Friday, November 06, 2009

First Generation in History in Which Kids Are Smarter Than Parents

Gaming now part of the information paradigm shift at work, home and school. Spike in agency reviews point to ad spending turnaround and need for fresh thinking.

“This is the first generation in recorded history in which the kids are smarter than their parents,” said Tom Hood, CPA, a popular blogger and new media professor who led a poignant social networking panel discussion I attended last week. “They’re way ahead of us in terms of digital technology, interactive media and collaboration.”

While the younger generation doesn’t have the personal spending power or corporate budget influence of its elders, the wired generation is influencing spending decisions (and driving rapid adoption) of anything related to technology, media consumption and social networking. If you market anything that touches a U.S. household or workplace with people under age 30 on the premises, then you better think about ways to market to AND THROUGH the younger generation.

My fifth grader does his school reports in PowerPoint, saves them to a pen drive, turns the device in to his teacher who inserts it into her classroom PC and displays the assignment on a chalk-free SmartBoard for all his classmates to critique. My first grader is an active “MMOGer” (massively multiplayer online gamer) interacting after school each day with virtual peers on Club Penguin, a 12-million member online community containing a range of Web based games and activities in which players user cartoon penguins as avatars, waddle around, chat, play mini-games and participate in other activities with one another in a snow-covered virtual world. Both kids and their pals have taught themselves to use Mom’s digital SLR camera to shoot YouTube videos of their sports and car racing exploits, complete with music, slow motion and title credits. I’m staying out of it, mildly amused. But when the ads start rolling in, I’m insisting on taking a cut to pay for “studio rental” time.

My kids also got their hands on my clunky standard-issue cell phone during a long car trip. Turns out it has a camera, video recorder and app for downloading games and music. Who knew? Like me, they wouldn’t be caught dead reading the manual. Unlike me, they have the patience and intuition to experiment with mysterious looking buttons on the side of the phone and don’t get frustrated when it fails to do what one expects it to do. They still can’t do anything about the spotty voice service, but to this generation, a cell phone is a multi-media toy that happens to have voice capabilities. It’s not a semi-reliable mobile communication tool that we view it as. They also don’t have to deal with the new charges showing up in my monthly bill – yet.

Unlike the games their older siblings grew up with, today’s educational games tend to be online and social, allowing kids to interact and collaborate to achieve common goals. As the New York Times reported last week, the newest educational games, unlike the stand-alone boxed games of the 1990s, are set up like services in which children can enter a virtual world, try on a character and solve problems that may relate to the real world. Newer games work concepts of math, science and language into the actual game mechanics, instead of stopping for something that feels like schoolwork.

For another take on responsible online destinations for kids, check out Fifty P where kids can get real-life lessons on financial literacy and savings plans without stern lectures about the value of money from their elders.

Marketing to the short attention, time-shifting consumer

The debate rages on about whether or not humans can truly perform simultaneous mental processes, but we’re multi-tasking more than any previous generation and there’s no sign of turning back. A recent University of Melbourne study found that people who use the Web at work for personal use are actually nine percent MORE productive, not less, than those who don’t.

If you’re in marketing, you better get used to increasingly shorter attention spans and you’ll have to work harder than ever to reach those targets in a three-screen time shifting world.


The recession is technically over, stock markets are up double-digits for the year and the Fed yesterday promised not to raise its rock bottom interest rates for an “extended period.” What’s more, the government last week said the economy grew 3.5percent in the third quarter, its first quarterly expansion in a year. Unfortunately, experts says economic growth will remain “weak for a time” as the jobless rate surpasses the 10 percent barrier for the first time in 27 years and retailers brace for a Grinch-like Holiday shopping season. With both consumers and corporations in extended “wait and see” mode, media partners should expect short term, opportunistic ad spending flurries, but no sustained uptrend that you can take to the bank.


U.S. ad spending fell 15.4 percent in the first half of 2009, according to Nielsen Company data with online advertising the only sector expected to record positive growth for the year -- a projected 9.2. percent to $54.1 billion, according to Zenith Optimedia research. All other media are shrinking, notes Zenith in a recent report (PDF) “Most are shrinking at around the market average rate, but newspapers and magazines are in steep decline: we forecast newspaper ad expenditure to fall 17 percent this year, and magazine ad expenditure to shrink 20 percent. In both cases this is a particularly severe example of a longer-term trend; these media have been in decline since 2007, and we expect them to remain in decline for the rest of our forecast period.”

Despite print media’s long-term struggles, signs are emerging that the painful advertising slump of the past two years may finally be easing. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that a long list of major marketers, including UPS, Unilever, US Army, General Motors, Yum Brands and Emirates Airlines, are seeking overtures from new advertising firms. According to the Journal, when the online shoe retailer invited pitches for its small account earlier this year, more than 100 ad agencies submitted credentials.

"Clearly we are seeing the beginnings of an ad recovery. The volume of ad reviews is way up," Russell Wohlwerth, principal of Ark Advisors, a consulting firm that matches ad firms with marketers, told the Journal. But over the past few years, the process of searching for a new advertising or media-buying firm has dramatically changed. About 80 percent of reviews now include procurement departments, up from 30 percent to 40 percent about five years ago, consultants say. And decisions are being made in the conference room not the golf course.

For nation’s newspapers print circulation plummets, but Web visits up

New figures released last week by the Audit Bureau of Circulation showed double-digit circulation drops for 22 of the nation’s top 25 papers amid an industry-wide decline of 10.6 percent for the six months ended September 30. At just 44 million copies, U.S. daily papers sold fewer editions than at any time since the 1940s. Industry execs say part of the readership loss is self-imposed. By that they mean rising manufacturing costs and dropping ad revenue has forced them to cut “unprofitable circulation” which in industry parlance refers to those with bad credit, low incomes, intermittent subscriptions and readers who live in outlying areas. But, few will argue that the Web has siphoned off millions of print readers and advertising dollars. Newspaper Web sites are updated more frequently than their ink-stained brethren. Web papers don’t arrive wet, late or tattered and by and large they’re free. This year, newspaper Web sites have had more than 72 million unique visitors, up 20 percent from 60 million in 2007 according to Nielsen Online reports for the Newspaper Association. We see this trend continuing on an exponential

The younger generation thrives on collaboration, speed and entertainment, said blogger Tom Hood.

If you’re in marketing, particularly B2B, then keep in mind the fact that “Young people may be new to the world of work, but their bosses are immigrants to the world of the Web.”

Look to gaming if you want to win the game.

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