Kids: Digging Digital

The kids of today are growing up with broadband, mobiles and MSN Messenger, offering advertisers a multitude of means to engage them.

Once upon a time - when most of today's media planners and buyers were mere twinkles in their fathers' eyes - kids would spend entire Saturday mornings glued to Tiswas, Bagpuss or the Magic Roundabout on the box.

During the week, they might buy a comic or a magazine, and they would occasionally be taken to the cinema to see a full-length film. ET or The Goonies and a bucket of rubbery pop- corn ... Ah, those were the days.

Back in those simple times, when there were just three or four TV channels, a media schedule for a brand targeting children was a pretty straightforward business, with most of the media spend going straight into weekday teatime or Saturday TV, and the rest into a magazine or two.

Today's media landscape is much more complicated. Kids have grown up with multichannel television, broadband, DVDs, MP3 players, MSN Messenger, games consoles and mobile phones, so there's a whole raft of options available to advertisers who want to reach four- to 15-year-olds (Barb's definition of a "child").

And the options will continue to multiply. Digital agencies are predicting that it will become more common to watch TV on the internet, video games will become even more sophisticated, and the penetration of 3G mobile phones will grow apace.

Whereas adults can be suspicious - and even fearful - of new technology, kids approach it with confidence; many can type their name before they can write it.

Technology empowers them, giving them some independence in a world with no shortage of people telling them what to do. Parents positively encourage their children to interact with technology and, with more income at their disposal, they are more inclined to buy their offspring a computer, a TV/DVD player for the bedroom, a mobile phone or, if they've been particularly well behaved, a PlayStation or an Xbox.

These days, children's bedrooms are stuffed with gadgets. The latest Childwise Monitor for winter 2005/2006 estimates that more than one in three children now has their own computer, and one in five can access the internet in their room. One in three spends more than an hour a day online, and one in six has his or her own website.

Instant messaging, at destinations such as MSN Messenger, ICQ or AIM from Yahoo!, plays an enormous part in the lives of secondary-school kids.

Bill Brock, the managing director of Tribal DDB, says around two-thirds of this age group use instant messaging; at home, it has replaced the landline as the main means of communicating with friends after school hours. He says: "Aged around 11, kids spend an unbelievable amount of time online. For that age group, it's all about instant messaging, not the internet."

Profero used instant messaging for its child protection on the internet campaign on behalf of COI. The campaign invited visitors to MSN Messenger to create a new buddy. When they clicked on the invite, a sinister figure with a yellow "smiley face appeared and a message about the perils of giving out their details to strangers.

Nick Blunden, the client services director at Profero, emphasises that engaging children with a "hook" is paramount. "You need to harness interactivity, because kids expect an interactive experience," he says. "Invite them to get involved with advertising through a quiz or a game. Interactivity is absolutely critical because it's a value transaction: if you want them to listen to your message, you have to give them something interesting or funny in return."

If it's not engaging them, kids won't pay attention, because they are becoming increasingly savvy in their attitudes towards advertising. Karenza Hodge, the senior media planner at Agency.com, remarks: "As children get older, they are more exposed to digital communication in the form of phones and e-mail. They develop a greater awareness of advertising and become more discerning."

Yet the difficulty for marketers wanting to tap into the power of mobile phones and e-mail is the privacy issue; building up profiles of young consumers based on information that you've gleaned from them is, unsurprisingly, viewed as unethical. Brock says: "I don't think any marketers want to be perceived as being immoral, so we've been extremely careful with our programmes. We're not marketing or selling to kids; it's about getting them excited in a promotion."

For instance, with Tribal DDB's latest campaign for the Volkswagen Touran (see box), it is the parents, not the children, who fill out the forms; no data is collected from the kids - they simply provide the pester power.

Privacy issues also make mobile a tricky medium for advertisers. TV content from kids' channels such as Nickelodeon is already available on 3G phones, yet how the advertising might work is still unclear.

Mobile can shine when used for relationship marketing programmes, however.

Masterfoods' Chocollect scheme through Arc reinvigorated sales of chocolate bars such as Mars and Bounty among teenagers. Each bar's wrapper carried a code, which consumers could use as currency by texting it into an account they had created online. Some 2.4 million unique users set up accounts and 75 per cent were engaging via SMS to claim prizes such as ringtones, handsets and gig tickets.

Digital outdoor advertising has huge potential to tie in with mobile phones via bluetooth, and has the added advantage of targeting kids via two platforms. But an even bigger growth area for marketers is computer games, especially driving games in which racing cars and track hoardings appear more realistic plastered with logos. The trick is for brands to enhance the gaming experience.

