By EMMA HALL, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 20 October 2000 12:00AM
Internet access at home has doubled in less than two years and teenagers, it seems, are the group most likely to be found fighting over the free evening and weekend access.
A whole new marketing vocabulary has sprung up around this 'net generation'.
They are 'screenagers', whom advertisers are targeting with business-to-teenager strategies.
Businesses are jumping at the chance to communicate with this lucrative market and to establish the kind of brand loyalties that continue well into adulthood. But most are still puzzling over exactly how best to plug into the teenage world.
Apart from the big aspirational names such as Nike, Sony and Levi's, branded sites are spurned by most teenagers. The best way to arouse their interest in one of these sites is to place a link in one of the more popular sites so that a brand is given a relevant context.
According to Ian Millner, a managing partner of the integrated agency Iris, an advertiser's best hope is to give away something for nothing.
'It's like the Oklahoma gold rush,' he says. 'Word of free giveaways on the internet will spread round a classroom like wildfire and will fuel interest in a product.' Because of this, the internet offers a unique opportunity to accelerate word of mouth, making a brand famous quickly.
By comparison, Millner says, traditional banner ads are pretty much 'irrelevant'.
However, Wendy Mitchell, the managing director of the research company RDSi, thinks that all is not lost. She says: 'When you observe teenagers looking at a page, they pay greater attention to detail than adults, so the banner ads probably get through in the same way that sponsorship on a football pitch has some effect. It heightens brand awareness.'
An RDSi survey shows that 99 per cent of 14- to 16-year-olds and 95 per cent of 11- to 13-year- olds have internet access at school. At home, the figures for these two age groups are 46 and 44 per cent respectively. Net-savvy teenagers are buying online, although once they are old enough to go to the high street with friends, they see shopping as a social rather than a cyber activity.
Among eight- to 13-year-olds, 32 per cent who have internet access at home have made purchases on the net. But among 14- to 16-year-olds, the figure is only 18 per cent. And, like adults, cost-conscious teenagers buy books, CDs, videos, tickets and games online much more readily than they do clothes.
Companies such as Rools.com, an online debit facility for teenagers, hope to tap into this expanding market. Teenagers spend pounds 3 billion every year, and, indirectly, they are responsible for a minimum of pounds 9 billion worth of purchases annually. Adam Handy, the managing director of Rools.com, says that two-thirds of 14- to 16-year-olds want to shop online, but without their own credit cards, payment methods are a problem.
The gender divide is alive and well on the internet and, because of this, one quarter of teen sites have channels aimed specifically at either girls or boys. It is a fair generalisation to say that girls use it primarily to communicate, diving enthusiastically into chatrooms and e-mails, while boys use it to pursue their interests, devouring information about their favourite football teams and bands.
Either way, teenagers' hunger for access to the world via the internet is immense. The only barrier to usage is the fact that they have parents and siblings fighting for a slice of online action.
The conflict over time spent at the computer means that teenagers are very quickly taking up other channels to access the internet. They welcome digital television and WAP phones as alternative means to access cyberspace and are always hungry for the latest technology.
The inevitable result of all this time spent online is that is detracts from consumption of traditional media. According to Mitchell's research, time online is seen as 'screen time' and therefore takes away from the television and computer games rather than magazines.
'You get the same kinds of facts and entertainment from the web as you get from magazines, so you would assume that the internet will eventually steal time from magazines, but it hasn't happened yet,' she says.
The internet is one way for them to interact with the world beyond school and home, but, as Mitchell points out: 'Teenagers make choices according to their moods and they enjoy a diverse range of leisure activities.'
MY NEW-MEDIA LIFE: OLIVER PEARMAN, 17
I am studying for my A-levels at Ealing College in West London.
Over the summer holidays I got a job working in the despatch department at Bates UK.
I get the internet at work and at college, so I'm not bothered about getting it at home - there's no need. I have a hotmail account that I use to keep in touch with friends and organise my social life.
Apart from e-mail, I mostly look at sports news sites to see what's going on. I support Queens Park Rangers. My favourite site is www.teamtalk.com because it is always up to date, so I don't search around for alternatives.
I first used the internet last September at college. There is a computer room with about 45 computers but it is often packed and if it is you get sent away - there's no queuing system. I have used the internet to help me with my work for college a couple of times.
When I'm at work, I'll log into my hotmail account at lunchtime if it's not too busy. I've never bought anything on the internet because I don't have a credit card. And I'm not interested in building up debt anyway.
But I often look at the home entertainment sites that sell CDs, videos and games just to see what's out. You get a brief description of everything that's new, which is handy - they are a good place to go for reviews.
I don't play games online because I have a Sony PlayStation and a Nintendo 64 at home. My favourite game is Wrestlemania 2000.
As far as reading about the internet goes, I like the Doors section in The Sunday Times' Culture magazine and I might look at sites they have written about if they sound interesting. But I don't buy magazines that are specifically about the net.
I have a standard mobile phone that I use a lot and I buy vouchers in advance to pay for the calls. We don't have digital television at home but some of my friends do - the interactive stuff sounds good but I don't rush round to have a go.
MOST POPULAR SITES WITH 15- TO 24-YEAR-OLDS
Rank Title Average
1 YAHOO! MESSENGER 191.2
2 AOL PROPRIETARY 127.7
3 YAHOO.COM 103.1
4 MSN MESSENGER SERVICE 76.2
5 MSN.COM 52.9
6 BBC.CO.UK 28.0
7 YAHOO.CO.UK 25.5
8 LYCOS.COM 17.1
9 MSN.CO.UK 15.0
10 EXCITE.CO.UK 12.8
Source: MMXI, May 2000.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk