Digital Realism: advertising to teens

When advertisers get it wrong, they get it very wrong. And this is exactly what is currently happening with many advertisers’ perception on advertising to teenagers.

The Morgan Stanley report on how teens consume online media, written by a 15 year old Stanley Morgan intern, came as a shock to the online gurus/experts/coaches, who, with the social media boom, had all of a sudden developed and unfounded expertise in teens advertising.

To a certain extend I understand why the hype. Social media are exciting; advertisers can use them to apply innovation and stand out. Ambitious people tend to be more involved with social media, understanding that this is where the opportunities lie.

Furthermore, with the standard display advertising response rates decreasing day on day and year on year, it is natural for agencies to try to find new ways to engage with their clients’ prospective customers.

But there is a problem; social media strategies should reflect the contemporary society, not a futuristic one. A good social media strategist has a keen interest in and understanding of sociology as well as marketing.

The numbers speak for themselves:

The Nielsen Study (June ’09) on the myths and realities of teen media trends explodes the common, among social enthusiasts, myths and gives an honest and holistic picture on the teen media consumption. What it basically says is that teens are normal. And as such they should be treated, approached and advertised to.

This is the harsh (for social gurus) reality; teens are highly dependent individuals, with limited (if any) spending power. They are time poor due to their school commitments and in their free time they are more concerned about building their social, rather than digital, image. Remember yourselves as teens? did you rather be at home or out and about with your friends?

Teens are not a standalone social group but part of a society with contemporary priorities and needs. And as these priorities and needs change, our strategies should be drafted within the context of the society we currently live in and not the one we would like to be living in.

Sociological analysis is therefore key to a successful strategy to reach teens. Sociology, and not imagination, will help advertisers identify where teens can be found; when and where they are more likely to listen; and how and when to speak to them. Social media can then be (a central) part of the overall human centric strategy, taking into consideration the target’s actual lifestyle choices.

It is about time that social media gurus, experts and coaches stopped the preaching and started thinking, for their own sake and that of their clients. It is about time they applied some realism into their strategies.

Unfounded and unsupported by sociological facts campaigns not only put our clients in danger of great failures but also geopardise the future credibility on social media as an advertising platforms.