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Marketing to Youth? Get Mobile!

By Madanmohan Rao

The fact that youth, especially teens, are the biggest users of SMS and MMS services in markets around the world is drawing increasing attention from marketers. Mobile marketing campaigns for youth audiences are now being devised for everything ranging from new product launches and mobile coupons to wireless community and mobile auctions.

Marketers from around Asia gathered in Singapore recently for the Asia Business Forum’s two-day conference on Youth Marketing, with a strong focus on the use of cross-media strategies incorporating the Web and mobile marketing channels.

A number of successful case studies are emerging around the world, reflecting a healthy endorsement of mobile marketing practices for youth and assuring vast potential for a whole new crop of mobile startups specialising in marketing services and research.

In Europe, Ferrero launched a mobile marketing campaign for the early teens market, created by MindMatics, to push Tic Tacs. The incentive is a chance to win one of 1,000 camera phones by texting a shortcode printed on the pack or sending an MMS with Tic Tac branding. Ferrero is also planning a similar campaign for the Duplo chocolate bar. Colour visuals and polyphonic music delivered via mobile phones are ideal components of youth marketing campaigns, according to Anders Hakfelt, managing director of MindMatics UK.

Virgin Mobile has launched a competition called Ming Mong as a viral marketing campaign; it can be viewed as a mobile version of ping-pong, with youth users exchanging captions for random photographs.

Toyota has launched a marketing campaign targeted at youth for its Scion brand in the US, which uses a mix of Web marketing via e-cards and mobile marketing via SMS updates about miles earned and weekly contests. Partners in this campaign included
Oasis Advertising, Mobile Way and Nerve Creative.

MTV’s youth-oriented programs like VJ Hunt in India now incorporate SMS voting by audiences to make them feel more involved in the competitions – while also earning extra money from tie-ups with mobile operators. Some mobile operators in India report downloads of over 300,000 mobile games a month, mostly by youth.

For about half of Dutch youths aged between 12 and 16, SMS is more popular than making phonecalls. SMS has eclipsed voice calls as the most common use of mobile phones among young people in the UK. The Berlin youth fad in summer 2003 was SMS-related -- the Flash Mob. Wireless phones edged out computers, software, and accessories as the top electronic gadget on the holiday wish list of 2003 among US youths aged 13 to 17.

The growing penetration of mobile phones among youth means that channels like SMS can be harnessed by other players as well – such as educational institutes. In the UAE, mobile operator Etisalat along with The Ministry of Education and Youth launched an SMS service for examination results, so that students and their families would not have to wait long for their results. Scores are delivered via SMS literally minutes after the Ministry of Education officially announces them!

“Youth today expect more interactivity and interconnectivity across brands,” said Mike de los Reyes, associate director at research firm Initiative based in Bangkok. Initiative has conducted numerous surveys of SMS usage and online gaming among youth in southeast Asia. Marketers need to closely monitor youth attitudes towards media, products, shopping, health, career, relationships and technology.

Youth place a strong emphasis on keeping up with or setting trends while also maintaining their individuality, often expressed via personalisation of accessories like personalised CDs and MP3 players.

Media contact with the Internet and mobiles is much higher for youth than for other segments. “Life without mobiles means lost connection and every moment is about sharing news and things. Youth chat on the phone, they chat on the Net, they chat when they meet. Being updated about things around them, especially friends, is very important for youth,” said Reyes.

Some studies show that as much as 89 per cent of SMS messages sent by youth are to their friends. Online games are also popular among youth, especially Ragnarok and MU Khan. The Internet is sometimes viewed as a supplement medium to phones; youth also often have more than one email id.

Product driven strategies are being replaced by customer-driven strategies based on lifestyle devices, said Stanley Chan, associate manager at Creative Technology, which pioneered the SoundBlaster sound cards in the PC era.

For the youth market, the key target is mobile devices, which constitute an exploding market, according to Chan. IDC predicts sales of over 26 million MP3 players in 2006, up from 3.3 million in 2000. Apple’s iPod is becoming a cultural phenomenon not just in the US but Europe and Asia as well (July 2004 marked the India launch).

“The MTV Generation of youth is always on, interactive, always with their friends, and are the centre of their universe,” observed Chan. Creative Technologies has formed useful tieups with schools and educational institutes for direct gateways to the youth audience via events like fairs and training like music programmes.

“The world as viewed by youth is a continuum of entertainment, information and communication,” said Eugene Lee, CEO of SurfGold. As compared to adult marketing, youth marketing is therefore more dynamic and has to cater to short attention spans. Techniques like viral marketing seem to work better for youth audiences.

Youth are much more willing to experiment, especially with new media. The challenge for marketers is to convert today’s youth into tomorrow’s preferred customer, advised Lee.

The “Net Generation” consists of youth in the age group 12-24 who grew up with the Net and texting. “It is their oxygen – it is integrated into their communications,” said Kim Walker, executive director of Aegis Media Asia Pacific. Forming groups, doing things together, meeting new people and expressing themselves via multiple media are key youth activities.

“The digital environment is where young people in many countries can best related to your brand and develop the strongest affinity,” advised Walker. Successful marketing to youth should entertain and empower, be very responsive to their queries and needs, give them free reign in designing Web content, and engage them in quick-win SMS-based competitions. Marketing campaigns should have functional, educational and emotional components built in to successfully target youth, added Walker.



Madanmohan Rao is the co-editor of “Asia Unplugged: The Wireless and Mobile Media Boom in the Asia-Pacific”


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