Ms. Halpin, CEO of the new, youth-focused Geppetto Group, New York, said that experiencing a child's world is an essential requirement for youth marketers.
"Getting up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons, not being embarrassed to be on a subway [reading] a Nickelodeon magazine" are just two examples of her professional duties, said Ms. Halpin, 34, adding that "we have to force ourselves to stay in the mind-set of a child."
WOOED BY WPP
Ms. Halpin, former senior VP-general manager of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's Kid Connection, was wooed by WPP Group to found Geppetto, the London-based holding company's first dedicated, stand-alone youth marketing group. Geppetto-named after the old toymaker who created Pinocchio-will be part of WPP's Specialist Communications group.
"This is a big issue. We think [youth marketing] is a rapidly growing area," said WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell. "It's a very important area where a number of clients felt that knowledge is extremely important."
WPP also nabbed two other former Kid Connection staffers. Chris McKee, former Kid Connection exec VP-executive creative director, is Geppetto's chief creative officer, and Rachel Geller, former Kid Connection senior VP-international director for strategic planning, is chief strategic director.
Geppetto already has two clients. The American Heart Association hired the agency to consult on a project to educate children and teens about "heart-healthy behavior." Geppetto is also conducting research for Turner Broadcasting System's Cartoon Network on the psychology behind why children watch cartoons.
13 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
Ms. Halpin has 13 years of youth marketing experience. Her first exposure to children's advertising was working on the Twix candy bar account in 1984 at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. She said she felt the connection to the youth market from her first project.
"When I was first put on a kid assignment, I just felt a click," she said.
Ms. Halpin said a successful youth marketer "listens not through a filter of being an adult" and uses its "childlike ear" to learn. "One mistake is to think that kids think and behave like adults," she said.
Ms. Halpin added "shorter attention spans and a high amount of stimuli" are current challenges in youth marketing.
"It used to be that kids used to just watch TV; now there are a lot more things vying for their attention," Ms. Halpin said, citing the Internet, children's radio and specialized magazines as examples.
Ms. Halpin said truthful, high-caliber messages are the keys to breaking through the clutter.
Her long-term goal at Geppetto is to "raise the bar on the kind of advertising done for children. We think of kids not as a demographic, but as a mind-set" and