My first semester at the University of Southern California is over. Throughout the semester, the students challenged stereotypes of media-savvy young adults. Yes, they are savvy, no doubt about that. However, they are not hard-wired to blog, podcast, and completely ignore network TV.
Not only has class ended, but so will this column. So with my remaining words, allow me to share a few notable observations from the ultimate young-adult focus group. In no particular order, they are ...
>Newspapers might still have relevance. In one class, we watched the provocative and frightening EPIC 2014 (robinsloan.com). This short video creates an imaginary (but probable) future where Google's newsbots devour and reconstitute the news.
In particular, EPIC 2014 supposes a world where The New York Times has become a mere newsletter for "the elite and the elderly." To my group of 20-year-olds, this idea was patently absurd.
"How could The New York Times ever go away?" was the chorus. Most of the students read (although not necessarily subscribe to) a newspaper nearly every day. In their view, newspapers are a much-needed foil to the semi-credibility of Internet sources. "Newspapers can't go away!"
To be fair, these are students from the journalism and communications school. They have a better grasp than most on newspapers' place in society. Still, I thought this quaint notion would be more than offset by their supposed rejection of all things that don't run on a battery.
Much of the students' love is reserved for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. This is a function of these newspapers' history, equity, and clear position in the marketplace. In short, these newspapers are brands. They have meaning and stand for something. While the notion of a brand matters to nearly every other media entity, most daily newspapers are missing an opportunity. Standing for timely facts is no longer enough.
>They love product placement. As consumers, they actually find it compelling when it's done well. Yes, they know branded content when they see it - nobody is fooling anybody here. But when it is organic, entertaining, and ambitious, they happily play along. Specifically, they respond negatively to much of the product placement in reality shows, but quite like placement in scripted shows and movies. Indeed, they kind of use it as a guide to what might be cool. HBO's hit Entourage was an oft-cited example: good-looking people living a cool life using products that simply fit in the picture.
>Hyper-tasking is in their DNA. Darwin would be surprised to learn that humans have evolved in less than one generation. As a kid, I couldn't do my homework with the radio on, but these guys can listen to my lecture, surf the Web, and text each other at the same time and retain everything competently and intelligently. If you are like me and resent presenting to an audience of people tapping on their BlackBerrys, the time has come to let go of that old-fashioned idea, I suppose. There is a wave of people coming to our agencies for which that behavior is as natural as breathing - and not at all rude.
>Media careers are interesting! In my first column, I noted a paradox: All of the students seemed to find media a truly interesting topic, but had zero interest in the profession. Well, after three months of teaching, I am pleased to report that several students expressed an interest in careers in media. I suppose my point (beyond mere self-congratulation) is that this profession still has a surprisingly sticky legacy of total boringness. Happily, this can be overcome by illuminating a world beyond mere reach, frequency, and GRPs. I hope to have done this in some small way with my group of 40 students, but have no idea how to do this en masse. Any ideas to that end are welcome.
So concludes my first, but hopefully not last, semester of teaching. I would be remiss if I didn't thank my students, who gave to me far more than I probably gave them. Thanks also to Jerry Swerling at the Annenberg School for giving me this wonderful opportunity to not only speak, but also listen, to a stellar group of students.
Kyle Acquistapace is executive vice president and director of media planning at Deutsch Los Angeles. (firstname.lastname@example.org)