Celling to youth

Wan2Ch@? When it comes to youth, the wireless industry is banking on the prediction that they will want to, in droves. The four major Canadian carriers - Bell Mobility, Microcell Solutions, Telus Mobility and Rogers AT&T - have collaborated on 'intercarrier operability,' which, as of earlier this month, will permit users to send messages across the platforms, regardless of whom they've subscribed with. Indeed, most wireless firms have recently promoted text, and are also turning their attention to Web content-related programs, such as games, as they try to lure the Nintendo-weaned consumer.

Wan2Ch@? When it comes to youth, the wireless industry is banking on the prediction that they will want to, in droves. The four major Canadian carriers – Bell Mobility, Microcell Solutions, Telus Mobility and Rogers AT&T – have collaborated on ‘intercarrier operability,’ which, as of earlier this month, will permit users to send messages across the platforms, regardless of whom they’ve subscribed with. Indeed, most wireless firms have recently promoted text, and are also turning their attention to Web content-related programs, such as games, as they try to lure the Nintendo-weaned consumer.

The sector seems hopeful that young Canadians will follow their European and Asian counterparts in becoming avid members of ‘Generation Txt,’ youth who have fashioned a new shorthand vocabulary for text mobile usage. According to the U.K.-based GSM Association, people around the world sent 200 billion short text messages in 2001 and in places like Asia and Scandinavia, penetration is double or triple what it is here.

There are indications, however, that Canadian kids will soon join the ranks. Toronto-based research company Ipsos-Reid recently reported, after surveying 1,000 Canadians, that 57% of consumers aged 18 to 34 are interested in products that would allow them to communicate by text messaging and 63% stated that a top benefit of the service is its discretion.

Rogers AT&T, which last month launched texto.ca, a French Web site that lists definitions for short text, is one carrier that has focused on this function, particularly in promotion of its Motorola V101 personal communicator, more commonly known as the Vbox. The product acts as both a phone and a PC, enabling kids to use instant messaging as they would from their desktops at home or school.

Having debuted in mid-January, the Vbox has been heavily endorsed through a multimedia campaign, including a TV spot produced by Toronto-based agency MacLaren McCann, starring a young man in a movie theatre with his girlfriend. He sends a message to his pals with his Vbox, warning them about a chick flick.

‘It shows how you can phone somebody, send a message to their computer, or another Vbox or phone,’ says Sara Moore, VP of marketing for Toronto-based Rogers. Vbox was also promoted through demonstrations in movie theatres and bars on university campuses. Says Moore: ‘We really hit that youth market segment where they are.’ She reports that the device not only beat expectations, but also resulted in waiting lists at some stores.

Rogers, which has recently unveiled a similar product called the Treo 180 for the business set, discovered the Vbox’s potential when it was introduced into research. ‘We literally had to frisk youth on the way out the door. We had the first good feeling we were onto something.’

Similarly, Montreal-based Microcell Solutions just wrapped up an ad effort from agency Bos, of Montreal, advocating its own text messaging services. In fall, a transit campaign ran in major markets, highlighting the ‘tangible benefits to using the service; that sometimes it’s quicker, and sometimes a more discreet way to communicate,’ says Patrick Hadsipantelis, director of marketing communications.

One TV spot, for instance, portrays a man asking his acquaintance what he thinks of his sister. The guy hems and haws, and finally takes off, but soon text messages that he finds her ‘boring.’ Meanwhile, a set of transit ads also emphasized discretion: to the horror of teachers everywhere, one has a student sending multiple-choice answers to another during an exam.

When it comes to addressing youth another vital territory for Fido, as well as other carriers, is customization. One of its recent Nokia 3390 handset promotions, for instance, offered two faceplates in various funky hues. ‘We know kids thrive on the ability to change them so they can show all their friends,’ Hadsipantelis says. ‘So the handset has become a statement of their lifestyle.’

The 3390 will be highlighted in a new campaign airing this month, starring the Fido dogs and focusing on a value message, according to Hadsipantelis, as well as through murals in downtown Toronto aimed squarely at teen shoppers.

To take the trend further, in December Microcell hooked up with Santa Monica, Calif.-based YourMobile Networks, a wireless multimedia provider, permitting its users to download ringtones featuring music from artists in rotation on MuchMusic or MusiquePlus. Consumers can also download other interactive content from Fido’s site, like daily tarot readings and games.

Fido isn’t alone in introducing entertainment services on its cellphones. A spring transit effort for Bell Mobility, produced by Montreal-based Cossette Communication-Marketing, stars young adults in scenarios where they could easily get bored. For instance, one depicts a guy on the subway and outlines three choices: read boring magazine; talk to nice man in raincoat; or crush evil galactic empire.

‘I would say more and more we’re starting to highlight what kind of data services and content we’re able to offer young people,’ explains Bernita Kiefte, director of marketing for new services. ‘In fact, the promotion we have right now…is offering free games on our Mobile browser until April 30. We’re also giving them two free months of desktop games at the time they subscribe.’

This digresses, in a way, from Bell’s initial strategy for its youth brand Solo, which, at its unveiling in August, used lifestyle images that represented ‘choice, freedom and fun,’ explains Kiefte. ‘When you try to go out and promote a youth brand, you don’t want to muddle that message with too many other details.’