Blunden believes there is huge scope to make the games more authentic through advertising and sponsorship models, where the brands comprise part of the environment. "Nike could provide trainers within a fantasy environment, or Coke could empower you to do something special," he says.

"Providing they're executed properly, those tactics can be an extremely effective mechanism for building brand awareness."

There are some exciting developments in digital advertising to kids, but, somewhat surprisingly, only a few brands have embraced it whole-heartedly.

Many brands remain heavily reliant on TV advertising. This is particularly true of toys and games advertisers, who are under pressure from retailers such as Woolworths and Argos to have a presence on TV to help shift stock.

Turner Broadcasting - home to Boomerang and The Cartoon Network - has worked hard to convince retailers about the value of using digital media.

The media owner has even organised "immersion days" to demonstrate how efficient digital media can be in delivering a return on investment.

Simon Cox, the vice-president and sales director at Turner Broadcasting, comments: "Eighty per cent of my business is about making advertisers as successful as possible, so if they're being forced to spend money in an inefficient way, we try to engage retailers to suggest changes. It's not just about 30-second spots any more; the world is changing and kids are changing. If you take the time to try and get your campaigns right, they can be so much more effective."

Nick Cross, the head of MediaVest Manchester's specialist children's division, littlemsmallv, concurs. He believes around 90 per cent of toy advertisers' budgets is spent on TV, and thinks they should be more open-minded about using supplementary digital media. "Kids consume a mix of media, and that opens up more opportunities for advertisers," he says. "That doesn't mean they have to stop using TV; they can use digital media as well."

Cross also offers one advantage that should have many a marketing director for kids' products rushing to investigate digital media: "It's cheap as chips."

Considering the Government's curbs on fatty-food ads, better make that cheap as carrots.

REACHING KIDS ONLINE: THE BEST IN CLASS

TITLE: BEING GIRL

Agencies: Arc, Leo Burnett, MindShare

Brand: Procter & Gamble's femcare brands, Tampax and Always

Strategy: To build a strong relationship with young girls online and make Beinggirl.co.uk their first port of call for advice, fashion and lifestyle.

Execution: "Big sister" advice on puberty, periods, beauty, sex, relationships, depression, PMS, jealousy and friendship. Users are incentivised with femcare samples to register on the site, and a newsletter is sent out to registrants. The site launched in December 2004 and has recently been redesigned.

Results: Initial consumer feedback via the site has been positive.

URL: beinggirl.co.uk

TITLE: MTV STARZINE

Agency: glue London

Brand: MTV Strategy To build an online magazine that harnesses the online trends of blogging and mobile access.

Execution: MTV viewers were invited to "snap, send and shine". In other words, they could take photos on their mobile phones, send them in via computer or phone, and then design their own magazine layout using their own pictures and copy. Participants could vote online to nominate their favourites for the front-page spot. Online competitions also offered coveted prizes such as tickets to the MTV Awards.

Results: Protected by MTV confidentiality, but glue says that "Starzine proved extremely popular".

URL: MTV.co.uk/starzine

TITLE: TALK TO FRANK

Agencies: Profero, i-level

Brand: COI Frank Strategy To open up the discussion about drugs between people aged 11 to 18 through an integrated campaign, of which talktofrank.co.uk is a key part. The site offers no-nonsense information on various drugs.

Execution: As well as the website, the campaign uses other digital media such as MSN Messenger, using Hotmail's registration data to target by age and gender.

Results: 0.33 per cent click-through rate overall, 557,000 interactions and a 10p cost per interaction. The most popular element is the "drug 'n' drop", an animated teenager to whom visitors to the site can feed ecstasy, speed, cocaine and LSD, then watch as the effects kick in.

URL: proferowall.com/frank

TITLE: FRUBES.COM

Agencies: McCann Erickson/Unit 9 (production)

Brand: Yoplait Frubes

Strategy: General Mills' Yoplait yoghurt brand wanted to bring its new Frubes characters to life and to build greater levels of user interaction using a website that targeted young children. The company wanted this new site to capitalise on the success of its existing website, which had been attracting some 4,000 visitors every month.

Execution: The site went live in December last year, and introduced 24 Frubes characters. Visitors can explore zones where they can create e-cards, create music and watch ads at a drive-in cinema. A memory game reinforces the characters for children, and they are encouraged to forward the web link to a friend.

Results: None supplied.

URL: frubes.com.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).