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Digital Transformation

Brands need a rethink – teenagers are behaving in even more curious ways

By James Erskine | managing director

January 4, 2018 | 5 min read

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” That is how I have come to describe the current conversation about marketing to teenagers, parents and younger audiences.

I want 2018 to be the year we get back to old school ‘real’ branded content – ready, reliable and relevant content.


This doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the tools in marketing – I love them.

For example: monitoring where eyeballs are on a heat map, and harnessing that perfect moment in the consumer journey.

But if the right eyeballs aren’t there, or you’re on the wrong journey then what the hell does it matter?

Let’s rewind. Ofcom recently published a report which stated that 28% of 10-year-olds, 46% of 11-year-olds, and 51%-of-12 year olds now have a social account.

None of the big agencies want to say: “Yeah, alright I’m advertising to kids.” Instead we have the situation where advertisers are marketing products targeted at that younger age bracket to their parents.

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But now we have confirmed our beliefs. Kids are online, parents are online, and grandparents are online – three generations, all wanting something different – so as agencies and advertisers we need to serve all audiences in the way that suits them best.

The Big Shot recently conducted some research of our own called ‘The Content State of Mind’, which looked to help identify the best way to market to parents.

We work with a large number of children’s brands, and while we target parents, we also look to engage with the children because we know they are there right beside them.

The time to market to parents is not over, but diminishing, and we must look how we can harness the attention of the younger generations earlier in life, without not saturating it.

Advertisers spend billions on digital when marketing to parents but our research shows that traditional media consumption such as newspapers and magazines increases by 31% in importance for parents as their children grow.

Secondly, our research showed that live streaming has a bigger impact on purchasing decisions and that parents use the content on live streams to influence their decisions – perhaps because this is where attention is driven most.

While one in five parents browse live streams on their device, parents must admit to letting their child look over their shoulder when browsing, or let them borrow their iPad – I know I have.

Due to being so exposed to media, children are becoming more wary about brand exchange. Often my little man Fred knows who sponsors The X Factor – more than the names of the singers we are voting for.

As parents consume more content with their children, naturally their children enjoy it, and want to watch more media.

So, content served across platforms needs to entertain both audiences while remaining non-offensive, and still drive to purchase.

That’s the challenge.

Some say the answer is YouTube Kids and FB Messenger for Kids, but how many children want prescriptive, sanitized content? When was the last time your 13-year-old settled for only having things they were ‘allowed’? Teens want to feel like adults, and as long as the content is relevant and reaches the right audience there’s no need for them not to be.

Again, my little boy Fred is nearly six and is becoming bored of the ‘kids club’.

Achieving this is sometimes painfully simple, but in a rush to do what brands and agencies have always done, we overlook the necessary steps. When delivering campaigns for children you must meticulously highlight the sites, videos, and audience you target, even if it minimises them to a tiny but targeted set.

But what’s worse? A garden toy ad delivered next to an ‘adult site’ delivered to a million people, or the same ad delivered to ten thousand next to a Bob The Builder stream?

There are simple measures that advertisers can take to help ensure that their ads are being shown in the right places – so just do them. Children are going to see parents’ content. Instead of fighting it and hiring a safety team, embrace it. Start creating effective and engaging campaigns, which can be delivered and implemented to both sides of the audience.

James Erskine is managing director at The Big Shot

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