To target ‘mini’ consumers you must play their game

The new breed of techno children is a growing consumer group. To keep pace with their ‘electronic’ lives, advertisers need to get online.

I have recently been studying and interviewing a group of children who are best described by American Doug Tapscott in his book Growing Up Digital as “Netgeners” or “generation Y”. They are the progeny of parents whose own mothers and fathers were products of the “post-War baby boom.”

They are 3- to 15-year-old children who are “frighteningly” comfortable using technology and have electronic theme park bedrooms crammed full of “stuff”. They eat on their own, watch their own TV sets, play video games on their PC, have a video games console and surf the Internet on BT’s “Home highway”.

These children live in ABC1 households of “moneyed” parents and are of particular interest to advertisers who want to stimulate the now common vernacular “pester power”.

The older ones – ten-plus – are viewed by mobile phone companies as potential pre-pay callers. Car companies see them as influencing mum and dad’s choice of vehicle.

This growing band of mini – but mature – consumers are, not surprisingly, popping up all over the place in ads. The best example of this is the BT commercial where a father plays an inter-continental game of chess against his pre-teen (tween) son using fax, e-mail, mobile telephone and, of course, a regular phone. The son manages to upstage his dad and win.

For marketers, the problem with this valuable target audience is that it is becoming harder to reach using traditional media. By that, I mean TV.

While these tweens spend as much as 22 hours a week watching screens, “live” TV programming is taking an increasingly smaller share. On average, “we” are losing an hour’s TV viewing by children every week of every year. And there are indications that this is accelerating, especially in ABC1 households.

Children in C2DE households who do not have PCs and modems – and form the stable core of child and youth TV viewing – still have games consoles, and this is where the big changes are going to occur. The new Sega Dreamcast system is Net-ready, as will be PlayStation 2. These machines will be realistically priced and provide a true democracy of the Net, especially as we move to a truly “free to enter” Web.

The problem with new media audience measurement and analysis is that many practitioners are applying the planning and buying techniques they were using years ago. The new game is not which ads are being shown to children but one where a communication solution stimulates a long-term, measurable and accountable response.

Maybe we need a few full-time “Netgener” employees to provide the insight and technical solutions to how we should measure effectiveness in our brave new market. Maybe I should recruit some of my interviewees.

Dean Weller is managing director of The First Age! Media Company, which specialises in children’s, youth and family communication solutions.

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