Are teens abandoning traditional media?

Hood: I'd like to start with Jeff, our media person, by asking you whether you think it's still possible to reach teens effectively using a traditional broadcast-based media plan, or whether marketers and buyers need to take advantage of some of the more niche offerings out there to do a good job.

The Panelists

Paul Bolt&eacute, director, national sales – cinema marketing, Cineplex Odeon, Toronto

Michele Erskine, managing partner, Youth Culture, Toronto

Steve Jarrett, president/group publisher, SBC Media & SBC Events, Toronto

Jeff Marchand, VP, chief strategy director, Starcom Worldwide, Toronto

Eric Meerkamper, partner, D-Code youth consultancy, Toronto

Wayne Sterloff, VP, specialty networks, Craig Broadcast Systems (MTV Canada), Calgary

Hood: I’d like to start with Jeff, our media person, by asking you whether you think it’s still possible to reach teens effectively using a traditional broadcast-based media plan, or whether marketers and buyers need to take advantage of some of the more niche offerings out there to do a good job.

Marchand: It depends a little on what you mean when you say can you do an ‘effective’ job with a traditional broadcast plan, but the answer, I think, is that absolutely you can.

All the same, I think it would be naive to believe that TV is the only way to talk to teens and to reach them. Without a doubt teens are all that stuff that seems intuitive: they’re multitasking, they’re reading a magazine while they’re on the Internet while they’re watching TV while listening to the radio in the bedroom. We’ve all heard that, and to a great degree it’s true.

But I think you can still do an effective job using broadcast. So the short answer is yes, but the long answer is that it’s always a good idea to supplement it with something else.

Hood: Going with a traditional broadcast buy is something you already know how to do, but getting caught up in some of these new media options for reaching teens – such as wireless text messaging, e-zines and branded content – involves an awful lot of work.

You’ve got to do research, you’ve got to learn how to use the new media, and some of the research isn’t even there yet, especially with some of the newer options. Is the advantage gained from using some of these new options worth all of the extra effort, uncertainty and risk?

Marchand: Well it can be, if you think you’ll make a more meaningful connection with teens than you would if you just ran an ad on TV.

For instance, at Starcom, the horse we’re on right now is that it’s not about exposures or eyeballs, it’s not about counting the listeners or viewers or readers, it’s about making a connection with someone in a meaningful way. Ads will have no effect if they’re seen but not enjoyed, or if they’re not engaging. So there are lots of things we do that are all about that. We do a lot of research where it’s not about counting viewers – we’re measuring the relevance and the quality of the relationship we can get with the exposure to the listener, watcher or reader.

Hood: O.K. So that gets us to this idea of the quality of the exposure, which I think has a lot to do with the environment that you’re reaching teens in. Maybe I could ask you, Wayne, to speak a little bit about how important that is.

Sterloff: Well all of our research clearly indicates that the teen audience best relates to premium brands, whether it’s a pair of jeans or a beverage or a TV service.

And I think it’s interesting to note that even in 2002, if you look at what teens, or even adults 12 to 24 do everyday – or at least three to four times a week – the number-one activity is watching TV.

So they’re watching TV and they appreciate premium brands, so that’s where you have to make the connection that Jeff was talking about.

Hood: Does that mean that the same ad is going to be more effective at reaching teens if it airs on MTV, which is targeting them directly, as opposed to one of the major broadcast channels?

Sterloff: On a conventional television station, you may buy a spot to reach the teen demo, and it could be effective. But on a premium channel like MTV, it isn’t just about the programming. It’s about the causes, the issues and the politics of the demographic.

So on MTV, I think a sponsorship, or even just a straight spot buy, is going to be more effective because the audience is watching the channel for more than just the programs; they’re watching it in the context of their overall lifestyle.

Marchand: Yes, specialty television for teens and kids is probably the exception to the rule. In general, specialty and digitals for the 18+ world are painted with the low reach, low tuning brush. But it’s not the same case when it comes to teens and kids. Because we recognize that for MTV, MuchMusic, Space, YTV and others, these offerings are actually ‘top 10′ programming, even though their straight ratings wouldn’t indicate that.

It’s not a second class, low reach efficiency option. It’s actually one of the first options. So in the TV world, you can’t lump in cable or specialty TV with broadcast, because for teens, it’s all about environment.

You think MuchMusic first, then you think about what’s on MuchMusic second. But on broadcast it’s different: You think of the programming first, then you just go and find out who’s carrying it.

Hood: O.K. Michele, I know you’ve done a lot of research with the teen demo. I wanted to ask you if you have any ideas on why the environment for a buy is so much more important with the teen demo than it is with other demos.

Erskine: First you have to remember that this is a generation that’s grown up without mass media. This isn’t a generation where the whole family sits down to watch [All in the Family] or whatever together. I think they have an expectation that the programming they watch will be tailored specifically for them, and that the commercials within that programming will be specifically for them.

So that’s where I think the environment comes in. Because if they see a commercial that they think is speaking to them, but it’s in something that’s completely inappropriate, they notice that disconnect.

