Young People: Teenage kicks

Technology-savvy teens demand multimedia advertising campaigns - and TV has been given a new lease of life in the process. David Parsley reports.

If you're in your mid-30s then you'll remember the closest your generation got to multimedia was watching Swap Shop to find out where you could exchange the toys and games you didn't want at one of Keith Chegwin's weekly roadshows.

The problem was, unless Cheggers had pitched up in a town near you, there was no other way to interact with your favourite Saturday morning show without joining the huge phone queue or audience waiting list.

Things are somewhat different now, since young teenagers have mobile phones, internet, TV-on-demand and, let's not forget, standard television and radio to amuse themselves. They are able to interact with each other and their favourite shows unlike any other generation.

The question is: how has the media world adapted to these changing habits and how different are the kids of today to those of 10 or 20 years ago?

The past five years have seen many changes in the way teens view television, through legal and not so legal downloads as well as via personal video recorders such as Sky+. But despite all the options available to "Generation Whatever", standard TV viewing remains a main source of information and entertainment.

A recent survey by television marketing body Thinkbox suggests that commercial TV viewing habits have not changed a great deal during a half-decade where so many new sources of media have become available to young teenagers.

In 2001, Barb research showed that 12 to 16-year-olds watched 1.38 hours of television a day. This figure has reduced, however not to the extent that many new-media types would like you to believe. The last Barb survey of teenage viewing habits showed that, in 2006, 12 to 16-year-olds watched just nine minutes of television less a day at 1.29 hours and that TV still reaches 97.5% of young teens each week.

With evidence like that, it is not surprising that Mike Parker, head of strategic sales and commercial marketing at Channel 4, states television is still the number one method of attracting the attention of today's youth.

"What everyone ignores, as they get carried away with new media, is that traditional analogue television is still massive among this age group," he says. "Let's not get carried away here. Many children have their own TV in their bedroom and this is likely to be an analogue set. Three million children watch TV each day.

"The difference between this generation and previous ones is that teens today are very adept at multi-tasking between media. For example, they may watch Hollyoaks and then go online to chat about it with their friends. They may well be online at the same time as watching TV, messaging their pals about the show."

When it comes to getting teens' attention with an ad campaign, Parker produces a surprising example. In September, C4 surveyed teenagers to discover their favourite television ad of the moment. The winner was the Cadbury Gorilla - a campaign not targeted at this age group, but one, with its humour and drama, that has really caught their imagination and led to millions of page impressions on YouTube. It has even spawned new dubbed versions, with the original Phil Collins track being replaced with the likes of Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Platforms for downloading shows such as 4degD or the BBC's iPlayer are not, despite their cool cache among adults, something the teen generation are hooking in to. While adults perceive these services as new-fangled, teens are way ahead, according to Paul Bennun, director of strategy at cross-platform production company Somethin' Else.

"This generation has bypassed PVRs; they are not for them," he says. "Teens are using services such as BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file-sharing technology to download programmes before they've even made it to the UK."

Illegal downloads

While illegal, Bennun believes many thousands of young teenagers use BitTorrent downloads to view entire television series and movies on their computers in high-quality visual formats. He argues that, where the music industry is beginning to cave in to free downloads, the television and film industry is now being hit by the same phenomenon, as computers get cheaper and broadband faster.

"Let's be really clear about this," says Bennun. "The user experience of platforms such as 4degD and BBC's iPlayer is far inferior to BitTorrent. The young generation know this and they are watching TV when, where and how they want."

Bennun is clearly an evangelist for new media, where C4's Parker and Barb figures suggest standard television viewing is still the biggest method of reaching 12 to 16-year-olds. What is clear, however, is that the major broadcasters are aware of how TV can be enhanced by the web and how the internet can produce its own ad-funded content to entertain this generation of tech-savvy kids.

In other words, the internet acts as a media multiplier for television.

