The huge choice in TV and other media means today’s cynical youth is empowered to switch off or over to avoid ads

The vast increase in the portfolio of media over the past 20 years means there is now something for everybody.

There are television channels dedicated to sport and music, radio stations playing diverse musical styles, and magazines for every interest.

Alongside this has been an explosion in the number of advertisements shown on TV. Ten years ago, if an individual viewed for the entire day he or she would be exposed to 200 different executions, with the growth in cable and satellite in 1995 this figure has risen to a potential 4,500 – a 3,000 per cent increase.

The question for advertisers is how do young people react to this influx of media and ad messages? In his seminal US youth novel, Generation X, author Douglas Coupland said that these explosions in choice, media and advertising had led to a passive disenfranchised “couch potato” existence.

Coupland said youth suffer from “historical underdosing”. Symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines and TV news broadcasts. He also claimed that the influx of advertising resulted in “passive defeatism” – caving into a marketing strategy aimed at oneself after holding out for a long period of time. A typical response might be: “OK I’ll buy your stupid cola, now leave me alone.”

However, research carried out by Right of Admission Reserved (ROAR), the research group composed of BMP DDB Needham, Channel 4, Cinema Media, Emap Consumer Magazines, Guardian Newspapers, Kiss FM and Mills & Allen, indicates that while young people have the broadest portfolio of media, they are highly discerning.

An increase in choice has actually led to a shift in the balance of power towards young consumers. Control is the major issue. New technology allows people to channel surf, time shift and be more selective about their viewing to avoid ads they don’t enjoy.

Soon they’ll be able surf the Internet, access video on demand and avoid ads altogether. It is the young age groups that are most excited about the potential freedom technology could offer.

This active management of media is part of a general theme of empowerment that is prevalent among today’s young.

The proliferation in choice is welcomed by them, but there is no passive addiction. If you don’t get your ads right for this demographic group, you will be obliterated as young punters vote with the remote control.

It may be that British youth is more discerning than its American equivalent, certainly Coupland’s blueprint for Generation X does not hold true. ROAR believes dialogue should be with couch commandos, not couch potatoes.

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