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Business week reaching the connected generation.7 12_04


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Business week reaching the connected generation.7 12_04

  1. 1. BW Online | July 12, 2004 | Online Extra: Reaching the Connected... file://localhost/Users/TimothyMalefyt/Desktop/My%20stuff/Busine... Register/Subscribe Home Close Window JULY 12, 2004 COVER STORY Online Extra: Reaching the Connected Generation Cell phones, movies, IM, the Net, TV, e-mail... An anthropologist tries to fathom how advertisers can approach today's youth Timothy Malefyt knows his way around Flamenco music -- and not just the guitar strums, fast-firing castanets, and smouldering vocals. Malefyt, an anthropologist, carried out his doctoral research in Spain, getting to know the social rituals of flamenco. He worked his way into tightly knit flamenco circles, in backrooms far from the tourist spots, and he studied the complex webs of communications within these musical tribes. On a recent spring evening, Malefyt is heading north on the New York City subway, with his sights set on a different community. He's now an in-house anthropologist for BBDO New York, the advertising firm. His mission is to study a group of college students at Columbia University and figure out how in the world they process all of the information that comes their way, whether it's from TV, movies, billboards, video games, cell phones, the Internet -- just about everything but the fortunes wrapped inside Chinese cookies. This is a crucial issue for the ad industry. Advertisers have hundreds of ways to get their messages to a generation swathed in data. But they're still trying to determine the role each channel represents for this target audience. PIZZA FOR INFO. If a college student receives a targeted ad on her instant messaging (IM) screen, or a text message on her cell phone, is she likely to resent it? Consider it a joke? Would certain types of advertisements be welcomed? The answers depend, from an anthropologist's perspective, on the communications rituals associated with each of these tools. So, on a recent Friday night, Malefyt offers six Columbia students this deal: $50 each, plus all the pizza and soda they want, in return for answering his questions for a couple of hours about TV, e-mail, and cell phones. Their names remain anonymous. These students, like most others these days, turn on about four different machines first thing in the morning (if they bothered to turn them off the night before) -- the cell phone, the computer, maybe the radio. The TV is a constant, a backdrop to daily activities. One student explains that while he might not focus on the TV, it provides a certain comfort. "It gives you something else to do while you are working," he says. ANYTIME DOWNLOADS. So the TV is on, it makes noise, it gets looked at sporadically. But when these students really want to watch something, and pay attention, they often download it straight from a shared university computer network that holds a vast collection of video and music. While this isn't Napster or KaZaA, because it's not on the public Internet, it serves the same function. It gives students access to loads of shows and tunes, all of it free -- and free from most ads. Much like the TiVo personal video recorder, this lets students tailor their viewing habits to their unpredictable schedules. Through the course of his interviews, Malefyt focuses on the differences between IM, e-mail, cell phones, and text messages on phones. He concludes that each has its own rules and customs. Some are more intimate, others more open, some loose, others formal. This is a point, he says, that marketers need to understand before they bank on these technologies as mainstream ad platforms. Instant messaging is hugely popular. It's instantaneous and informal. The spelling is approximated, sentences are partial, like actual face-to-face dialog. One of its chief virtues is that it rarely leaves a record (unless someone goes to the trouble of cutting and pasting it to another document). This makes it more comfortable for many. But there's a catch: People generally only message with friends. As one young woman said, "You don't want your parents on your IM buddy list." 1 of 2 3/31/10 1:42 PM
  2. 2. BW Online | July 12, 2004 | Online Extra: Reaching the Connected... file://localhost/Users/TimothyMalefyt/Desktop/My%20stuff/Busine... DEEPER MEANING? For parents, there's e-mail. This is more formal. Mistakes matter. E-mail sticks around. Worse, if you send a dumb or insensitive e-mail, it can be forwarded to everyone you know. Perhaps because of its permanence, the words of an e-mail seem to matter far more. Says one young man: "If my girlfriend sends me an e-mail note, I spend hours agonizing over what I think she really means." The students tell Malefyt that they use e-mail for more serious communications, apology letters, for example, or ice-breakers if they've been out of touch with someone for a while. The students view cell phones as essential tools, yet they appear to loathe them. Says one student: "It has become too convenient. Some people just go on talking for 10 minutes, and you can't get off." Sometimes it's a parent. "My mom always phones at the worst times," says another. SPARE THE DETAILS. And while cell-phone text messaging is a rage in much of Asia and Europe, these Columbia students are just starting to send them. The most useful function of phone text? Getting a message to someone you don't want to talk to. Toward the end of the evening, Malefyt finally asks about advertising. What works? The students say TV ads have "gone way down in relevance." What they hate most are ads that pile on details that they deem boring. They mention car commercials that go on about leg room, gas mileage, and antilock brakes. The way they see it, an ad should entertain and suggest, using humor, music, beauty. Anyone who wants to learn the facts can look them up on the Net. The safer approach, the students say, is to place products right in the programming, already a growing trend in Hollywood. They say they take note of the clothes actors wear and the games they play on the Fox drama The O.C. "Put a Pepsi in their hand, and people will talk about it," says one. By now the pizza is getting cold, the soda warm. Malefyt packs up, shakes hands, and departs. As he walks back to the subway, he's already piecing together his conclusions: While marketers can reach this generation through lots of gadgets and different online windows, each one has its own set of rituals -- and hazards. In that sense, it's a bit like the world of flamenco. While newcomers may take it for a party, smart ones know to sit quietly and listen carefully before venturing to clap with the music, or to sing. By Stephen Baker in New York Copyright 2000-2004, by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. All rights reserved. Terms of Use Privacy Notice 2 of 2 3/31/10 1:42 PM