Joanne Lyall, head of digital at MindShare, points to the C4 website series Bite, which is shown exclusively on the internet and funded via advertising from car giant Ford. Bite follows five girls, armed with a camera and a car, as they test the latest music, fashion and trends for a teenage audience.

Although the show is presented by four twentysomethings, its viewers are aspirational teenagers, longing to reach 17 and grab the keys to their first car. If the sponsor has got it right, then that car will be a Ford.

Lyall is also heavily involved in plugging into social networking sites such as Bebo, MySpace and Facebook.

"This age group can have three or four social networking accounts on different sites and work across all of them," says Lyall. "They use these sites, their mobiles and instant messaging to keep in touch with their friends and make new ones. And that's something the advertising industry is looking at very closely.

"For example, we introduced a dating widgit for Facebook sponsored by fashion group Diesel. You have got to be media-savvy with this generation and come up with forms of advertising that are cool and relevant to them. The best platforms involve a TV campaign that alerts viewers that they can get involved through the web. These sorts of campaigns and social networking sites are replacing teen magazines."

Media recipe

Lyall was also involved in bringing back the Pepsi challenge - the 1970s and '80s advertising favourite - to the new generation of teens. Except this time there was no TV campaign, as it was in partnership with Yahoo! and appeared only on the web.

In this way, getting to the new generation of young teens appears to involve a clever media recipe, combining all forms of media, but not forgetting the power of television when combined with new technology.

Agostino Di Falco, director of insight and research at Viacom Brand Solutions, agrees with Parker that television still has a dominant role to play. "Some have tended to view teenagers as being very different to previous generations, consumed by the digital world," he says. "But their motivations for different forms of media are very similar to what has always been. What teenagers like most is human contact. It's just that they have more of it, whether face to face or through new media."

Di Falco points to the recent Circuits of Cool study that showed kids in the UK have, on average, 50 friends - many more than previous generations. While a third of these are people they have never met (through social networking sites) and only seven are close friends, this expansion of each child's network means that if advertisers can get one kid on board, their 50 friends are also likely to find out what they're into right now.

"We are looking at congruency; bringing together all forms of media to create a campaign," says Di Falco. "We've moved away from one-way communication and there is a great deal of bespoke activity. On MTV, 20% of ad revenue now comes from bespoke solutions."

Di Falco agrees with C4's Parker that TV still leads the way, arguing that one only needs to count the headlines in a newspaper inspired by TV programmes to see that.

"TV is not dead," he says. "But it has a new lease of life through new media."


Campaign: Think! Road Safety

Client: Department for Transport

Channels: MTV (television and website)

Agency: Carat

MTV's Think! Road Safety campaign - winner of the Collaboration category at the Media Week Awards 2007 - is, for many, the perfect form of advertising to young teens.

Carat was asked by the Department for Transport to produce a 30-second ad to encourage young teens to be aware of road safety. Rather than simply produce an ad with MTV, the client, agency and broadcaster came up with an idea that included MTV viewers in the entire creative process.

Earlier this year, MTV presenter Emma Griffiths asked viewers to come up with their own ideas for a road safety ad and offered the shortlisted candidates a chance to make a real TV ad to be shown on MTV.

MTV shortlisted the 18 best ideas from hundreds of entries and the finalists were invited to take part in a creative forum in April.

Once the final three shortlisted teams, made up of 12 to 16-year-olds, had been selected, the youngsters went on to make real 30-second ads to compete in the final against each other and to face MTV viewer and online user votes. The final three ads, which can be seen at, were put on MTV's website and shown over the summer on the TV channel.

After a four-month cross-media process, generating more than 170,000 votes from viewers and users, Ghosts, by the Blue Team members Anya, Sampsonite and Vanessa, emerged as the winner and was shown on MTV throughout August.

Agostino Di Falco, director of insight and research at Viacom Brand Solutions, says: "This was a message of critical importance and we wanted the teenagers who the ads were aimed at to be involved in the entire six-month process.

"It shows the power of television, especially when you combine it with the internet."

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