The question of whether to go with traditional versus non-traditional media is a very tough one, because even teens’ relationship with traditional media has changed. You can see it in the way they plan their viewing, what they’re doing while they’re viewing – even with traditional media it’s different than it is for an adult.

This is a generation that’s used to interactive TV or the ability to instant message someone while a show is on – they all embrace that, and it’s a huge opportunity.

Meerkamper: Our focus at D-Code is more on young adults – not so much the teens – more like 18 up to late 30s. But there is something else interesting I’ve noticed that still applies.

It used to be that people who are now considered youth – young 20s or so – 20 years ago they were considered families to a large extent. The average age for getting married used to be 22 or 23, and now it’s more like 28 or 29. When you’re 28 or 29 and you have a one-year-old kid, you spend more time watching TV. You’re more home-based.

So I think that if you look back in time, you see that 22- and 23-year-olds had families and their own homes, and you reached them with traditional media.

So I don’t think it’s necessarily a case that youth are abandoning traditional media, I think it’s still extremely impactful.

But I think also, as people are going from high school to university residence, they’re not staying home to watch these shows. They’re going out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. They’re still very much in that period where you go out for entertainment.

So I think there’s been a 10-year shift in the age that consumers slip into that home-based viewing thing. So somebody might say there’s been a deterioration in mainstream TV, but actually I think you have to look at the broader lifestyle demographic changes that are happening.

Marchand: Actually though, if I can present one quick fact. We always talk about environment and programming and brands and loyalty, but the reality of the hard numbers is that since I’ve been in the business, over the last 20 years of TV watching and radio listening, the hours tuned by the teen group have basically not changed.

I mean there are little dips and peaks and valleys, but realistically, teens watch about 17 hours of television per week, and they have since I first started watching the numbers. They listen to about 11 hours of radio a week, and that’s just the way it is.

If you look at the makeup of the listening and the viewing, it’s all over the map. It really changed with the introduction of cable, and the MTVs, and MuchMusic – but the total sum of exposure is basically the same.

Bolté: But teens today wake up in the morning with more choices than they’ve ever had before, whether it’s through telecommunications, media, sports events – they go to the movies, they listen to music.

At Cineplex Odeon, we’re out there marketing to the young target group. So we’re going after them, while at the same time we’ve got marketers saying, well if you’re bringing them in, we want to expose our product to them in your environment.

Youth Culture did a study and found that 12- to 19-year-olds spend about $19 billion a year, which means they have a total income of about $107 per week. Well we want that $107 at Cineplex Odeon. They’ve got money to spend, and we want them to come to our movies.

So we look at it two-fold. We know our attendance is up, whether it’s because of the movies themselves or the locations. On the other hand, I put on a different hat to sell media opportunities in our theatres. We can put an ad up on the screen, but what we’re finding is that it has to be an experience, and it’s got to link to a promotion or a contest or a Web site.

Hood: If you want to convince marketers to try such methods, you need good, deep research. But most of the media planners and buyers I talk to complain about a real lack of teen research. Jeff, how are you finding that situation right now?

Marchand: There is more research available, but only if you do it yourself. That’s the reality. If you rely on PMB to paint a vivid picture of teen lifestyle and media habits, you’re dead.

Also, if you’re going to recommend a viral e-mail campaign or teen magazines or other stuff beyond mass TV or radio advertising, the research that tells you how much reach you’re getting always comes back with numbers that are so small, and advertisers just don’t like to take those leaps of faith.

We can tell our clients a million times how relevant a teen magazine is to teens, that they have a better experience, and it connects with them. They say ‘great, how many copies is it?’ And you say, ’50,000 copies distributed in theatres.’ And they go ‘hmmm.’ You can actually see their faces go from excited to ‘hmmm.’ And it’s just because there isn’t a really solid research piece that spits out big numbers for them.

Erskine: I really do feel sorry for the agencies that are trying to do a great job and deliver an effective teen audience. Because there’s a real lack of comfort among all adults when it comes to understanding what the teens are watching, doing, viewing, going to. So they deliver a plan and it takes a lot of work, and there’s a fair amount of gut feeling involved, and then the clients go in and say, ‘well where’s the numbers?’

Marchand: That’s a big problem. Not to pick on my clients, but you’re sitting across the table from a marketing manager who’s 55 years old and has three kids and has worked on P&G, Kraft and Kellogg and is now in charge of the teen plan at Heinz. Well, that person is just not going to connect with the kind of stuff that we’re going to present to them as viable options for marketing Heinz ketchup.

Even though they’ve decided that they want to be cool, and they want to be relevant, when you put Snowboard Canada in front of them and they leaf through it and see pictures of people at, say, Wakefest, with lots of piercings and lots of tattoos, all of a sudden it’s like: ‘Whoa. I live in North York. My kids aren’t like that.’

Jarrett: Having represented both Snowboard Canada and Wakestock directly to agencies and client marketing directors, I can say that we get the same reaction as well, unless that person has really tried to get it, what that moving target of the youth demo is into. And we find that unless he’s got a 14-year-old or a 16-year-old, or even a 10-year-old, it’s difficult for him. If they have those kids themselves, they act as a conduit into the latest music, clothing and sportsgear, and they have a better idea of what’s going on.