FCB puts looking glass on kids' digital world

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Put aside the fanciful Cheshire cats and shrinking potions of the make-believe world of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Kids today live in a digital wonderland with little room for free time and pretend games, according to a new marketing study from FCB Worldwide, New York.

The agency applied its Mind & Mood methodology to the daunting task of gauging technology's role in play, fun and learning in the lives of 6-to-11-year-olds in its "Digital Wonderland" study.

Six months and 40 global workshops later, the Mind & Mood team is ready with a presentation revealing that kids today grow up faster, mimic adults earlier and value videogames as much as past generations valued TV.

One of the key findings of the research is that in today's technology-driven, get-more-done economy, kids have trouble stretching their imaginations.

"The imagination is still there, but kids, parents and teachers all agreed that the imagination wasn't getting enough exercise," said Ted Klauber, senior VP-worldwide director of Mind & Mood in New York. "But it seems that some of the technology can be a gateway, so I would consider that a positive."


While FCB conceived and executed the digital project in-house, the agency has already shared the results with some clients including Mattel and Nabisco Biscuit Co. Mr. Klauber spent last week hopping around the globe, presenting to several others.

The agency can customize for each client what the Mind & Mood staffers call "Phlizzes." A continuation of the "wonderland" theme, a "phlizz" is author Lewis Carroll's word and is defined by FCB as a means to "turn plastic, metal, ideas and imagination into a commercial transaction."

Some of the general phlizzes that came out of the "Digital Wonderland" survey:

* Big, broad brands appeal to kids. They are comfortable with extensions beyond the usual category. (The kids in the study said they would be interested in Hot Wheels' bicycles.)

* Kids want facts, not fluff. Offer them specific product features and benefits -- information is currency in their world.

* Kids love fast things. They're too busy for any kind of fun that requires work.

* Give them permission to use their imagination. Kids will stretch, and parents who feel guilty about the lack of imagination in their kids' lives have indicated they're more inclined to buy products that encourage creative play.

FCB's Mind & Mood is a proprietary tool that puts a core team -- Mr. Klauber, Supervisor Mike Sweeney and Advocate Tracy Brogan -- and a variety of senior agency executives into direct contact with consumers. The unit is overseen by Janet Pines, exec VP-director of competitive strategy and proprietary technologies.

The process is not so much focus groups as loosely directed gab sessions. The participants volunteer and are usually rewarded with free pizza; they never know the reason for the study.


For the digital study, FCB staffers held workshops in Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and the U.K.; and in the U.S. in California, Connecticut, Nebraska and New Jersey.

At one Connecticut session, four young boys gathered at the Fairfield home of a friend, fighting over the videogame controls as their parents sipped wine and chatted upstairs.

Mr. Klauber asked the occasional question while Ms. Brogan shot video. The boys seemed conscious of the camera and microphone at first, but quickly slipped into pre-teen chat mode.

They talked about the variety of scheduled activities they had and how the little free time they do have is taken up with homework or videogames, echoing the sentiments of children around the world.

"They are so busy and so scheduled that when they have free time, they want the fun to be fast," Mr. Klauber said.


That speed notion is exacerbated by videogames, which are very important to this age group. The kids indicated they learn new lessons from videogames, such as fast is good; the duration of a media source can vary (one game may take an hour, another may take only a few minutes); and upgrades are good.

"Seven of the top 10 videogames in 1999 were updates on older games," Mr. Klauber said. "There's a real challenge to make sure you refresh your product or services because kids have learned that's what happens with good videogames. Only the duds don't get updated."

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