The Advertising Apprentice

October 3, 2010

Hail to the all Powerful Teenager

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 8:16 PM

Author’s Note: Originally this entry was going to include both PBS documentaries The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders. But as I began writing this entry I realized there was more than enough content for it to have its own entry. This means that the next Advertising Apprentice entry will focus solely on The Persuaders.

Thanks to YouTube, and PBS for not claiming copyright infringement, the entire documentary has been posted online for our enjoying pleasure:

I credit the topic for today’s entry as being the reason I’m in advertising. I first saw it about five years ago while I was a second year Communications student at the University of Ottawa. I was taking a Pop Culture and Communications course and the professor decided to show us this documentary. I was excited because it meant I could have a nap! So it starts playing and I pay attention for the first little bit, we were told a question on the final exam would cover this documentary, but as they started spewing out all these facts about how teens with all their disposable income dominate the marketplace, my curiosity was piqued. The young capitalist in me wanted to be apart of the industry responsible for influencing the purchasing decisions of the 12-19-year-old market-segment.

Some of the facts that caught my attention:

  • At 32 million strong, this is the largest generation of teenagers.
  • They spent more than $100 billion themselves and pushed their parents to spend more than $50 billion on top of that.  This money is guilt money that parents give their kids for not being able to spend more time with them.
  • A typical American teenager will process over 3,000 discreet advertisements in a single day and 10 million by the time they’re 18.

Since the documentary was made in 2001, these numbers might not be completely accurate, but they still do a good job in illustrating how big of a segment teenagers, with all their disposable income, really are. Between their part-time jobs and the guilt money they receive from their parents, they almost literally work to play. Those numbers above are the reason why Bob Bibb, a television-marketing executive, states, “teens run today’s economy”.

With all the money on the line it should come as no surprise to see the amount, and the extent of market research companies do. Between holding focus groups, stopping people on the streets and conducting informal interviews about their likes and dislikes, and even going to the “average” teenagers house to learn everything about them (an ethnography study), marketers work really hard to understand this segment inside and out. So in order to win the loyalty, read: money of the teens, marketers believe they have to speak their language the best. Rob Stone, a teen marketing executive sums it up quite well, “If you don’t understand and recognize what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and be able to take that in and come-up with a really precise message that you’re trying to reach these kids with, you’re going to lose.”

Does this guy look familiar?

Here’s a hint, he’s the best selling, Canadian, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. That’s right it’s Malcolm Gladwell! Now what does he have to do with this topic? I’m so glad you asked, in addition to being interviewed in The Merchants of Cool, while he was a writer with The New Yorker, he wrote an article on cool hunting, which you can read here. (I know it’s a long article, but just like everything else written by Gladwell, it’s well worth the read and you’ll learn a lot.)

The Merchants of Cool also discusses sex in teen programming. The whole concept of which is heavily debated. Kids tend to mirror what they see on TV, yet the argument is made that the programming reflects real life. It’s really a vicious loop. This debate is very similar to the two schools of thought about teaching sex-ed. Do you preach to young people the importance of abstinence or do you teach them all about safe-sex? We all know that sex sells, I’ve discussed it’s role in advertising in a previous Advertising Apprentice entry, but should sex be included in programming and marketing aimed at teens? That’s a great question that continues to be debated. Feel free to weigh-in on this and let me know what you think.

For the student readers, you should definitely check-out this article from the July 30th edition of Marketing Magazine. Tony Miller, creative director at Anderson DDB in Toronto, offers some really good tips for both students working on their portfolios, and the creative directors whom the students looking to break into the industry will be showing their books to for feedback. Keep what Miller says in the back of your mind when you find yourselves in front of a creative director and they’re flipping through your book.

As I mentioned above, the next Advertising Apprentice entry will focus on PBS’ advertising documentary The Persuaders. That entry will come your way in the next two to three weeks.


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