Connecting With Digital Kids

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The advertising age has ended for kids and teens, succeeded by a multidimensional digital marketing era, according to a study released in January by Saatchi & Saatchi called "Connexity Kids."

Growing up with digital media has changed how young consumers relate to entertainment and commercialization. The study pinpoints three levels of engagement with new media among kids: fascination, exploration, and integration.

"The phrase we use is kids go 'through the screen,'" explains Myra Stark, a senior vice president and director of knowledge management with Saatchi's New York office. "At first they're on the outside looking in, fascinated. Once they go through the screen, it's integrated into their lives."

"We followed three different girls in these stages," says Johann Wachs, vice president and strategic planner at Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection. "One was a 9-year-old girl who was very aware of e-mail, but didn't actually use it-she was in the fascination stage. Then there was a 12-year-old who had a hundred people on her instant messaging list-it was a new thing for the new thing's sake." This girl fit into the exploration stage. The last was a 16-year-old, says Wachs, "who had ten buddies on her list. She'd moved to the integration stage, and only had the people there who she really wanted to communicate with."

Once kids have entered this stage, say Stark and Wachs, the model for reaching them changes from a passive to an active one. The Saatchi study suggests that both advertisers and programmers need to "build a community around their brand" because consumers of the future want to be actively engaged. Wachs says that the biggest brands will be ones that "own stories."

An example of what these researchers are terming "active media" is occurring within the environment of the WB network's Dawson's Creek. "The show's fans have created Web sites, and they are actively engaged in building a community," says Wachs. They create fanfiction, Wachs explains, a new literary genre in which Dawson devotees create their own story lines built around the television characters. Fanfiction allows them to become participants in the production of the brand, he says.

Another example is Cartoon Network's Dexter's Laboratory. Through a competition advertised on the network's Web site, for example, an 8-year-old girl wrote an episode of the show and appeared as her own cartoon character there.

"Brands have to be present and relevant in a consumer's life," says Wachs. "Disney has cruise ships, theme parks, plush toys. At every daily activity and holiday, Disney is there with whatever the consumer is doing right now. Brands will be lifestyle platforms."

"It's a whole different way of thinking about a brand," adds Stark. "Obviously packaged goods will find this harder. They're looking at how they can involve consumers."

The study was conducted during a six-month period in 1998 and included interviews with 84 children from households with various income levels andethnicities across the country, as well as 500 hours of observation by anthropol ogists of some 30 kids online.

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