I was attacking the actual campaign itself.

    So if you say "tv lone works" or you say "radio works" I irrefutably say from the data "it does not work."

    Now if you say "we use tv, radio, print, and online which all reinforce one another strategically" then I say "Ok - but your message is also filtered against the messages of every other competitor."

    See the difference between what you think I'm saying and what I'm actually saying is that the medium itself does not reach the consumer not because of consumer behavior, but because of what the medium is pitted against on a larger scale. You make one claim and try to gain "trust" we check your information against 10 other agencies with the same message. With that kind of competition, you can't possibly say that any ONE medium is responsive or engaging. I mean you gotta admit, not only does TV NOT engage users, but just yesterday there was an article about how internet consumption dwarfs TV and how the only reason why TV even showed up marginally was because it was on at the same time as internet consumption.

    Look I don't mean to refute your companies claims about whether or not YOU PERSONALLY are an effective marketer. I'm just telling you the facts. And fundamentally, you have to agree, TV does not engage users. It's the reason why YOU channel surf during commercials, it's why you Tivo. ETC ETC. I don't even OWN TIVO, but I've never sat through a whole commercial out of engagement. HAVE YOU?

    Your misguided about my opinion. I'm not refuting that

  7. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 13, 2009 at 2:03 p.m.

    ... clicked the wrong button. I realized I wrote a lot.

    Ok ok. Let me try with rhetorical questions.

    Do you think people consume content the same way as 10 years ago?

    Do you think it is more effective to market when solicited?

    Do you think Gen Y responds to print, radio, and tv, without another interactive medium that is reinforcing it. (AND REMEMBER, according to your industry, if you are engaging someone to attend college, then he or she will interact with an institution so technically that is not a conversion for you - and by all means correct me if I'm wrong.)

    TV doesn't work. Just ask your kids. Ask any kid. But the fail behind traditional media IS NOT the medium itself. It is like the author implied, the result of 50 years of marketers trying to CURB and INTERRUPT the consumer process. Which is why we disregard 99% of all commercials on TV. Marketers thought they were smarter than the consumer, so the consumer has a natural tendency to ignore ads. It's a behavioral issue and a study in the paradigm shift of how we CONSUME content, it's not the fault of the medium itself. Get what i'm trying to say now?

  8. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 13, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.

    One more thing

    First thanks for the moot mute correction

    Second if you're trying to get consumers to relate to someone that has "reaped the benefits of a college degree" as you put it, then wouldn't Gen Y be utilizing social media MORE than just taking your agency's word that these individuals are real?

    It's like a sophisticated "before and after" ad like in those diet pill marketing campaigns.

  9. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 13, 2009 at 2:15 p.m.

    Hate to hog up the space...

    Sorry for the rest of the readers...

    But did you just say that 72% of gen y are without college degrees? Or were you just referring to the work you do at your agency?

    I could have sworn that with Gen Y (which is what the author was talking about) 60% of males attend college, and 64% of females attend college. IDK I'll google it again.

  10. Christopher Laurance from Distraction Marketing, November 13, 2009 at 3:29 p.m.

    As a father of two Gen Y's/millenials and having spoken with many many many of them, I'd say that any article of this type and Nelson Yuen's comments are silly.

    Silly, not because you all don't try to define, but the fact is there isn't a definition, a formula or some simple method to communicate with the Gen Y group, the Gen X group, the Baby Boomers, etc.

    Nelson is silly because he comes across like a defiant youth- but what is he defiant about? Exactly what he'll be promoting in a couple of years. All youth are defiant during their youth. They have to be in order to attempt to grow up, integrate into a culture and ultimately be an influencer.

    Yes, we are all adverse to advertising, most of us hate it and only accept that its merely a means to an end. The end is the programming, the content, the whatever.

    In my entire life, I've never once bought anything because I saw an ad. Neither of my children have ever bought anything because they saw an ad, listened to a song, or ..........., nor do I expect that they will or I will.

    Yes, awareness, familiarity, etc. etc.

    The baby boomers were the most skeptical generation ever to exist- hence the 60's armed revolution, etc. All that's happening with the Millenials, is that they have more info at their fingertips, faster access to knowledge, a wider audience to discuss something with- and in a hurry.

  11. Daniel Coates from Youth Pulse, Inc., November 16, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    I REALLY like the following statement that Nelson made:

    "The moment you mask your identity and intentions is the moment you lose any credibility with us."

    If I have your permission Nelson, I'll be quoting you for a long time to come.

    The campaigns that MOB Media has done for Heald College, campaigns that develop a keen understanding of youth and leverage the authenticity of successful graduates reaching out to those contemplating an academic career is exactly the kind of campaign that resonates with GenY.

    The intent of the article wasn't to paint all youth marketing with the same brush, but instead to highlight the fact that GenY is reaching a saturation point when it comes to mass communications and that new techniques such as the ones deployed by messieurs Otis & Myers are essential to reaching the kind of ultra-media-savvy generation that Nelson so clearly represents.

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