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March 07, 2007

The Kids Are Alright

Now that was different. Yesterday we spent all day batting around ideas with executives from powerful, profit-driven corporations concerned about how their brands are being perceived. We talked about how advertising is changing, and we wrung our hands over the challenge of convincing consumers to pay for media and entertainment content. Today, the next generation took a turn at the table.

It was a fascinating experiment. We took the same concept of an open, collaborative conversation about the changing world of media and content, and applied it to college students, at both the graduate and undergraduate level, threw in a few executives from companies like Harley-Davidson, Sony, and Xerox, and watched what happened. 

So what is the youth of today like? Sure, they’re deeply distrustful of corporate America. Some might even say they’re downright cynical. But they’re also really, really smart. And by that I mean wow-these-kids-really-could-change-the-world smart.

But they are on a decidedly different page than the folks we spoke with yesterday. They have no sympathy for the struggles of media companies trying to protect their copyrighted material. They don’t use the word “piracy.” They call it “sharing.” And that, more than anything, characterizes the cultural bias this generation brings to the discussion on media and content. 

Also, they are tired. They are tired of being marketed to. Tired of being lied to. And who can blame them? Branding surrounds them every moment of their lives. As a result they are far more discerning and aware of branding than anyone from older generations. So they get frustrated, but not necessarily of the fact they are being bombarded by brand. But more specifically, they are frustrated with being marketed to inaccurately, inefficiently.

As one young man jokingly put it, he would rather not ever see another advertisement for feminine hygiene products. He doesn’t need them, wouldn’t buy them, so why is he repeatedly subjected to this indignity? Maybe it’s because the current advertising model is wildly unspecific. Many of the students at the table seemed to feel that if all marketers could be as accurate as Amazon.com or Netflix are with their book and DVD recommendations, people wouldn’t mind being marketed to quite so much. 

So, how do you fix a problem like this? Do you give people the opportunity to create their own marketing profile and choose to share it when they feel it is appropriate? Kind of like an electronic health record for marketing. It goes with you wherever you go. That’s one thought that emerged.

The other sentiment that emerged from the students was an insatiable craving for authenticity. Young people have found the world to be so full of messaging, whether it’s from companies trying to sell them something, politicians on the road to the White House, or their own parents, that they want desperately to find something real, something that’s not intent on influencing them. They take refuge in communities of others like themselves. It is there that they can share the same interests, recommend goods and services to each other, and trust that no one will try to sell them something for profit or personal gain. Ironically, many of these communities that kids flock to for authentic community are online, in so-called “virtual” environments. 

At the end of the day, there were probably more questions than answers, which is just the way we like it. But I think everyone walked away with a better understanding of the expectations of the coming workforce. And the bottom line is, these kids were alright.

March 7, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink


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Hi Dan, I'm interested in your views on what these kids are interested in, but it would be good to make sure that the outlook is both broad as well as global and doesn't make the mistake of assuming that affluent, educated American youth are completely representative of global trends.

Posted by: incognito | Mar 8, 2007 4:10:21 PM

I saw a day or two ago, and I think I agree with, the proposition that 'fiction' TV will die out pretty rapidly.

In this Internet-connected age, you might as well turn your attention to one of the 'virtual worlds' such as Linden Labs' Second Life. Participate and create your own stuff, rather than sit on a couch and consume other people's stuff. Find real people elsewhere on the Internet to discuss things with, rather than accept the scripted words of actors.

Now, 'fiction' TV is currently a major driver of commerce; TV shows are put on so that people will watch the advertisements, and the advertisements are paid for so that people will be persuaded to buy stuff, or vote in particular ways. If the 'fiction' TV is a movie, that's income for Hollywood.

So, if the days of '20 million viewers for a top-rated show' are coming to a close, what next ?

The world will still be driven by dollars, I'm sure. But they will flow in different directions. Which directions ?

Posted by: Chris Ward | Mar 9, 2007 6:19:15 AM

Fiction TV is here to stay as long as it maintains its current quality—the Sopranos, CSI, Grey's, Dexter, etc. If anything, IPTV will enable it to find and better understand its valuable audience. Shows like Studio 60, which is the most TiVo'd show should move completely online because it's too smart for a general audience, therefore it doesn't work well on a network where affiliates making money from nightly news need plain vanilla "trading spouses" shows to drive eyeballs to local fires, crime and car crashes. It's also very expensive to make and needs to have great stats on its eyeballs. Mass culture is not going away, we are just seeing the hayday of the niche/longtail content. I do like your point about the blurring format of movies and fiction TV. If Studio 60 went online, the economics behind its length and format would naturally change. But that's a whole conversation about television's place in the narrative arsenal, that's better suited for the Newhouse lounge.

Chris, thank you for your stirring comment. Without it, I would have just linked to this WSJ story about Google targeting ads to cable boxes in Concord, CA. Targeted advertising having been a passionate issue on Wednesday's DD.


Posted by: Eric Hansen | Mar 10, 2007 8:23:50 AM

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