Kiefte, who won’t divulge sales results but says Solo has had ‘great success,’ suggests Bell hit the mark with kids because of its reliance on a youth advisory council, comprised of 16 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 from across Ontario and Quebec. (The company is considering expanding it across the country.)

‘We’ve worked hand in hand with the council since May, on everything from generating ideas, to what we actually roll out,’ she explains, adding that the group, which is paid, interacts daily via an Intranet site. ‘They’ve been critical to our success and enabled us to [come out] with the right phones, accessories and services, and also to promote them so that they resonate with that market.’

Despite all the activity, not all carriers have engaged in dialogue directly with youth. Telus has taken a broader approach, despite its acknowledgement that kids are early adopters of wireless technology. ‘We knew looking ahead that phones would not be voice, but information appliances,’ explains Rick Seifeddine, VP communications. ‘That moment started to arrive about six months ago, and we knew youth would take that on because they had been primed in Internet use.’

But instead of segmenting its marketing communications, Telus decided to invest in a simple, flexible ad message that could address everybody.

With the help of Toronto shop Taxi Advertising & Design, the wireless company appears to have succeeded by using cute little characters like ducks and penguins. ‘We tried to construct a brand that was born youthful,’ explains Seifeddine, who points to an early spot of a chameleon dancing to the song Jump Around by House of Pain as an example. ‘The beautiful thing about using nature as a visual vocabulary is that it can be skewed to any demographic.’

But Seiffeddine also suggests there is an advantage in not going after teens determinedly, since they can be turned off by marketing schemes that ineffectively attempt to speak to them. ‘We have a very strong appreciation for the fact that youth are sensitive to what they can perceive as manipulation,’ he says. ‘I call it Pizza Pops advertising….I think they’re underestimated in sophistication.’ But, he adds: ‘The dust hasn’t settled on the killer apps of the youth segment yet.’

To that end, Telus recently signed a deal with Vancouver-based Impulse Media Technologies, which will allow its two million users to purchase and download songs they hear on the radio via their mobiles. Impulse Media is in talks with the large radio networks in Canada and the service is presently being tested with CHUM in Winnipeg, according to Impulse VP business development Ken Ross, who predicts it will come to fruition within the next two quarters.

‘You can be driving along listening to the radio, and you can buy that exact track that you hear, or get more information, sent directly to your home PC,’ says Ross, who adds that studies in Europe indicate 80% of consumers are more likely to buy music if they know the name of the artist and song, and if they can do so immediately.

Consumers will be able to purchase a CD or a single, get details about an artist, or even enter contests. Geared at the Game Boy generation, the service will be promoted through any wireless carriers that come onboard, as well as radio stations.

‘One reason we’re doing it this way is because of the excessive promotional nature of the radio industry,’ says Impulse CEO Ted Boyle. ‘Nobody does it better when it comes to trumpeting a product, and making people aware of something.’ Boyle says the cost of CDs will be similar to the price points set by HMV.

Also on the music scene, Montreal-based content provider Airborne Entertainment and MuchMusic collaborated on a year-long program, which debuts on April 8 and offers Web-based wireless content, although at press time participating carriers weren’t confirmed.

According to Maria Hale, managing director for CHUM TV Interactive, the network felt it was time to get involved with wireless. ‘We’ve been cautious in how we proceed and waited for the right time…because our mandate is not to be on the bleeding edge, but the leading edge,’ she says. ‘[But now] youth have started to use phones for other things as opposed to just chatting with friends. The prediction is that it will be a $1.2-billion industry in the next five years.’ The new program includes news, featured artists and games, including some built around various MuchMusic properties, like Ed the Sock.

Aside from cross promotion on MuchMusic, there likely won’t be a heavy advertising push, according to Airborne’s president Andy Nulman. ‘This will be a grassroots groundswell rather than some sort of top-down, shove it down their throats [strategy],’ he says. ‘What marketers need to do, especially the carriers, is learn to ride the wave. Let’s respond to what youth want and what we’re seeing.’

Youth marketing consultant Greg Skinner agrees with this philosophy, and says it’s why he thinks Telus has done the best job marketing to young people. ‘The ads are completely innocuous and they have widespread appeal,’ he says. ‘They don’t single out or alienate anybody, whereas Bell puts people in their ads, and it’s either, ‘I relate or I don’t.”

Also, in spite of Bell’s efforts to include a youth advisory board, Skinner says they tend not to work, because kids don’t understand the dynamics of effective marketing. In fact, he once conducted a study where teens created brands, then took it to another group of kids who thought it was all ‘crap.’

‘The first thing they want to do is poke holes in something,’ he points out. ‘It won’t work unless you have a group of kids that really understand good creative execution. [It's a better idea] to immerse yourself in youth culture.’

And when it comes to advertising, says Skinner, the wireless companies can whip up the intensity. ‘There doesn’t seem to be the understanding that phones are prestige items, and they’re pushing functionality which appeals more to adults,’ he explains, adding that when you deal with homogenous products, it’s a benefit to move into the realm of pushing cool. For instance, he thinks carriers should try emulating music videos, which tend to be aspirational and ‘the hippest place where people are on phones.’

‘If it’s a wicked ad, kids will go to that carrier first, otherwise they’re just comparing packages. [They should] create ads that makes a kid want it so bad, he’s peeing his pants.’