If 60 is the new 40 - then 12 is the new 18. Kids today have never been more wired, more mediated, more connected. And the demographic borders between child, teen and young adult are dissolving, in my view a happy thing. Here are five recent trends from India to helicopter you in:
a) A large majority of 12 to 24 year olds are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time
b) By the age of five, 40 per cent of children have used a mouse to point and click and 20 per cent have used a computer on their own at home
c) On mobiles 50 per cent of 13 to 17 year olds do social networking or otherwise create content
d) In 2013, children under 14 influenced around 40 per cent of household spending
e) Around 60 per cent of people in the age band of 12 to 24 say they are personally responsible for making a difference in the world and almost an equal number or a shade less think that companies have a responsibility to join in.
(Source: A reputed international research agency)
More than any time in history, it’s a kid’s world. The fundamentals of being a kid haven’t changed. To play, to be popular, to stand out (or not), to be ferociously curious. The big questions are still: Who am I? Why can’t I? Kids will always be one step ahead of adults and adults will always be kids in disguise. Somewhere I read that recently at a Museum in South “Night at the museum” sleepover for kids, dozens of adults asked if they can sleepover without children (they got dropkicked into nearby bus stop)
What has changed is the world around kids. Entertainment, technology and brands are forming a seamless culture of sight, sound and motion. Everything is media. Everyone is connected. And if mom is the gatekeeper in this consumer republic, then kids are the key masters. The multitasking generation of today is “Always on”. Recall, they were the first generation to grow up with the internet.
In fact youth – saturated in over cooked advertising – are the most sophisticated of all consumers. As Malcolm Gladwell said: “Kids are experts on their world and know the difference between the marketer’s version and real version.”
The truth is that young people are smarter than adults, they spot duplicity faster and they alert others quicker. Generation social network is elusive, skeptical, interactive and influenced most by their friends. They care about brands, yes, because brands speak to who they are, but switching brands is easy. To be a sustainable brand proposition for kids and for their concerned parents today demands an irresistible magic, the life time bonding.
The digital age overwrites you. When the eight year old kid downgrades the computer privileges from “Administrator” to “User”, the valkerie has landed. The internet? It’s an extension of the school playground, with all its wonders and dangers multiplied. Recently year a 13 year old Chinese boy jumped to his death after playing online games for 36 hours straight. The boundaries matter; both for adult access and for youth participation, and the challenge for we “grown-ups” is to set them right. But the consumer republic, the culture of capitalism, will not suffer limitation of choice. The long game is about open dialogue not censorship, about educating young consumers to make the right choices from their own world view, not from yours. You simply can’t empower and secure regenerative actions and at the same time control. Period.
Whatever your standpoint – mother, father, teacher, marketer or mentor – from the market place here are some angles on how to connect with kids.
1. LOSE CONTROL If you want to reach young people, let go. Kids are in charge. Parents just think they are. From household to super market, kids now decide. They have grown up with the controls in their hands. They shop with their hands not your heads. As soon as an adult head takes over, they lose interest. To reach and influence them, involve them in decision making earlier.
2. MYSTERY RULES Kids love surprises, secrets, what’s hidden under the bed. They love the treasure hunt more than the treasure, a metaphor for life! Knowing the outcome makes the story no fun. It doesn’t have to make sense to be a hit. If you give kids a beginning, middle and end, they race for the finish line. Then what? Give them an elastic-sided sand box, a white space; they’ll play for hours, be more creative, may change your world.
3. GET REAL Kids will see right through a fake and move right through a fad. When “what’s cool” changes daily, the one constant is authenticity. Kids seek the truth, real feelings, and the real thing. A Bollywood clown nails it “Kids are honest, they are the toughest audience, you’ve got to be real to make them laugh. Authenticity is non-negotiable.
4. YOUR NAME IS GLADIATOR Kids know they have to be brave and take chances. If they fall off, they get back on. The coolest kid on the playground is the one who pushes the limits. Your boldness and bravery will earn their respect. Kids are multitasking at warp speed and if we have the guts to go with it – to create new possibilities in a moment – we can truly connect.
5. ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME Teens are looking to new touch points, internet based and cause related. Youth choice is based on exponential word of mouth. To reach young people, find their super influencers, the brand sirens, the inspirational consumers who get there first and share what’s cool. After seeing a movie, more than a third of teens and young adults will tell their friends the same day.
6. LET’S SELF-ESPRESSO Young people love to self-express, and personalization is the new black. Caltech’s G.Wood is right: “Online life is like an identity workshop – and that’s the job of adolescents – to experiment with identity.” Facebook allows this in cool ways. Toyota’s youth oriented brand Scion sold computer-generated virtual cars some time back. They were fully customisable. Owners have added everything from off-road tires to two giant pieces of toast.
7. LET THEM PEEL THE ONION: Confucius was two and a half thousand years ahead of digital-age marketers: “Tell me and I’ll forget, Show me and I’ll remember, Involve me and I’ll understand.”
8. DO WHAT’S RIGHT: From family breakdowns to global warming; kids are watching adults screw things up. They are searching for love and inspiration and they’ll reward it. The role of business is to make the world a better place, that’s the standard. Studies show that younger lot is willing to switch brands for a cause. Enterprises that systematically target the easiest or lowest common denominator of desire – carbon to fat to sugar – are being phased out.
9. TRIPLE OR BUST: Business is a three way non-exclusive deal – economic and social and environmental profit. Tomorrow’s winners will deliver combinations that enhance each other. To fight obesity, Mattel came up with a new Smart Cycle for preschoolers. It connects to the TV and kids can play games while they pedal. The latest kids’ cell phones are child watching gadgets – GPS to locate, PC controllable and security guards on call.
10. REMEMBER TO UNPLUG: A couple of years ago a Scottish couple went to jail after neglecting their children because they spent too much time on internet games. Media literacy can develop us so far. To build emotional connections, we need to be together, to eat, cry, laugh and love like true Indians – not get strung out on gadgetry. The best time is face time and we owe that to our future.
(S Subramanyeswar is national planning director at Lowe Lintas)