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Studying The Digital Future:
A New Set Of Rules For Mobile Marketing

cole-face_2502.gifHave you ever wished that you could really understand how people used the internet today, how they interact with various media, and what impact the trends we see today will have in the future?

For the past 15 years, the Center for the Digital Future at USC has been studying exactly these issues. In this interview, we talk with Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center on a range of topics, including the evolving media habits of teenagers and the emerging “new rules” for advertising and marketing.

Jeffrey Cole is a media futurtist and has been the Director at the Center for the Digital Future for the past several years. He explains that “the primary purpose of the studies conducted by the Center for the Digital Future is exploring the profound changes in views and behavior that have occurred during the past 15 years of Internet use — as well as the changes yet to come.” (see below to download highlights from the latest study)

Jeffrey also acts as an advisor to some of the largest advertising and media agencies in the world, and is a frequent contributor at thought leadership conferences such as Google Zeitgeist. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak at a conference, I highly recommend it as he always provides interesting insight on the future of media.

10 important things to know about media habits
of teenagers

Clearly when looking at long term trends, it is very important understand youth, and Jeffrey has done a lot of work in this area. “We call the main group Generation Z, the 12- to 24-year-olds who will be driving media consumption in the future,” he says.

Jeffrey highlighted ten key media habits and trends of this Generation Z.

1 – No Newspapers
12 to 24 year olds do not read newspapers; they may read a few magazines, but most likely only specialist magazines not news magazines. Jeffrey believes we are just starting what will become a huge consolidation of print media, with probably only 3 to 4 major newspapers remaining in the US, 2 in UK, and just a handful of global news brands.

2 – Television on their own time
Generation Z will never watch TV on someone else’s schedule. With services such as Tivo, internet video, and media file sharing, the idea of being constrained to watch a certain program at a set time makes no sense to them.

3 – Mobile only
They don’t own a landline phone, and probably never will (they don’t own a watch either, it’s all in the mobile).

4 – Trust
Teens trust their peers – even unknown peers – more than they trust experts. “There is an inherent credibility to them, they believe people they meet on facebook,” Jeffrey commented.

5 – Pay for content
Today there is actually a willingness among teens to pay for content in some manner.

“Up until 2005, nobody wanted to pay for digital content – people thought that everything on the web ought to be free. Then in 2005 two things happened. First some of the enthusiasm for illegal sharing networks decreased due to concerns about spyware and viruses. And second, iTunes opened up.”

As a result of these events, people began to accept the idea of paying for content in some way. Attitudes have continued to evolve, and at the moment people do not really expect to get content for free, but they prefer to agree to watch advertising rather than actually paying money.

6 – Community
The social community is firmly at the center of the Generation Z internet experience. Communication with “friends” is a primary activity.

However, there isn’t huge loyalty to a particular social network. Jeffrey explains it this way, “For teens, a social network is sort of like a nightclub – you go their with your friends as long as its cool, but once too many other people start showing up (e.g. parents), you go off to find a new nightclub”

7 – Brands
Teens think they are not impacted by brands and advertising. However, studies from the Center for the Digital Future have shown that in fact teens are actually more aware of brands and pay more attention to brands than other age groups.

8 – Movable content
Teens expect to be able to move digital content from platform to platform, and won’t accept restrictions on this. They lead a multi-platform life, and believe they should be able to take their digital content with them.

This believe is so strong that sometimes teens will put a lot of effort into breaking any restrictions on content portability, more for philosophical reasons than actual desire to move content.

9 – Instant messaging
Teens use IM for communication, they think that email is for their parents.

“At their age, they have the time for “synchronous” communications with their friends. We think as they grow older we’ll see a move to email,” Jeffrey commented.

10 – Sharing
Finally, underlying much of this is the concept of sharing.

Jeffrey explains what he means by this, “I think I understand teenagers as well anyone that is well past their teen years. But the one thing I don’t get is their incredible interest in the minutiae of each other’s lives.”

“At first I thought it was simply vanity, but then I realized that they are as interested in what their friends do as they think their friends will be in them. And I realized this is simply a level of sharing that we have never seen before. It will be interesting to see if they hang on to this as they grow older.”

Mobile Marketing: A whole new set of rules

Over the years there has always been some people who have said that mobile advertising would not be accepted by consumers.

Jeffrey said, “I think this is wrong. However there definitely is a whole new set of rules, and the advertising business is not good at figuring out new rules. Agencies typically adapt what they know from existing media and move it to the next media. And that just won’t work.”

cole_quote2.gifHe continued, “I actually believe that teenagers really like advertising in a lot of ways. However, they are sick of old techniques and being hit over the head. The advertising industry needs to get out of the television model. I’m not referring to specific formats like pre-roll, I mean the fundamental model of saturating the same message over and over again – hitting people 100 times. I don’t think you can do this on mobile.”

And where will these innovations come from?
“I really believe we are still waiting for ‘indigenous’ advertising techniques. I think the big breakthroughs will be digital advertising developed by those who grew up their entire life with digital media – hence the word indigenous.”

In the meantime, Jeffrey said that they have been trying really hard to understand what the new rules are. He singles out two major factors that will impact a brand’s relation with customers.

First, green issues will cut across everything – consumers will want to know about a company’s green position before they will accept them as a member of their community. Green will become a fundamental aspect of a brand.

Second, advertisers will have to truly commit to becoming a member of the community.

He expanded on this, “For example, if a brand wants to move onto Facebook, they will have to say ‘here’s why we’re here, here’s what we’re committed to, we care about you and want to interact with you – we’re not here just to sell to you’.”


Advise to Advertisers

Jeffrey has seen some strong reaction to these ideas from brands.

“Advertisers are terrified of this. In their hearts, many really don’t want to interact with customers because they are afraid that either there will be no conversation or someone will say something bad about their product.”

cole_quote3.gif“My reply to brands with this approach is really quite simple – consumers will have these conversations anyway, with you or without you, you may as well be there and correct it when you can, and sometimes you’ll just have to step back and let them say what they want to say.”

Jeffrey also recommends that every brand should allocate some portion of their budget to experimentation and learning about new media and channels.

“I think brands should be experimenting with every technique they can find. Take a piece of your budget to experiment, learn what you can, be ahead of your customers.”

He gave as an example Twitter. “Am I absolutely sure that Twitter will be an important place for brands to be? No. But am I 100% certain that brands should be learning everything they can and experimenting with Twitter: Absolutely.”

The Future for Brands and Agencies

cole-face2.gifGiven this rapidly changing environment and the need to experiment and learn, Jeffrey notes that unfortunately many major brands are really not very proactive. And at most of these companies, the main road block seems to be the people.

“At many brands, the senior people in charge of marketing are in their 40’s and 50’s. The problem I see is that these people often believe that there is enough life left in the ‘old advertising model’ so that they can continue successfully along that path a few more years and make it to retirement without having to change. Remember, its’ not fun for most people to have to relearn everything they know!”

“However, the executives in their 30’s, they know they will have to change eventually, so they are starting go in this direction.”

cole_quote4.gifRegarding the future of advertising agencies, Jeffrey feels they have a big role to play. The structure of the industry will change, with perhaps less importance for large global agencies, but the agency function will be critical.

“The idea of ‘Brand’ is more important in a digital era than ever before. And agencies, if they are educated and understand this stuff, as navigators and media buyers, in a world of total confusion and uncertainty about what really works, can be much more important than they have ever been.”

2009 Digital Future Project Highlights

The Center for the Digital Future has just released the highlights from their 2009 Digital Future Project. To get the download link for these highlights, please enter your email address here:

and company name here:

Also, visit the Center for the Digital Future’s website ( for more information and other studies.

30.06.2009    Tags: , , ,
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