KIDS A TOUCH OF A BUTTON AWAY-TO MARKETER DELIGHT INSTANT E-MAIL & POLLS PROVIDE WEALTH OF TRENDY DATA

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I like the commercials on ESPN about `Game on.' I like it because we have been waiting for hockey for so long and it makes you want to watch all the games," says Alexander, 11, of Amherst, N.Y.

This is just one response Advertising Age received when it asked agency Griffin Bacal, New York, to issue an online e-mail poll to kids ages 6 to 12 asking them about their favorite commercials.

The poll conducted late last month hit a variety of children around the country and collected responses in a matter of 48 to 72 hours.

For researchers, online technology is becoming a useful tool in tapping the youth market. It provides an edge for conducting reseach about kids, since researchers say the young find comfort in an online environment.

Unlike focus groups, where peer influence can drastically diminish participation, online research provides a certain amount of anonymity and confidence for youth.

Also, the immediacy of online research helps marketers keep abreast of the constantly changing trends in the youth market.

"Kids are secure in speaking up in this environment," says Marian Salzman, president of BKG America, New York. BKG conducts research on American Dialogue, a market research service of America Online. BKG's clients include Griffin Bacal and other ad agencies.

For the poll conducted for Ad Age, Griffin Bacal tapped into its base of 500 families called LiveWire-American Families Online.

As the agency for clients such as Hasbro, Playskool and Milton Bradley, Griffin Bacal uses LiveWire to maintain contact with children and their families.

"We wanted the ability to talk to families, especially kids, very quickly," says Janice Figueroa, the agency's senior VP-director of strategic planning. "With a market like this that is constantly changing, we needed instant access to kids."

Ms. Figueroa believes online has advantages over traditional focus groups because it eliminates the "intimidation factor."

"In the online world, all kids are equal," says Ms. Figueroa. "We believe ... we get more honest, more true answers."

She cautioned that online research is "not the end-all and be-all to research" but is meant to be a supplement.

For more than two years, Nickelodeon also has been conducting kids' research online via CompuServe.

Half of the 180 kids on Nickelodeon's online panel meet once a week to discuss things such as toys, programming and celebrities.

"Kids grew up with technology, it's part of their lives," says Patricia Isaacs, Nickelodeon research director.

Ms. Isaacs agrees kids are more equal online than in a typical focus group situation.

"Sometimes when you have face-to-face focus groups, kids may react to someone based on their appearance," she says.

Scholastic Inc., which markets educational materials for teachers and students, just launched its Scholastic Online Poll of American Youth.

Scholastic's online poll consists of 100 teachers representing more than 1,600 students from kindergarten through high school. Scholastic sends the teachers a questionnaire via e-mail and asks them to poll their classes.

The Scholastic online poll is sponsored. So far, Grey 18 & Under, a unit of Grey Advertising, New York, is the only committed sponsor, but in a test last November, Mars, General Mills and Snapple participated.

As a sponsor, marketers are allowed to ask as many as 10 questions per questionnaire.

Scholastic believes one of the most important advantages of using online research for kids is the immediacy of the results.

"Things change fast, especially in the youth market. What could be in today could be out tomorrow," says Eli Belil, project director for Scholastic's online poll. "Marketers who target kids have got to know that and they must keep their finger on the pulse of this market so they can make changes quicker."

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